The Need to Knead

Here’s a blog post I originally created back in November of 2008:

A few weeks ago, inspired by Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (BBA), I decided to make a seed culture-barm-sourdough starter.  My first attempt failed, due, I think, to my impatience rather than a true failure of the process.  My second attempt, seasoned with more patience, worked, and I am baking my first sourdough loaves today.

The BBA recipe for Basic Sourdough Bread states that you can knead the dough by hand for 12-15 minutes, or use the dough hook in your stand mixer and knead for 4 minutes, rest for 5-10, and knead an additional 4 minutes.  I have made bread off and on for about 30 years (since I was 10 years old), and I have always kneaded by hand.  Until recently, that is.  I took a French bread class, and the instructor kneaded the bread in the Kitchen Aid (KA) for the first 5-6 minutes, then finished with the “slap and roll” technique, where you take the dough by the edge in one hand, slam it on the counter for all you’re worth, then use the other hand to do a jellyroll.  She said if you don’t use the KA to start with, you would slap and roll about 100 times; starting with the KA, you only have to do it about 15-20 times.

I have been using this method for my French bread for a while now, with excellent results.  So I planned to use the KA for my kneading on the sourdough, as instructed in BBA.  But partway through the first 4-minute knead, something happened.  I suddenly realized that I missed kneading by hand, the old fashioned way!  So after the first knead, I put the dough to rest on the counter for a few minutes, then finished kneading by hand.  It was an almost-religious experience.  When the wild yeast started to come alive, the smell was absoulutely intoxicating.  And the time flew by.  The dough was ready to be set aside to ferment before I knew it.

It’s good to get back to what I’ve always known and loved about bread baking.  That’s not to say that I will never again opt for the convenience of the KA or the slap and roll, but when I have the time, I will always choose to knead by hand.

A Tale of Two (Make that Three) Brioches

When I read about the brioche variations, there was little doubt which one I would choose.  The “Rich Man’s Brioche”, in addition to its name, has the draw of containing a full pound of butter, almost 90% in terms of baker’s percentages.  But if I was going to make such a decadent loaf of bread, I had to do it right.  This meant ordering brioche molds. 

As I looked at the BBA pictures, I realized I already owned a few molds, although when I bought them I had no idea what they were.  I picked them up at a cooking store because I thought they were the perfect size for measuring dry ingredients like yeast and salt on my scale.  I have two sizes of molds, very small and sort of medium-smallish.  I knew these would not be enough for baking the brioche, so I found some online to order.  I ordered a set of four 2 1/2-inch molds, which I think are probably about the same size as my medium-smallish ones; and a 6 1/2-inch mold, to make a loaf (kind of like the one pictured in BBA).

My molds are on the way, but I got to the weekend and decided I had to bake.  I was reading the brioche recipes again and noted that PR describes the Poor Man’s Brioche as making a good pain de mie.  Since I like to bake our sandwich bread, hadn’t used my Pullman pan in a few weeks, and figured it would make killer bread pudding, I decided to go ahead and make the Poor Man’s version this weekend and the Rich Man’s when my pans arrive.

In making the two versions, I was interested in comparing a few things.  First and foremost, the taste.  I wanted to know just how much that extra 3/4 pound of butter would do for the flavor.  And second, I was interested to see the difference in how the doughs handle, as the recipe indicates that the Rich dough can be challenging to handle, while the Poor version is more like French bread dough.

Poor Man’s Brioche

I mixed the Poor Man’s Brioche dough following the BBA recipe, with the exception of the milk.  My milk was bad, so I used water for the milk in the sponge and added powdered milk with the dry ingredients.  The dough was beautiful.  The eggs gave it a rich, golden color, even before adding the butter.  It needed a bit of extra flour during the kneading stage (I kneaded on low speed in my Kitchen Aid Artisan mixer), and the dough was silky and smooth by the end of the kneading period, and much more like the bread dough I am used to than the Rich Man’s dough would turn out (more on that below).  It rose beautifully and right on schedule.

