I’ve started attempting to make bread! I never imagined myself bothering to make bread but then I found a beautiful, vintage cast iron Griswold skillet at a little antique shop in Tomales, which led me to join a cast iron group on facebook where they share all kinds of recipes and info specific to cast iron cooking. I started with a simple recipe that was right up my alley because it required almost no planning or skill. I’m happy to say it’s turned out great every time, even when I forget to set my timer, turn on or off the oven, wander to the garden for three hours completely forgetting I’m in the midst of cooking. Even when I take some liberties with ingredients and “design.” Basically, it’s nearly fool-proof. Check it out:
With this success under my belt I decided to venture forth into sourdough bread baking. I love the taste of sourdough bread but now I have also learned that bread made with wild fermented sourdough starter is much healthier and easier to digest! I’ve only barely ventured into the world of fermentation and, to be honest, I won’t eat the sauerkraut I made over the summer. I just don’t trust it. Nevertheless I was determined to try working with live sourdough, despite the fact that it’s weird. It bubbles, it fizzes. To quote Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s ALIVE!” For real, it’s like a little pet living in a jar and you need to feed it and keep it healthy. Some people have starters that their grandmothers gave them and they’ve kept alive for generations! Weird.
My starter came from Omar, the owner of the cheese shop. Remember by chance, waaaay back, I mentioned that one of my favorite places in all of Sonoma County was the Freestone Artisan Cheese Shop? How I put a little star on my google maps and before buying this house actually checked to see how long it would take to drive there? Thankfully it was “within range” because I really wanted to buy this house.
Actually, since the cheese shop was one of my happy places and it was within range and I liked Omar so much I decided I wanted to work there. Before I left San Diego I told him I was going to move here and work at his shop, to which he replied, “Do I have any say in this?” Ha! A reasonable enough question, but clearly he did not know who he was dealing with. So now I work at the cheese shop! I’m still not sure he wants me there but I show up at 10 a.m. every Saturday, put on my apron and hawk cheese for 8 hours and, as yet, he hasn’t asked me to leave. I also manage the instagram and facebook accounts because I firmly believe that everyone in the world needs to know about this gorgeous little shop and its goofy owner who spends the day telling stories and engaging in fierce and dramatic battles against large wheels of cheese, which he almost always wins.
Omar was kind enough to share his sourdough starter with me and last month I finally brought my little doughbaby home. It was a small jar with about 1/2 cup of starter which I promptly took home, put in my fridge and forgot about. Two weeks later I dug it out, poured the “hooch” off the top and gave it a healthy meal. And then I forgot it again. So this week I decided it was time to use the thing. I took it out, fed it lots of nice filtered water and flour and left it out of the fridge so it could ferment. Man this stuff really expands!
Since the best time to use it is a few hours after feeding I followed Omar’s instructions to start the process. I mixed in water and flour then left it to rise overnight. The next day I mixed in even more flour, salt and water and left it to sit again. This is so unlike me – planning, waiting. I have to say I kind of miss the instant gratification of active dry yeast but I was determined to follow through on at least one loaf. The good news is that all the down time gives me time to scribble down a blow-by-blow description practically in real time. It’s like you are right here with me! Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
This morning I basically had a grappling match with the gooey, sticky glob that was my dough. Adding 1/4 cup of flour at a time I attempted to wrestle the mass into a ball but it just kept absorbing every speck of flour I added! My hands, floor, counter and sweatshirt were covered in sticky dough so when I reached the limit of my patience I asked Jon to take a photo and send Omar a message begging for guidance. As I waited for his response I watched my dough ooze, spreading itself ever thinner on the granite, mocking me. My skillet bread dough never mocked me.
Thankfully he responded quickly and told me to just keep adding flour until I liked the consistency. That was a little vague, but I just kept adding flour and folding the dough up from the sides. Each time I stopped and let it set for a moment it would start to ooze and spread again so at one point, after adding what seemed like 10 cups of flour, I just grabbed the thing up and flung it into the towel-lined bowl I’d prepared, at which point it settled into place and began to behave like proper bread dough.
I’d hoped to cook the bread in the vintage cast iron dutch oven I picked up at an estate sale, but the toxic cloud that spread through the kitchen when I put it in the oven to preheat deterred me. When I bought the thing for $10 (an awesome deal) it had some type of black sludge melted across the bottom. Despite my best efforts to clean and reseason it I apparently had failed. Luckily I have my trusty Griswold 10″ pan and from what I can tell it’s working. I just checked the oven and the bread looks great!
I also managed to scrape the extra dough off my fingers, spatula, cheese spreader I used as a scraper, counter and bowl. I rolled these into little nubbins, dropped them into hot grapeseed oil til they were golden and crispy and tossed them with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Bonus beignets!
I just pulled my baked loaf out of the oven and it remains to be seen whether it’s full of doughy goodness of just huge air bubbles but I am ever hopeful. It looks really yummy and smells so good in here! While witnessing the debacle in the kitchen today Jon commented that he didn’t see a lot of homemade sourdough bread in our future. I can’t wholly disagree, but as with all kinds of painful experiences (childbirth comes to mind) I am already starting to forget the pain.
Side Note: I took a break from writing to have lunch and couldn’t resist slicing into the finished loaf. Yum! The texture is great but I’d like it to have a bit more tang so I’ll be looking into that for the next loaf (because of course there will be a next loaf).
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