Category Archives: Fermenting
That’s right folks, I have begun the journey of unearthing the baker within. I was lucky enough to take a bread making class at Love Apple Farms several weeks ago, and quite frankly, I think I nailed it!!! I’d like to take credit for just being awesome, but chef Maggie Cattell (instructor) deserves all of the credit. She loves bread and you can tell, it loves her back. For those of you not familiar with my previous pathetic attempts at bread making, please check out this sad little story
For those of you even a tiny bit interested, I HIGHLY recommend taking Maggie’s class in July, or any other class at Love Apple. I have taken 5; Summer Vegetable Gardening, Composting and Vermiculture, Fermented Foods, Liqueur Making and the latest, Bread Making. All classes are certainly worthy of their own blogs, but a couple of them were taken roughly 6+ years or so ago, and my memory just isn’t that good. There are a ton of classes offered there year round. They even have a Homesteading Weekend . The Farm was started and is run by Tomato Maven Cynthia Sandberg, who really knows her shit. She recruits other people who really know their shit to instruct all different kinds of classes at her farm. The end result is you starting to get to know your shit, and who isn’t striving for that?!?
Ok, on to the bread. after completing my class I embarked on a somewhat experimental sourdough bread making session. I have a starter that I got from one of my friends that I keep in the refrigerator and feed weekly. I was lucky enough to bring a bit of Maggie’s starter from class, which is kept on the kitchen counter and fed daily. I wanted to see if a different flavor or texture would be derived from either starter.
There are a few different ways you can make your dough. There is the “Straight Bowl Method” which means you throw everything into the bowl, mix it up and proceed with the rest of the process. There is also the “Sponge Method,” which uses a pre-ferment (poolish, biga, etc.). There is the “Old Dough Method,” which uses… You guessed it, old dough to influence the flavor. Finally there is the “Sourdough Method,” which uses a starter.
I used the sourdough method along with the sponge method. Sourdough is definitely “sponge worthy” (Seinfeld Joke). I prepared a poolish from each starter. The class poolish was a little flatter, but smelled more sour than the refrigerator poolish.
The Poolish sat overnight for the suggested 12 hours and then I started on making the bread. Instructions and recipe will be provided at the end of this post.
Once we completed all of the pre baking steps, our loaves were ready to go into the oven. I wanted to try two different baking methods with each loaf. Maggie suggested using a covered baking dish to achieve a good crust (we’ll call it the Maggie loaf), rather than a spritz, steam or baste of water in an open baking dish. I have to admit I was skeptical about her approach because nearly EVERYWHERE you look they are telling you to wet your bread one way or another so you get a nice crisp crust.
The second loaf (we’ll call it the skeptical loaf) I basted once with water and cooked on a perforate loaf pan (no picture). Since Maggie knows her shit, the covered baking method produced a much nicer crust of course.
What the hell is that freaky bump? It wasn’t an air bubble, it was just a mutant rise in one small part of the loaf. Odd… While both of these loaves were slightly over baked, the crust on the Maggie Loaf was nice and crunchy without being too thick, while the Skeptical Loaf produced a thicker crust. The flavor and texture were about the same despite the differences between the two starters. They must even out during the pre-ferment. This is good to know since now I feel more confident storing my starter in the fridge knowing the end product will be the same. I have since made several loaves of sourdough and each time I make one I refine it a bit more, so it just keeps getting better.
The key take aways from the class were as follows… Get a digital scale. No seriously, get one! If you want consistent results this is an essential/life changing piece of equipment. Do a pre-ferment with every bread, every time. While it takes longer, it produces a better flavor and texture. Bread is a lot of work, so do it right. Don’t take shortcuts. experiment with different types of flour. You can create your own unique signature flavor this way and it is fun. Bake your sourdough loaf in a covered baking dish. I used my Le Creuset casserole. Keep the dish in the oven during the pre-heat so your loaf starts off on a nice hot surface, place the lid on for the first half of the bake and remove for the second half so the crust browns.