Brioche en Bucket

I used three of my brioche molds and the Pullman pan.  I could tell right away that the dough would not fill the Pullman when it rose and baked, but I decided to use it anyway. 

Buncha Brioche Dough

After proofing, I baked the brioche molds at 400 dF for about 15 minutes.  They looked and smelled fantastic.  Two of them even lived to cool.  Then I baked the loaf at 350 dF for about 40 minutes, until it registered 190 dF on my instant-read thermometer. Since I knew it wouldn’t fill the pan, I left the lid off. The loaves were beautiful.  I especially liked the shiny top crust that the egg wash gave them. 

Brioche and Friends

As for the flavor, the small loaves were a bit dry; perhaps they should have come out of the oven sooner.  The pain de mie loaf was delicious.  Tasting it, I could see how some people described it as “tasting a sweet, buttery cloud”. But alas, it did not live to be sandwich bread, as on the first taste, it screamed out to be made into French toast and bread pudding.  So I cut some thick slices for bread pudding (see the N’awlins Bread Pudding post) and some thinner slices, which I used to make some of the best French toast ever.

Brioche French Toast

I enjoyed this bread more as French toast and bread pudding than just by the slice.  I might make it again for bread pudding, and I am interested in trying it with brie en croute.  But I wouldn’t make it with the intention of using as a sandwich loaf.  My standard pain de mie recipes (white and whole grain) are much better suited for that.

Rich Man’s Brioche

My brioche molds arrived mid-week, so I started the Rich Man’s Brioche dough on Friday evening.  We were planning to go away for most of Saturday, but I gathered from the recipe that when it comes to chilling this dough, longer is better.  

A few things really stand out about this recipe.  First, it calls for a lot of yeast (1 tablespoon instant).  And of course it calls for a perverse amount of butter (one full pound).  I was also surprised to realize that the dough is not kneaded.  Instead, it is mixed, either with the paddle attachment on your mixer (as I did it) or with a spoon.  Finally, I got the impression that this would not be your standard French bread-type dough, but would be much more slack.

I mixed the sponge according to the BBA recipe, then added the eggs (all 5 of them!) and mixed well.  I mixed in the dry ingredients (still using the paddle attachment), then allowed the dough to rest for 5 minutes.  I scraped down the dough, then added one stick of butter and mixed for a minute or so on speed 4.  I repeated the scraping, adding butter, and mixing for each stick of butter.  Then I scraped the bowl and mixed with the paddle attachment on speed 4 for about 6 minutes, stopping to scrape down the dough two or three times.  The dough was very soft and somewhat gooey.

A note on ingredients.  The butter and eggs should be at room temperature.  I always set them out the night before I plan to bake to make sure they are really room temp.  There is nothing worse than waiting for ingredients to warm up when you want to bake!

Mixing Rich Brioche in KA

When I was finished mixing, it was the strangest dough.  It’s difficult to describe the consistency of this dough, but I would say it was almost what you might expect to get if you mixed cake batter and sugar cookie dough.  It was very close to the consistency of my 100% hydration sourdough starter.

Rich Brioche Dough in Bowl

The directions said to put the dough on a baking sheet, but I decided it might keep its shape better in an 8×8 baking pan, so that’s what I used.

Rich Brioche Dough in Le Crueset

I sprayed the parchment with spray oil before adding the dough, and sprayed the top of the dough and my plastic wrap as well.  Then I put the dough in the fridge for a nice, long cool down.

I didn’t get around to baking on Saturday, so I pulled the dough out Sunday morning.  It really rose in the refrigertor.  I would say it almost doubled in size.

Rich Brioche - Risen

PR says to keep the dough very cold, so I cut off a chunk and put the rest back in the fridge.

