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Rosalie

I'd tried the sourdough route before and had to quit.  The main reason, I think, is because I keep my thermostat at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had a hard time creating a proper environment for the starter and the bread dough.  Brod and Taylor to the rescue!  I didn't have to rig up a styrofoam ice chest with an electric light bulb.  I just had to order the box that you can set at any temperature between 70 and 120 (1 degree increments).

It was no problem creating a starter.  It had been no problem the last time, either.  I think I used rye to get started last time.  But this time it was 100% whole wheat, start to finish.  I used Mike Avery's instructions in his book and on his web site sourdoughhome.com as my main source of information.  He recommends getting started with whole wheat.  But when it comes to maintenance, that's a different story.  He indicates that refined flour works better for that.  But I don't buy refined flour any more, not with my NutriMill and my little granary downstairs.

So the problem became finding a source of whole wheat sourdough info.  The theory is that whole wheat was the main flour used in the 19th century by the sourdoughs.  I don't know if that's true, but still refined flours are a recent invention, compared to sourdough-type starters, which are centuries old.

My first try at baking bread with the starter was an adaptation of Mike Avery's basic (white flour) sourdough recipe.  Edible.  It's always edible.  But otherwise not very good.  Then I looked through my own books and found Breadtime by Susan Jane Cheney.  You can't tell except by examining the recipes, but it's all whole grain.  I don't think there's a refined grain in the book.  And there's a section on sourdoughs.  So that was the recipe I used.

It took some persistence, including some fancy timing-manipulation (I had to refrigerate the dough at one point).  But in the end I had a loaf that actually rose in the oven, the big test, in my opinion, of success.  It's not holey, like some of the other loaves I was eyeballing on this site today, but they're not whole wheat either.  Sticking close to the recipe this first time, I came out with two large loaves, each of which I cut in half; I held one half out and froze the other three.  I'm currently working on the second of the four pieces, and I swear it gets better with each slice.

Still, the loaf was rather dense.  Breadtime has a variation on the basic sourdough that includes 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast.  Unless I'm under the gun, I'm going to avoid this form of cheating (which I call sourdough-flavored bread).  (I also have lots of gluten flour, which I may try just to use it up.)  The starter is very young, and presumably the it will become stronger with practice.

Rosalie

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Rosalie

I tried to include a picture, but I'm not adept enough with my photo editor and the online host.  Maybe another time.  But, trust me, they look and taste good.


They're the Four-Seed Snack Crackers on page 122 of Brother Juniper's Bread Book by Peter Reinhart.


Grind 1 cup each sunflower and pumpkin seeds into a flour in the blender.  Also grind 1/2 cup flax seeds in the coffee grinder.  He has you grinding all three seeds together, but the flax seeds did not break down properly.  Mix with 3-1/2 cups ww flour (or ap if you must), 1 cup sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon salt, 5 tablespoons honey, and 1/2 cup oil; add 6-8 ounces of water as needed to make a ball of dough. Knead about 10 minutes "until smooth, firm, but elastic, satiny rather than tacky" about 10 minutes.  Then place in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for at least 10 minutes (I left it overnight).**


Divide into six pieces.  I rolled each piece into a ball and flattened it.  Then I placed five of the flattened balls on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours before placing them in a freezer bag.  They'll keep up to three months.  Roll today's dough out to about 1/8 inch thick.  (It was still stiff from the refrigerator, so I nuked it for a few seconds before rolling.)  I found that my Sil-Pat (little brother to the Roul-Pat) was adequate because the dough was oily enough, but he warns that you should re-flour as needed.  Then he has you use a biscuit cutter or a pizza roller knife to cut out round or diamond shapes, but I used a plastic dough scraper - gently - on my Sil-Pat and cut out random shapes.  I just wanted crackers and wasn't trying to impress the bridge club.


Finally, you can mist the top of the crackers with water and sprinkle with more sesame seeds or other toppings, but I didn't.  I just baked in a 340-degree F oven for 20-25 minutes until they're light golden brown.  You're warned to let them cool for at least 20 minutes so that they'll crisp up.


My first batch is now almost gone.  When I'm ready, I'll pull out another piece of dough, defrost it, and repeat.  I can keep the crackers coming with just a little effort.