If you want to take your break making to the next level, or even if you have never baked bread in your life and want to try, TAKE THE BREAD MAKING CLASS for cryin’ out loud! But don’t blame me if you become a Love Apple Farm class taking addict and turn into some kick ass homesteading, do-it-yourself ninja. That is on you!
POOLISH: (start the day before)
115 g Bread Flour (why is bread flour different than all purpose?)
115 ml Warm Water (100 degrees)
20 g Sourdough Starter
Combine flour and water in a bowl with a lid, stirring until homogenous. Add starter, mix well. Cover bowl and leave at room temperature for 12 hours or store in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
340 g Bread Flour
180 ml Warm Water
7.5 – 10 g salt (Kosher)
1) Combine first 3 ingredients into a smooth dough and let sit for 20 minutes.
2) Add salt and mix until salt is thoroughly incorporated.
3) Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature for 50 minutes.
4) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and make a four letter fold. Place back in bowl, cover and let sit for 50 minutes.
5) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and make another four letter fold. Place back in bowl, cover and let sit for 50 minutes.
6) Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and pre-shape. Cover dough with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes.
7) Shape dough and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for about 2.5 hours.
8) 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450. Put your baking dish inside.
9) When oven is preheated pull out the baking dish, turn loaf into it, slash the top with a razor, cover and put in the oven. For my oven I decrease the temp to 375 at this point.
10) Bake for 20 minutes then remove cover to baking dish, bake for another 20-25 minutes or until crust is the desired color.
11) Remove loaf and place on cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes before slicing.
How many ferments are too many? I say, there are never enough!!! If there were a way to ferment this post, I would do it. Currently I have 6 ferments going; water kefir, beet kvass, hard apple cider, two different sourdough starters and Sally Fallon‘s heavenly fermented raisin chutney. I do love me some fermentin’ and at times my kitchen counter looks like one big science experiment. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is fun. Fermenting and fermented foods have been around since humans. Well, technically it was happening before then, but controlled fermenting of foods and beverages didn’t begin until humans got involved. It is arguably the oldest form of food preservation there is. The benefits of fermented foods are widely debated among health practitioners, nutritionists and scientists. The biggest benefit is that it is an easy way to preserve fresh food for later consumption. It certainly was handy before we came up with a little thing called refrigeration.
I began my foray into fermenting at home shortly after joining a CSA. A large box of seasonal/fresh veggies each week for one or two people is a lot to get through and sometimes it requires some method of preservation so things can be eaten at a later time. Also there are veggies that are just kind of meh, and need improved flavor to get me excited about eating them. Sauerkraut it a perfect example of turning cabbage (meh), into enjoyable yumminess. I eat it very regularly and so does my three year old. Incidentally it is the only way I can get the kid to eat cabbage. The great thing about kraut is that the act of fermentation makes the nutrients in cabbage more bio available (fact), and much easier to digest (fact). If you eat cabbage this way, you will never again do the cabbage flatch. This is what I call the intestinal gas often times associated with consuming cabbage. I am embarrassed to add that I also do the dumb dance (the cabbage patch) when I let one rip after eating cabbage. And I wonder why my kid thinks farting is funny…
Let’s do a quick run down on the pros and cons of fermented foods. I will also note where things should be taken on with a fair amount of skepticism. Everyone makes up their own mind about things, and I will leave it up to you to do your due diligence and form your own educated opinion/theory.
First the PROS:
As in Probiotics (meaning pro life) to start with. Many studies have been done on beneficial bacteria in the gut. They promote good digestive health. They improve immune function. They even keep the bad bacteria in check. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), have released several studies on gut bacterium across many different health related issues, including the reduction in diet related obesity. You should check out their website if interested. Plus it is fun to say… PNAS! PNAS! PNAS!
Fermenting foods also makes nutrients in foods more bio available to you. The act of fermentation breaks down the cellular walls of the food, thus making nutrients available for your body to absorb and use. Chewing food does the same thing, but on a much smaller scale. The macrobiotic diet espouses the benefits of chewing your food thoroughly for the same reason. Adding acids such as lemon juice, or vinegar to vegetable preparation is beneficial in doing the same thing, as well. I love having different options available to me, don’t you?