Cutting Rich Man's Brioche Dough

If I thought the consistency of the dough was strange before, this really took the cake (or should I say, butter?).  The book warned that this was not an easy dough to work with, and indeed it was strange — slippery, but quite mailable.  It felt like shaping cold butter.  I worked quickly, so as not to let the dough get too warm.  From the first chunk I measured 2.5 oz pieces, which I shaped into brioche a tetes for my small molds.  Then I got the dough back out and measured out a one pound chunk for my large mold.  The rest (about 14.5 oz) I put in a standard loaf pan.

Rich Man's - Ready to Proof

I let the dough proof for about two hours, then I brushed the small brioches with egg wash and preheated the oven to 400 dF.  The small loaves took about 20 minutes to bake, and I prepared the larger loaves while the smaller ones were in the oven.  When the small loaves were done baking, I reduced the oven to 350 dF for the large loaves, which I baked for 35 minutes.

See below for the pictures of the final product.  I really liked this bread.  It was rich (bien sur!), with a dense, moist crumb.  It didn’t need any butter and was delicious with orange marmalade.  Will I make it again?  Read on….

Middle-Class Brioche

I hadn’t planned on making all three “classes” of brioche; but so many people were posting about how much they liked the middle-class version that I decided to give it a try.  I mixed up the dough while the Rich Man’s Brioche was proofing.  It was really similar in consistency to the Rich version, but not quite as gooey.  The Middle Class dough was still quite soft, but it felt a bit more like traditional bread dough than the Rich Man’s dough.  I used the same 8×8 pan to bulk ferment the dough.

Middle Class - Ready for Fridge

It didn’t rise quite as much as the Rich Man’s Brioche, but I don’t know if that was a difference in the dough or because it only bulk fermented for about 5 hours.  It definitely rose, though, and looked like it was ready to go.

Middle Class - Risen

I measured and shaped the dough exactly the same as the Rich version and let the dough proof for about the same amount of time.  Here is the dough before and after proofing.

Middle Class - Shaped and Ready for ProofingMiddle Class - Ready to Bake

Again, I baked the Middle-Class loaves as I had the Rich Man’s version, baking the small brioches first, then the larger loaves.  One thing that really surprised me was the oven spring.  Although the dough hadn’t risen as much during the bulk ferment, it looked about the same when it went into the oven.  But here’s what it looked like coming out:

Middle Class Brioche with First Class Oven Spring!

Here are the Rich Man’s loaves (on the left), along with the Middle-Class loaves.  They both came out beautifully, but the Middle-Class loaves won out on oven spring.

All the Pretty Brioches

The crumb looked almost exactly the same (Rich is on the left).

Crumby Crumb Picture

So, how about the taste?  The Middle-Class Brioche was absolutely delicious!  Again, I tried it plain and with marmalade and loved it both ways.  And imagine my surprise when I did a side-by-side comparison of the Rich and Middle-Class breads:  I actually preferred the Middle-Class version!  I thought it tasted richer and more buttery than the Rich Man’s version. 

In the end, I was glad to have tried all three versions.  And I will definitely make the Middle-Class version again (and again, and again).  The Rich bread was really delicious; but for the extra butter and the difficulty working the dough, I think I’ll stick with the Middle Class.  And the Poor Man’s version?  I’d like to try that again to use for brie en croute, as PR recommends.  And I’d bake it just to make bread pudding and French toast with it any day.

Bagels — Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

I have been looking forward to this week’s BBA Challenge (bagels) for several reasons. I’ve made them many times before, so I knew I could knock them out without too much difficulty. And I figured if worse came to worst, I could just skip them, as I’ve already done them.  Well, instead of skipping them, I made them twice.

For the first batch I decided to mix things up a bit, so I used the sourdough option that PR discusses in a side note.  I mixed up my starter (although after the fact I realized I didn’t exactly follow the directions, so I had to adjust the hydration of the dough) and used it in place of the sponge.  Adjusting the yeast was a bit tricky, as the sidebar says to increase it, but then so does the Grace Note on making cinnamon raisin bagels, which I was also doing. In the end, I used 2 teaspoons of instant yeast, which seemed to work out pretty well.

