Thursday, March 19, 2015


Levain made from applesauce gone bad!
Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

The day arrives for every serious hobby bread baker when he or she - no longer satisfied with being limited to store-bought yeast - craves for the star among starters - the homemade sourdough!

The usual pathway to your own starter is stirring some flour into water, hoping that, over time, this mixture will attract wild yeasts and lactid acid bacteria to devour and digest the free all-you-can-eat menu. These microorganisms are either clinging to the grains or parachute down from the air.

Rose Hip Jam with Red Wine & Apples
Three years ago I accidentally hit on a shortcut to get faster to a viable sourdough.

A glass of my homemade rose hip jam, waiting to be labeled, had sat too long in my warm kitchen, and gone bad.

I was about ready to throw the jam in the trash when the tiny bubbles on the surface triggered my curiosity to do a a little experiment.

What would happen when I mixed a spoonful of the tipsy jam together with a bit of flour and water?

To my delight, eleven hours later I had a lively, bubbly starter that provided the mother for the Pain au Levain à la Jan Hedh I made the next day. 

Rose Hip Levain  - with a starter made from turned jam!

Last month, rummaging in our fridge, I found a glass of applesauce that we had opened a while ago, and then completely forgotten. When I removed the lid, a strong (but not unpleasant) alcoholic smell reminded me of my earlier jam experiment.

Applesauce with bubbles and alcoholic smell
I was just planning to bake one of the loaves in my Bread Basket for Götz von Berlichingen, and chose Khalid's loaf, made with pureed raisins. It seemed to be a perfect match for a fruit-based starter.

After two feedings (at 12 hours intervals), my new, active apple sauce starter was born!

I took 25 grams, and, just as if it were my regular sourdough from the fridge, mixed it with the water and flours the recipe required. Then I left it alone overnight.

My trust in the power of drunken apples was not misplaced - anybody who doubts it, clearly never snacked on the seemingly innocent fruits from a punch bowl!

The next morning I found a nicely puffed, lively starter - ready for action!

Khalid's loaf, made with wheat, rye and spelt, rose just as it should. With a nice oven spring, it bore witness to the magic of the applesauce levain. It also had an excellent taste, and I will definitely bake it again (here is my take on it).

Khalid's bread - the magic of tipsy fruits

Of course, not everybody has a glass of fermented jam at hand. Tidy housewives (and their husbands) use their stock of applesauce, before it can start breaking bad. But there are other possibilities - for neat freaks and people who, unlike us, don't stuff their fridge with so many baking ingredients and condiments that they get out of control.

You can find hungry microorganisms in other places - for example at your local grocery store or supermarket (no, this is not a call for the health inspector!)

Joanna's (Zeb Bakes) Kefir-Rimacinata-Bread inspired me to a new experiment. Her starter contains homemade milk kefir. Would the active cultures of plain supermarket kefir be willing to do the heavy lifting in my kitchen, too?

Kefir starter: bubbles signal activity
My first trial, using kefir straight from the fridge, like Joanna, started out promising. The bread rose nicely, but, before even reaching it full potential, it ended with a total collapse, when I turned it out of on the baking sheet.

The structure of the dough was obviously too fragile, and not even the boost from oven heat was able to revive the pitiful flounder.

But now my ambition was tickled, and the second time around I proceeded like I did with the fruit-based levains. I mixed a teaspoon of kefir with the double amount of flour (half whole wheat, half bread flour) and left it in a warm spot in the kitchen.

A few hours later little bubbles on the surface indicated its appreciation for this treatment, and I continued feeding it over the next two days, every 24 hours.

On the third day I subjected my kefir starter to a new test - with a "pinched, not kneaded" loaf à la Ken Forkish. The result already looked much better, even though the crumb was still rather dense in some areas. The Overnight Cornmeal Bread didn't taste bad, either.

Made with 3-day-old kefir-levain: some dense areas, but already edible

Over the next days, from feeding to feeding - every 24 hours - my kefir-levain rose and fell exactly as Chad Robertson (Tartine) asks for his starter. A loaf à la Tartine, considered by many the Hol(e)y Grail of bread baking, was destined be the ultimate stress test for my young sourdough.

Voilà - here comes the Brown Rice Porridge Bread, made with a 8-day-old kefir starter:

Brown Rice Porridge Bread from Tartine No. 3

The juvenile starter performed like a real pro, providing a leavening strength and great taste that my normal sourdough couldn't have done any better!

Not only that - I got the blessing of the master himself: Chad Robertson "favorited" my bread on Twitter :)

 Chad Robertson "favorited" my bread

Update: Even after feeding (and baking with) the kefir starter for 6 month, it still has a very pleasant, mild, milky smell, not acidic like my other starters.

Monday, March 2, 2015


 Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

After skipping the first two two projects, I was ready to join the Avid Bakers again -
Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf from Christina Marsigliese, our new source for "Scientifically Sweet" recipes.

I love all citrus-y desserts, the tarter the better! And right now, having shoveled snow almost every day, I wish we could be back where the biggest lemons grow, the Amalfi coast!

Lemons (and Limoncello) in Amalfi - I wish we were there!

A whole cake is always a bit too much for two people who are forced to eat all their output (and they love to cook!), so I decided to make cupcakes instead, with a bit of lemon glaze for even more citrus flavor.

Since the cake contained cornmeal, I did not smuggle some whole wheat in the batter (what I usually do), and because Christina's cake didn't seem overly sweet, and had a lot of lemon juice, I didn't reduce the amount of sugar, either.

True to their name, the cupcakes tasted very lemony, indeed. A little trip to Italy for our taste buds!

Moist and lemony

LEMONIEST LEMON CUPCAKES (adapted from "Scientifically Sweet")
(12 cupcakes)
163 g/1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
42 g/1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tbsp lemon zest
¼ tsp salt
132 g/2/3 cup sugar
80 ml/1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup lemon juice

120 g/1 cup confectioner's sugar
lemon juice (as needed for the desired consistency)
lemon zest, as decoration

Preheat oven to 350°F/175ºC. Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together dry ingredients

Using a whisk, stir together flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a medium bowl until well combined.

In bowl of a standing mixer (or hand held mixer), whisk eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest and salt on medium-high speed until foamy, about 40 seconds.

With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar. Then increase the speed to high and continue beating until mixture is very pale and almost white in color, about 5 minutes. It should nearly triple in volume.

Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, first with the whisk attachment....

In a small bowl, stir together oil and lemon juice. Using the whisk attachment, fold 1/3 of the flour mixture into the egg mixture.

Add 1/2 of oil mixture and fold until almost blended. Fold in 1/2 of remaining flour mixture followed by remaining olive oil mixture.

....then the last flour addition by hand with a rubber spatula

Finally, by hand with a rubber spatula, gently fold in last 1/3 of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated.

Distribute batter evenly in cupcake liners (I use a 1/4 scoop). Place muffin pan in the middle of the oven.

Lemoniest cupcakes ready for the oven

Bake cupcakes until they are pale golden, but still springy when touched, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pan, and transfer to a wire rack.

Waiting for their glaze

For the glaze, mix confectioner's sugar with enough lemon juice to make a thick but still liquid icing. Spoon glaze (about 1 teaspoon each) over tops of cupcakes. Decorate with a little bit of lemon zest.