Rosalie


**EDIT:  PLACE IN REFRIGERATOR - Details! Details!

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Rosalie

I've been asked (via Messages!!) to post the recipe I used for Pitas.  I made two recipes, but I'll post the one that was designed as a Pita recipe.  Apparently just about any bread recipe will work, although I don't know about high-hydration doughs.


In my experimenting, I've become curious about the role of the yeast.  My conjecture is that the yeast just helps with the development of the gluten and of the formation of a gluten skin (as I think someone called it).  I don't think it has much of any role in the puffing up.


This recipe was taken from Beatrice Ojakangas' Great Whole Grain Breads.  It's on page 277 and is called "Whole Wheat Pita Bread".



  • 1 package active dry yeast (I'm sure I used considerably less)

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water (warm if you go the proofing-of-the-yeast route - I don't - instead, I go for long refrigerator rises, usually overnight)

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 tablespoons salad oil

  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups whole wheat flour


I won't go into the details of making the dough.  Do it however you usually do it.  Develop it into a smooth ball, but it doesn't need to rise.  Ojakangas has you let it rest about 15 minutes after the mixing and before kneading 10 minutes on a board.  Then you cover it and let it rest 20 minutes.  Then you "punch dough down" and divide into four parts, and each part into four more, for a total of sixteen.  So the dough for a single standard loaf of bread will make about eight standard pitas.


Shape each piece of dough into a small ball and roll out to make a 6-inch circle.  I don't know how thick this is, but I suspect it's 3/16 of an inch.  In my subsequent pita trial, I used the special rubber bands for rolling pins and rolled them out to 1/8 inch, and they were quite a bit thinner.  Cover and let rise 30 minutes.


Here's where the Ojakangas narration gets confusing.  I'll adapt.  While the pitas are rising, preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a stone in place (for 30 minutes).  Arrange six pitas at a time on parchment paper.  With the assistance of a cookie sheet - a rimless one or a rimmed one turned upside down - transfer the pitas and the parchment to the stone.  Bake 4-5 minutes "or until rounds are puffed and tops begin to brown."  But don't wander off.  Turn on the oven light and sit on the floor to watch.  Mine started to puff up at about the two minute mark, and they were fully puffed up about a minute later.  Quite a show.


Rosalie

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Rosalie

I was inspired by a question by someone in another bread forum and my own recent discovery and love affair with baking pita.  In the other forum, the person had frozen shaped bread dough and then was having problems reviving it.  I wondered if she could make pitas with it.  While that question remains unanswered, I tried a related experiment.


I picked a nice basic bread recipe - in this case, an adaptation of Bernard Clayton's Rosemary-Garlic Bread on page 464 of my edition.  The recipe calls for about half whole wheat flour and half white flour, and I, of course, used all whole wheat.  I also, as usual, used considerably less than the 2 packets of yeast - possibly a teaspoon, but I don't remember. And I'm sure I stuck it in the refrigerator for a good part of its early life.  It's been a couple weeks.  But that's my modus operandi.


I divided the dough into twenty-four equal balls, which would make them smaller than might have been called for (for about six cups of flour for two standard loaves).  I then rolled the balls to 1/8 inch thickness, using those rubber bands I found online (Fanta, I think) for my rolling pin.  And I managed to freeze them by placing them in the freezer on non-stick cookie sheets for a couple hours and then stacking them and putting them in freezer bags.  (A smaller quantity would have made the logistics of this step a bit simpler.)


I now take them out two at a time and bake them in my Oster countertop convection oven.  Today I had my greatest success so far.  I placed the frozen pitas between two sheets of parchment paper on top of the oven with an inch or so of space between the oven and the pitas.  I then pre-heated the oven to 450 (its top temperature) with my little toaster-oven baking stone in the middle for about half an hour.  Then I placed one piece of parchment and the pitas on the stone.  In less than two minutes the pitas were big round balls.


Sorry, no pictures.  All gone.  Maybe next time.  I still have plenty more from this batch to experiment with.


Rosalie

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Rosalie

I'm indexing the bread recipes in all my books (quite a task) and I'm getting a chance to see what all recipes I have.  In one book, "Making Bread at Home" by Tom Jaine, I found this 100% whole grain recipe: German Sourdough Rye Bread.