The dough was stiff but a bit sticky, so I had to add additional flour as I kneaded.  And I kneaded by hand, not with my KA Artisan like I do with most doughs, because this dough is just too stiff for the mixer to handle.  Kneading in the raisins is always an issue, as they seem to want to stay clumped together.  The best way I have found to mix them in is to pat the dough into a rectangle, spread about 1/3 of the raisins on the dough, fold the edges into the middle, and then keep kneading.  After the first third gets mixed in, repeat twice more to get all the raisins incorporated.  It takes more than the two minutes the recipe allots for, but they will eventually get mixed in.

The next step was to cut the dough into chunks. I highly recommend scaling the dough for this step. It is impossible to get evenly sized bagels without weighing the dough.  I don’t get too hung up on hitting 4.5 ounces right on the nose.  Anywhere between 4.4 and 4.6 is fine with me. After scaling, I rolled the dough into balls, and let them rest for about 20 minutes. 

A Scaling We Will Go

PR gives two methods for shaping the bagels.  I have done both and don’t really notice much difference in the final product. So I tend to use the first method, which is to poke a hole in the center of the dough and stretch it until you have about a 2 1/2 inch hole in the center. I usually try to make the hole bigger than I think it should be, as this dough is quite elastic and will want to pull back into shape. 

Shapely Bagels

After shaping and another 20 minute rest (and the dreaded float test), the  recipe says to let the bagels rest in the fridge overnight,  which I didn’t do, as I decided to bake the bagels all in one day.  I gave them a little longer rest, maybe 30 minutes total, while I got the oven and boiling water ready. Then I boiled and baked them one tray at a time.  They came out really nice and chewy, although to be honest maybe slightly too chewy. I may have boiled them for a bit too long. Chewy or not, they lasted less than a week, which is why I decided to go ahead and bake another batch, this time without the sourdough.

For the second batch I did cinnamon without raisins, as my daughters don’t like them with raisins (oh, and I was out of raisins).  This time I used the sponge as called for in the recipe and otherwise followed PR’s instruction with the exception of not adding raisins.  After shaping and resting, I waited 20 minutes before testing for the float.  They floated on the first try, so into the fridge they went.

The next day, I worked with one pan at a time.  I don’t like messing about with moving the pans from shelf to shelf.  And I’ve found that I can boil the second pan in about the time it takes to bake the first batch.  So, here’s the first pan, ready to boil:

Ready to Boil

This time when I boiled the bagels, I was careful not to go over the 1 minute per side mark.  In fact, I shot for 45 seconds per side, and was pleased with the results (more on that below).

Holy Boiling Bagels. Batman!After the Boil

 After the boil, I baked them at 500 dF for 5 minutes then rotated the pan, lowered the heat to 450, and baked another 6 1/2 minutes.  And here’s the finished product (including the crumb shot that someone pointed out I missed in my Artos post):

Bowl o' Bagels

Despite the absence of raisins, the second batch was my favorite.  The reduced boiling time made for a less chewy, yet still dense and flavorful, bagel.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is one recipe I will definitely make again!

N’Awlins Bread Pudding {Recipe}

I made Poor Man’s Brioche today (I’m holding off on the blog until brioche week).  It is a good bread, and I think it will make an excellent bread pudding.  With that in mind, here is my favorite bread pudding recipe, given to me by a friend of mine from New Orleans.  It is his mom’s recipe.

  • 1 loaf French bread, stale, torn into bits (or in my case, day-old brioche)
  • 1 quart milk (4 cups)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Soak bread in milk in large bowl for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Stir in sugar, raisins, and vanilla.
  4. Add eggs and mix lightly.
  5. Pour into buttered baking dish.  Place dish in baking pan.
  6. Place baking pan on middle oven rack, and carefully pour boiling water approximately 1/2-inch deep in baking pan.
  7. Bake 30-45 minutes.