(put your skeptic hats on) Fermented foods have also been associated with panacean claims such as curing cancer, removing heavy metals from your system (detoxifying), curing autism, curing diabetes and the common cold, as well as many other claims. Folks, there simply isn’t any real data supporting these claims. Integrate these foods into your diet as complimentary to the treatments recommended by your doctor for these conditions.
Now the CONS:
A natural byproduct of fermentation is alcohol. The harmful effects of alcohol on your body are well documented and can be easily found by doing a google search. With that said, the amount of alcohol found in fermented foods is very minimal unless the ferment in question happens to be beer or wine (which both happen to have their own health benefits).
Fermented foods have a high salt content. Many fermented foods use salt to create an inhospitable environment for bad bacteria, such as botulism. This is not across the board for all fermented foods, just the ones that use salt. If you are in a position to watch your salt intake, you should probably avoid ferments that use a heavy amount of salt in the fermentation process.
(put your skeptic hats back on) Raw foodies love to bash fermented foods as being low in nutrition and hard on digestion, despite the fact that there are scientific studies that prove otherwise. Many cruciferous vegetables are just fiber unless an acid is introduced or fermentation has occurred. The body simply can’t break down the cellular structure of these foods to access all of the nutrients inside. While a raw piece of broccoli may have more nutrients in it, they don’t do your body much good if they can’t be accessed though normal digestion. You can’t taste the doughnut if it’s wrapped in plastic, so whats the point in sticking it in your mouth?
There is also concern with harmful bacterias in fermented foods causing health concerns. One needn’t look very far to see higher incidence of this in conventionally grown vegetables, factory farm meats and dairy, and even heavily processed/pasturized foods that line our grocery store shelves
There is a wealth of information out there if you are interested in learning more, just seek it out. Beware of ambiguous references to “Bulgarian studies” and the like. Spend your time collecting facts and data. The once you’re done, sit down with a nice glass of red wine, slap some lacto fermented raisin chutney onto a Raincoast Crisp smeared with goat cheese (another fermented food) and pontificate on how you feel. If you follow this specific recipe, I can assure you, you’ll feel pretty damn good!
DISCLAIMER: The statements made here have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure or prevent any disease. This notice is required by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
So I’ve had this sourdough starter hanging out in my fridge for a few weeks. I have been feeding it, keeping it alive, staring at it blankly, shuffling it around so I can fit other things in my fridge, all while mentally preparing for the upcoming challenge… Well today I decided to do something with it and tried my hand at making sourdough bread. After all, I consider myself to be a San Francisco native (close enough anyway), so why wouldn’t I be able to produce the sourdough bread our lovely city is famed for? I pride myself on being a pretty good cook. I’m no Thomas Keller, but I know my way around a kitchen, with one caveat… I can’t bake.
I really CAN’T bake bake for shit. I try, in fact I participate in an annual cookie exchange with some girlfriends every year and have been doing this for roughly 18 years. You would think, I would pick up a trick or two during this time, but no. Year after year, I bake 12 dozen “whatevers,” and enter them into our cute little contest that I never win. Wait I take that back, I did win one year, but only because there was a category for best display. I made these atrocious gingerbread chew things that were barely palatable, but my display was a gingerbread man sitting on a toilet, pooping them out onto an assembly line. Not only was this hilarious, it was proportionate to the quality of cookie you bit into as well. SCORE! Now if only there were a category for most alcohol consumed, I’d win or place in the top three every time!
My first foray into the world of baking my own sourdough bread was no different than my attempts at baking cookies, sadly. I have pulled off yummy dinner rolls here and there, and one decent loaf of rustic italian, but I was really excited about sourdough! Not only does it feed my belly, it feeds my obsession with cultured and fermented foods as well.