Your starter uses 60g wholegrain rye flour, 1/4 cup water at 110 degrees, and a pinch of caraway seeds.  You leave that at about 80 degrees for two days, stirring twice a day.  As always, I used my oven with the light on.

Then you make the leaven using 2 tablespoons fo the starter, 1 1/4 cups water at 110 degrees, and 300g more of the rye flour, leaving that for eight hours at about 85 degrees.  Again, I used the oven with the light on.  80 degrees, 85 degrees, I take what I can get.

Finally you take 500g wholewheat flour, 300g rye, 15g fresh yeast (I used 8g active dry), 1 3/4 cup water at 110 degrees, 2 teaspoons salt, and the ripe leaven.  You mix the dry ingredients and make a depression to add the wet.  I was surprised that there was no more mention of caraway seeds, so I just added 1 tablespoon - maybe it should have been 2 (I like caraway).  I also added 1/2 (I think) cup gluten for two reasons:  I really wanted this to succeed, and I have it in my arsenal so I may as well use it.  After you get it all mixed together, you let it rest for ten minutes in a warm spot, then you knead for at least ten minutes.

Next it rises at about 85 degrees for 1 1/2 hours until "nearly doubled".  I was so surprised at how well my concoction rose!

Finally you shape.  He has you dividing into two loaves and baking them either together in an 8.5x4.5x2.5 inch pan or separately in two 7.5x3.5x2.25 pans.  I divided them into eight mini-loaves.  The shaped loaves rise for 30-45 minutes, and the oven heats to 450 degrees.

You place them on an upper rack and bake for 20 minutes (15 for the two smaller pans) at each of 450, 400, 350, spraying three times in the first five minutes.  I just realized that I misread these instructions and didn't bake as long as the recipe called for, but they turned out fine (200+ internal temp) because they were mini loaves.

I simplified the directions, believing all you artisans can fill in between the lines.

Anyway, not bad.

 Nellie considers my German Sourdough Rye Bread by Tom JaineNellie and my German Sourdough Rye Bread: Nellie considers my German Sourdough Rye Bread by Tom Jaine

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Rosalie

I have a variety of grains in my arsenal, and I thought it was time I tried something other than the usual.  I settled on spelt and found bwraith's post on Marcel's Grandmother's Spelt Bread (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2828/marcels-grandmothers-spelt-bread).

There were a few obstacles.  First was the uncertainty whether the 1/2 cup water used to dissolve the yeast came out of the 500 grams in the ingredient list.  I proceeded assuming it did, but the resulting dough was too dry, so I added it back in.  Then there was the question about rises.  Apparently the only rising is of the loafed bread in the heating oven.  Then there was the fact that I make mini-loaves (I got eight mini loaves out of this one-loaf recipe).  Finally, there's my own klutziness when it comes to matters of art and grace.

I pretty much followed the ingredient list.  I used double caraway seeds because I neither like nor have anise seeds.  But instead of going directly from mixer to loaf pans I went through my traditional bulk rise after a bit of kneading (which apparently was also not required).  I rolled the formed loaves in the sunflower seeds rather than just having them stick to the sides of the pans.  Finally, I was afraid to try the cold oven approach.  As it was, one hour in a pre-heated oven was more than enough.

The dough had a wonderful feel.  It reminded me of Play Dough.  But in the end, the bread did not rise particulary much.  Maybe that's okay.  I looked at Bill's picture, and it's about the same density.  Remember, I got eight mini-loaves out of the recipe - I shouldn't expect much height.

Bottom line is that I couldn't stop eating it.  One mini-loaf (177 grams before baking and before sunflower seeds) is in my stomach.  The taste is different.  I believe some of that is attributable to the nutritional yeast, but despite that it's wonderful.

If I define success in baking bread by how willing I am to eat the final product, then failure is extremely rare.  It may not be tall and light, but it's always good!

Rosalie

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Rosalie

I had reported with shock that my tap water had chloramines in it.  The spring water was behaving more like reverse osmosis water, so I'd started using tap water.  Mike Avery's plaint about his overly-soft tap water got me curious and I inquiried of our public works director about our water.  He said that due to the distance it travels from its source (from the Sacramento Delta to Morro Bay, a couple hundred miles at least and not what I'd consider a positive environmental situation), its treatment produces long-lasting chloramines.  Mike asked me to try making a starter with it as an experiment.