  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Melt butter and sugar together over low heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Stir in bourbon.
  3. Whisk in egg.
  4. Heat slowly for a minute or two to thicken.
  5. Pour over bread pudding and serve.

This is  a true New Orleans bread pudding, guaranteed to please.  In fact, the last time I made it using my leftover Poor Man’s Brioche, I actually cried a little.  It’s that good.  My mom was visiting and showed up with a homemade pumpkin pie, my all-time favorite thing that she makes.  I didn’t touch it.  But I had seconds of Bread Pudding.

Bread Pudding

Christopsomos — Easy for You to Say

The second bread in the BBA Challenge, Artos, is one that I would probably never have baked were it not for the Challenge.  Why not?  Well, let’s see

  1. I’m not Greek
  2. I can’t pronounce “Christopsomos”
  3. I used to work with a Greek guy, and he was really obnoxious, so I’m automatically turned off to all things Greek
  4. I hated My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Hey, I’m the first to admit those may be shallow reasons, but they’re my reasons nonetheless.  So, here I was, about to embark on a bread I might never have made and against which I already harbored unfounded prejudices.

I decided on the Christopsomos version, mainly because I thought it would be fun to try to shape it like PR’s version, with the cross and curlicues on top of the boule.  In order to accomplish making this bread, I had to spread the baking out over two days.  So I reduced the yeast by about half and, after mixing and kneading the dough and adding the nuts, raisins, and chopped dates (I didn’t have figs), I bulk fermented it in the fridge. 

It rose just exactly on (my) schedule, so I took it out of the fridge on day two and commenced with the shaping.  This is where I ran into my first problem.  I didn’t have time to let it come to room temperature, and was afraid it would over-rise if I did, so I shaped it right out of the fridge.  The dough was a little bit hard to work with chilled; it kept wanting to tear, so it was hard to get a nice, tight boule.  I treated it gently but firmly (like I’m supposed to treat my kids, I guess) and eventually ended up with a pretty decent boule.

Then came the octopus arms.  Again, having the dough chilled made it a little hard to work with, and I couldn’t get the ropes rolled out as tight as I wanted them.  I draped the “arms” over the dough in a cross shape and cut and curled the ends of the dough.  Not perfect, but not bad for a first attempt with chilled dough:

Artos Dough

After the final shaping and rest, I baked as directed in the recipe.  And the smell!  Oh, the smell!  So this is Greek bread?  I learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of stereotyping, which I should probably someday pass onto my kids.  But for now, I was more interested in eating this bread.  After it baked, this is what I ended up with:

Arrrgh, ya landlubber!

Arrrgh, ya landlubber!


OK, so it looks a bit like a skull and crossbones.  But it smelled great.  And tasted fantastic.  It made great toast.  I took it to work the day after I baked it, and it disappeared to rave and ravenous reviews.

Like the Anadama, this is another bread I will definitely make again.  And I’m glad for this Challenge, which made me try a new bread that I might have otherwise missed.  Hail to the Greeks!

That Darned Anna — Anadama Bread

The BBA Challenge is what prompted me to start blogging, and yet here I sit waiting for my fourth recipe (Poor Man’s Brioche) to rise, and realizing I haven’t blogged on the first recipe.  Everyone else is pretty much done writing about it, so it seems redundant, but here goes:

The first recipe in the BBA Challenge was Anadama Bread, supposedly named after the curse a man leveled at his wife when she left him with nothing but flour, cornmeal and a little molasses, which he threw together in a bowl and mixed the first version of this bread.  I had made this bread before from a different recipe and liked it pretty well.  I had also tried PR’s version of it in BBA but wasn’t as thrilled with it.  It came out too crunchy for my liking.

So in baking this bread for the challenge, I did two things differently than before.  First, I used a hot soaker for the cornmeal to ensure that it didn’t have quite so much tooth to it.  And second, I omitted the sprinkle of raw cornmeal on the top of the dough before baking.  Both of these seemed to to the trick, as the bread came out delicious, with just a hint of crunch. 