If you like to experiment with food as I do, you have come to notice that recipes, especially ones for foods you aren’t that familiar with, can be a bit tricky when it comes to interpretation. For instance, when it says to “stir in just enough flour so that the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl” it might mean to stir in enough flour so it pulls away from the sides of the bowl completely. Another thing that might be misinterpreted is when you are looking for a dough that is “sticky and elastic.” This particular stage of dough making can be quite vast. Add too much flour and you end up with a dense, hockey puck bread. Add too little and you end up with what I made… Freddy Krueger bread. The Freddy Krueger looking top happened because my dough was so sticky that the well oiled plastic wrap it was covered with while it was on its second rise, pulled the entire top layer off of what otherwise would have been a beautifully raised loaf of bread. I felt my spirit deflate right along with that loaf (sigh). I took a deep breath and shoved it into the oven anyway. I am glad I did, because despite the odd appearance of the loaf, it is actually pretty tasty and has a good texture inside. It just goes to show you, you should NEVER JUDGE A BREAD BY ITS CRUST!
I will attempt this recipe again, and post it as soon as I get it right. I will make sure to take pictures of the dough pulling away from the sides of the bowl, as well as the appropriate “sticky and elastic” texture. Here are some pictures, descriptions included… After all, sometimes the most helpful advice is hearing what NOT to do, right? This is not over sourdough!!! We will meet again soon and I will make you my bitch…
That big dent in the side is from my having to pry the loaf out of the greased pan with a spatula.
If your childhood was anything like mine, you also developed a healthy dislike for this much maligned root vegetable. For me, the road to loving beets has been a long one. My first exposure to them was less than positive. My mother used to serve these earthen tasting dark red disks directly from the can. They weren’t quite firm, but they weren’t quite soft either and they tasted like the bottom of a shoe. I protested loudly each time they appeared on my dinner plate. Just to prove my point I resorted to pushing them onto the floor and letting everyone see for themselves that even the dog wouldn’t eat them. For future reference to anybody considering this mode of communication using visual aids, I want you to know that the outcome was not good. If I remember correctly I went to bed early and with a sore bottom that evening.
Since I joined a CSA program about 15 years ago, beets were re-introduced to my life. I spent the first several years pretending like they didn’t really exist; often times giving them away, or leaving them in my refrigerator only to be found months later in a shriveled, moldy heap in the bottom of the crisper. About 10 years ago I decided that I would no longer waste these nutritious earth apples, and find a way to make them palatable. My first attempt was Beet Brownies. Looking back I am not sure what my motivation was here, because I don’t even like brownies! Maybe I was testing the math rule of two negatives make a positive, but I don’t even like math! Before the math geeks start to send hate mail, let me say this… I understand that math is necessary and all of the wonderful things that exist today, exist because of it, but math and I just don’t see eye to π. With that said, the brownie experiment was a huge fail.
My second attempt happened after I bought my first juicer. This was a HUGE success, as I could pretty much slip beets into all of my juice concoctions and enjoy it. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I went on to roasting them and eating them with a little bit of goat cheese and some vinegarette; sometimes on top of a salad made with beet greens, sometimes not, but I found that even this was too limiting for my tastes. I needed more options.
Shortly after I discovered the world of fermented foods through books like “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon and “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, and added Beet Kvass to the list. This became my preferred method of consuming beets and will likely remain so. Beet Kvass is considered a cleansing tonic by many people. Being a skeptic doesn’t allow me to subscribe to this idea, but what I can suscribe to is this; it is packed with vitamins and gives me energy and that’s enough of an endorsement for me. If you haven’t tried Beet Kvass, I highly recommend that you do and you can see for yourself. Please do read up on it before jumping straight in to drinking two glasses daily, as there are some who report varying ill effects associated with too much too soon. I myself never had any problems and started with two glasses a day out of the gate. Now I look forward to getting beets in my CSA box, and have been known to buy them at the farmers market, just so I can make a batch of Kvass to drink. I have been experimenting using raw apple cider vinegar instead of whey to inoculate my kvass, but haven’t quite perfected the recipe. When I do, I will post it. Until then enjoy a few other recipes I like to prepare when I have these sweet little beauties available to me. They can’t be BEET!
Pickled Beets, enjoy alone, or on top of salads and sandwiches.
Beet Pickled Eggs, these are tasty all by themselves, as well as on salads, or a yummy twist on egg salad.