I have a variety of things to report, and I'm not sure what to make of all of them.  I tried to make a well-controlled experiment, but the biggest glitch was my inability to get reliable information about my water.  I took it to Culligan to be tested for hardness, and I learned that my water softener wasn't working.  That cost me $85.  I learned that the Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water I'd given up on had a hardness of 124ppm, so I don't know why I was having problems with it.  The reverse osmosis water's hardness was 27.4, quite reasonable.  But I forgot to ask for a chloramine analysis.

After the water softener was fixed, I took some more samples to Culligan to get another test.  A different person - the son of the owner and the heir apparent - did it this time and I liked the first one better.  The first time I got precise numbers in parts per million, but the second one just gave me vague softness declarations based on grains per gallon, their preferred unit.  The multiplication factor is 17.1, but he didn't even give me numbers.  He just declared all of my waters very soft, less than 1gpg or 17ppm.  I have my doubts.  Furthermore, he was unable to detect any chloramines in any of them.  He did complain that the samples were too small.  And he told me that because I'd drawn the samples the day before that the chloramines were probably mostly gone.  About all I got out of that visit was an assurance that my water softener was working and a reminder that my deck and garage front waters were both on the softener and that I had to go to the special line installed in the back yard that bypassed the water softener for the original hard water.  I now have another e-mail in to our public works director about the chloramines.  After all, that's what this experiment was supposed to be about.

Another thing that I learned was that reverse osmosis is an effective remover of chloramines.  And that aquarium owners are also very concerned about chloramines.  I learned that from Google and the Internet.

But back to the experiment.  I'm hoping to have more info later, but here's what I did.

For my starter procedure, I chose Mike Avery's http://www.sourdoughhome.com/startermyway.html. You mix 1/4 cup water with 3/8 cup flour in a quart container, cover, put in 85-degree oven for twelve hours; repeat; then toss half and repeat until there's lots of bubbly.  That's a brief summary.  I chose three waters to experiment with:  Deck tap water (later changed to back yard water when I realized that the deck water was softened like the kitchen water); Kitchen tap water; and Reverse osmosis.  I was fairly methodical and did my best to keep from cross-contamination without being anal.  I started with the purest water starter and rinsed out the implements well between starters.  The oven with the light on has been my incubator, and the temperatures have been ranging from just below 80 to about 87.  And, of course, I keep a fairly detailed log.

I was surprised to see life from the beginning in all three.  I started on Saturday evening, fed Sunday morning (12 hours), Sunday evening (12 hours), then three times Monday (yesterday) because of my schedule.  I've fed it twice today and am wondering if the experiment is ready to be called over.  Maybe I should try baking some bread; but I'm a bit surprised at the result.

Since chloramines were the issue, I'd thought that the reverse osmosis water would do the best.  But it was consistently the worst.  It's been six hours since the last feeding.  The other two starters (and I've been using the hard water on the one for only the last two feedings) are at double, and the RO starter has hardly budged.

Well, I'm not sure where to go from here.  Whatever I do or learn from the city, I'll report here on the results.  The only reliable lesson here so far is that RO water is not good for starters.

Rosalie

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Rosalie

I got a new digital camera, inspired by all the wonderful pictures on this web site.  But then I had to wait for photogenic bread.  Then I had to wait for an AC power supply after the wimpy alkaline batteries died.

German Sourdough Rye from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book 

The bread is very dense - 6 cups rye flour and 3 cups whole wheat.  Inexplicably, it also calls for a mere 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds.  I put in about a tablespoon, but I could have added more.

Also, with all that flour, it only makes two loaves.  But I like to make mini-loaves because I'm a single person.  So I made six mini-loaves, but each one of those was still 12 ounces.  I probably should have added some vital gluten.

It is, however, very good.

I was very excited with how well my sourdough starter was doing.  I've had bad luck with it, and thought I would finally have a success.  I was disappointed when the final dough called for yeast.  But that's a lot of rye for a sourdough to handle.  So I'll have to look for a sourdough-rising success next time.

Rosalie

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