I enjoyed this bread plain, toasted, with butter, pumpkin butter, Nutella, and clover, buckwheat, and avacado honeys.  I didn’t make it as far as French toast or bread pudding, as the loaves disappeared too quickly.

I will definitely make this bread again, using the hot soaker and leaving off the sprinkled cornmeal topping.

Sourdough 101 – A Tutorial

Like many people, I had long wanted to learn how to make sourdough.  In fact, at one point I had a starter going and was sure I had killed it.  After much reading, in books and online, and some encouragement from my online friends, I tried again, this time with better results.Although there is a wealth of information out there, I was never able to find one source that detailed the method I used, which was based on Reinhart’s “barm” in The Breadbaker’s Apprentice (“BBA”).  My own experience and that of others here has taught me one thing:  sourdough starters don’t read baking books, so they don’t know how they are “supposed” to behave.  I could have been spared the angst, the wasted time, and of course, pounds of precious flour, if only I had known what to expect and what to look for.

In the hopes of sparing others what I went through, I put together this tutorial blog.  This was a real test, as I wrote it day by day as I was trying out a modified starter that I had’t made before.  It’s still based on Peter’s starter, but I altered the amounts and the times to suit my own fancy.  I ended up with a more reasonable (i.e., much smaller) amount of starter and got there with much less wasted flour.

So here goes:

Day 1:

Ingredients:  1/3 cup rye flour and 1/4 cup water

For the flour, I use stone-ground rye.  Nothing special, just what I got from the grocery store.  My water is tap water run through a filter.  Before I had a filter on my sink, I used bottled drinking water.

Mix the flour and water in a bowl.  It will be thick and pasty, kind of like the oatmeal that’s left in the pot if you don’t come down for breakfast on time.

Day One - A Gloopy Mess

Once all the flour is mixed in, put it in a pint-sized or larger container and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave it out on the counter.

Day One - Ready to Rest

And that’s it for today.

Day 2:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

There should be little, if any, change in the culture from yesterday.  Again, I’m not really particular about the flour.  I would just recommend staying away from bleached flour.  I am using AP flour for this batch.

Mix the flour, water, and all of the starter from yesterday in a bowl.  It will still be thick but a little wetter than yesterday.

Day 2-1

Put it back in the container (no need to wash it), press it down as level as you can get it, and mark the top of the culture with a piece of tape on the outside of the container.

Day 2-2

Put the plastic wrap back on top, and you’re finished.

Day 3:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

Around Day 3 or 4, something happens that puts terror in the heart of the amateur sourdough maker:  they get a whiff of their starter.  When you check your starter on Day 3, you may notice a strange, and not at all pleasant, odor.  And unless you know better (which you will now), you’ll swear something is drastically wrong.  In fact, I would venture to guess that that smell has been the ruin of more amateur sourdough growers than anything else.  It’s an acrid, sour, almost rotten smell, and it’s perfectly normal.  And rest assured, your new baby sourdough starter will soon outgrow it.  So, take heart, and press on.

You may also notice that your starter has begun to come to life.  It probably won’t grow a lot, maybe 50%, but you will start to see bubbles, like these:

Day 3-1

Regardless of the amount of growth, stir down your starter, throw out about half (no need to measure, just eyeball it), and mix the rest with today’s flour and water.  You will get a slightly more doughy-looking mass:

Day 3-2

Once it’s well mixed, put it back in the container (still no need to wash), pat it down, and move your tape to again mark the top of the starter.

Day 3-3

Put the plastic wrap back on the container, and take the rest of the evening off.  You worked hard today.

Day 4:

Ingredients:  1/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/8 cup water

And now, a word about measurements.  If you bake regularly, or even if you’ve just been nosing around baking sites for a while, you are no doubt aware that the ingredients in most artisan bread recipes are listed by weight rather than volume.  I measure by weight for my baking and for maintaining my sourdough starter.

You might wonder why, then, am I using volume measurements here?  Two reasons: first, I have tried to make this starter as simple to follow as possible — no special tools, no monkeying around with the scales, just a couple of measuring cups and a bowl.  And, when it comes to starting a starter, the measurements aren’t as critical as when you actually go to bake with it.  So for now, we’re just using measuring cups.

Today is another one of those days where novice sourdough starter makers often lose heart.  Your starter is now coming to life, and like most living things, it kind of has a mind of its own.  Up until now, we followed the clock, making our additions every 24 hours.  Now, we will be letting the starter dictate the timeframe.

Before you do your Day 4 additions, you want to make sure your starter has at least doubled.  If it doubles in less than 24 hours, you should still wait until the 24 hour mark.  If it takes more than 24 hours, be patient.  Let it double.  It may take another 12 or 24 hours, or it may take longer.  Again, be patient.  It will double.  Just give it time.  Eventually, you’ll end up with a nice, bubbly starter:

Day 4-1

You can see that mine more than doubled.  But I still waited for 24 hours.  Once it doubles, throw out half of the starter, then mix the rest with the flour and water, and back into the bowl it goes:

Day 4-2

Replace the tape and plastic wrap.  Then wait for it to double.   It could take as little as 4 hours, or it may take more than 24 hours.  This time, you can move on to Day 5 at any point after doubling.  It’s OK if you let it more than double; it’s also OK to move on right when it hits the double mark.  So, hurry up and wait.  If it doesn’t seem to be doing anything after 24 hours, you can goose it with a tablespoon or so of rye flour.

Day 5:

Ingredients:  3/4 cup unbleached AP, bread, or high gluten flour; 1/2 cup water

Once your starter has at least doubled, it’s time for the final mix.

Day 5-1

Combine flour, water, and 1/4 cup starter in a bowl and mix well.  Transfer to a clean container with room for the starter to at least double.

Day 5-2

OK, one last time, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter until it gets nice and bubbly.  Don’t worry so much about how much it grows, just so that it’s bubbly looking.  This will probably take around 6 hours, but, again, don’t stress about the time.  Let the starter tell you when it’s ready.

Day 5-3

When your starter gets bubbly, pat yourself on the back:  you are now the proud parent of a bouncing baby starter!  Put a lid or other cover on your container and put it in the refrigerator.  Let it chill overnight, and you can begin using it the next day.

Day 6 and beyond:

By today, your starter is ready to use.  The flavor will continue to develop over the next several weeks to month, so don’t be disappointed if your first few loaves aren’t sour enough for you.  I would still recommend beginning to bake with it right away, especially if you have never made sourdough bread before.  That way, you can hone your skills while your starter develops its flavor.

Feeding your sourdough:  If you keep your sourdough in the fridge, you only have to feed it about once a week.  And you can minimize your discards by keeping only what you need and feeding it when you want to bake with it.  I recommend a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) feeding, which means each feeding includes an equal amount, by weight, of starter, water, and flour.

Start by weighing your starter, subtracting the weight of your container.  Then add an equal amount of water and flour directly to the container.  So, for example, if you have 100 grams of starter, you would add 100 grams each of water and flour.  If you feed your starter right out of the fridge, as I do, warm your water to lukewarm (90 – 100 degrees F).  After you mix in the water and flour, leave it out on the counter for a few hours, then put it back in the refrigerator.  It’s best if you feed your starter a few days before you intend to bake with it.

To illustrate, here is an example of my feeding routine, starting with the Day 5 starter and assuming that I finished making the starter on Friday night:

  • Saturday morning, I take out what I need to bake bread (2/3 cup using my normal sourdough bread recipe) and return the rest of the starter to the refrigerator.
  • Wednesday of the next week, I get out the starter, weigh it, and add equal amounts of flour and water in a 1:1:1 ratio, as outlined above.  My goal here is to build up as much starter as I need to make bread on the weekend, and enough left over for my next build.  It’s OK if I have more than I need to bake with.  If I don’t think I’ll have enough after a 1:1:1 build, I will increase my ratio of water and flour, maybe to 1:2:2 or 1:1.5:1.5.  In that case, I will let it sit out until it almost doubles before returning it to the fridge, which might take a bit longer, as I’m using less starter relative to flour and water.
  • Friday night or Saturday morning, I again take out what I need to bake with and return the rest to the fridge, to be fed again mid-week.

This is just an example of how I keep my starter.  You can feed yours more often if you bake more than I do.  It’s also OK to let it go more than a week between feedings.  If you do that, though, you might want to feed it a few times before you bake with it.

So, that’s it.  Hopefully I’ve unravelled some of the mystery of sourdough starters and given you the confidence to try one yourself.  Good luck, and let me know how it works out for you!

Recipe — Balsamic Reduction; Heirloom Tomato Stack

One of my favorite dishes at a local bistro is called the tomato stack. They alternate thick slices of different colored heirloom tomatoes with slices of fresh mozzarella, then top it with julienned basil strips and drizzled balsamic reduction.

I have wanted to try it myself for some time but could never figure out how to make the reduction. I searched online for recipes, but none of the recipes that called for a balsamic reduction told how to make it.

I finally found a couple of recipes, but each one was so different that it was hard to tell how to make it. So I experimented and found the right way to do it.

The thing that amazed me most was that all that went into it was balsamic vinegar. I figured there would be some sugar or other sweetener, but the vinegar gets incredibly sweet as it cooks down. So, here is my recipe:

Balsamic Reduction
Makes about 1/3 cup

Measure 1 cup of balsamic vinegar and pour into a saucepan.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low.
Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about 2/3.
It should be sweet and slightly thick; the reduction will thicken as it cools.
Great on Heirloom Tomato-Mozzarella-Basil Stacks (see below), grilled lamb, or fresh figs.

Heirloom Tomato Mozzarella Basil Stacks(Insalata Caprese)
Serves 4

4-5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, various colors
1 lb. fresh mozzarella (packed in water)
Fresh basil leaves
One recipe Balsamic Reduction (see recipe above)

Wash the tomatoes well and slice in thick slices (about 1/2 inch each).
Slice the mozzarella in thick slices.
Wash and dry the basil and julienne (see below).
On separate serving plates, alternate tomatoes and mozzarella .
Drizzle balsamic reduction on top and sides of stacks and around edge of plate.
Sprinkle basil on top and around plate.


To julienne basil, stack 4 or 5 washed basil leaves, then roll them up, cigar style.  Slice the rolled basil to make thin strips.

Sticky vs. Tacky

How to tell the difference between “sticky” and “tacky” when it comes to dough:  The easiest way is to press your hand onto the dough and then lift it up. If the dough pulls up with your hand and then releases (so your hand comes away clean), the dough is tacky. If you end up with dough stuck to your hand, it’s sticky.

Let the Games Begin!

So, I guess when I signed up for the Bread Bakers Apprentice Challenge (“BBA Challenge”), it was inevitable that I would start a blog, too.  After all, everyone else has one.

For those of you who may have stumbled on this blog and who don’t know about the BBA Challenge, it is a group of 200 home bakers from around the world who have joined together with one simple goal:  to bake every recipe in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  We bake on our own, then write about our experiences in e-mails, on Twitter, on our Facebook group, and, of course, on our blogs.

I’ll admit I’ve wanted to start a blog for some time, but I needed a push to make me want to climb the learning curve.  The BBA Challenge has provided that push.  Fortunately, I have a lot of baking experience, so I can spend my time figuring out this whole blogging thing.

I will post my baking results for the BBA Challenge here, but this won’t strictly be a BBA Challenge, or even just a baking blog.  I chose the name “Of Cabbages and King Cake” as an homage to three of my favorite pursuits:  reading, baking, and cooking.  So, you’ll likely see a mix of those and other topics here.

So welcome.  I hope we enjoy the ride.

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