San Francisco Sourdough Bread

The saga of the sourdough starter has come to a close.

This was my second attempt at creating a sourdough starter from scratch and it was indeed a success! I started the seed culture on January 15th. After 10 days of diligent stirring and feeding, the culture was most definitely alive and ready to transform into a mother starter. That step was a pretty simple one, but involved some resting time on the counter before hitting the refrigerator. Once in the cool and cozy confines of the refrigerator, the starter is good for 5 days before it needs to be “refreshed.”

Well, at the four day mark, I had some time to whip together a bread dough using this mother starter. I chose to go with the San Francisco Sourdough bread. I mean, that’s the gold standard right?

So, I took the 2 ounces of mother starter I needed. Wait. What? 2 ounces? Do you realize how small of an amount that is? What am I going to do with the rest of the starter? The “refreshing” process only needs 4 ounces of starter. Hmmm… This could get wasteful. More on that later.

After mixing the sourdough, well, dough, and letting it proof, and storing it overnight in the refrigerator (man, this is a long process), it was finally time to bake! For loaf #1, I forgot to turn down the temperature of the oven after putting the bread in, and I didn’t rotate the loaf. It still turned out just fine, but it cooked a little faster than it was supposed to, and the lack of rotation caused it to rise a little faster on one side and lean a bit. No big deal. Loaf #2 included a much more careful following of the directions and turned out awesomely.

Here’s one of the loaves:

And here’s a look inside after we cut off a slice:

Check out those air pockets!

The bread was delicious. It had a heartier, yet spongier quality to it than the lean breads we’ve been making to date, and it had a really nice flavor.

Now, as I alluded to before, the downside is the maintenance of the sourdough starter itself. Realistically, if I was going to keep that starter going at the same size, I would either need to bake about 20 loaves of bread a week, or basically discard 3-4 cups of flour every week. One of those options is just not gonna happen (I mean, who would eat it all?), while the other seems super wasteful. So, after some careful deliberation, it was decided to discard the mother starter that I had taken so long to grow and focus on the non-sourdough bread varieties for a while. At least I know I can successfully create a sourdough starter though, so maybe this experiment will live on again someday.

By the way, this recipe and the process involved all came from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day book.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

A while back Paul signed up for a sample issue of Cook’s Country magazine, published by Christopher Kimball, the creator of America’s Test Kitchen programming (and king of the bowtie/suspenders look). Since receiving this issue, it has made its way from coffee table to kitchen counter to dining room table several times. Paul diligently made the White Chicken Chili and the mushroom sloppy joes (both receiving rave reviews) before the holidays, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I flipped through and had a hankering for their mushroom soup. After a weekend of birthday celebrations in Green Bay, tonight’s dinner was hearty and welcoming, prepping us for the long week ahead.

As the recipe states, they were looking for a hearty and velvety soup – bearing no resemblance to mushroom soup in a can. After several test runs, their final recipe called for three pounds of mushrooms – THREE POUNDS! That’s enough to get stares from the produce manager at Pic ‘N Save. And at $3.29 a pound, that’s enough to make me question the quantity so this better be worth it. Fortunately, this recipe didn’t have a ton of ingredients that my sweet stock boy didn’t already have on hand at home. So, mushrooms, leeks and half & half were all that I needed on a grocery run. Three pounds…

The first step was cleaning the leeks – a lengthy process due to the sand and dirt that collects between each layer. However a tip provided in the recipe suggested using the salad spinner to soak, drain, and spin. Worked nicely – and I didn’t have to scrub my sink down at the end. I used my trusted Le Creuset dutch oven to cook the butter, mushrooms and leeks together, and then added the next 4 ingredients. To finish the soup, the recipe steps included pureeing. Silly me thought using the food processor would provide a satisfactory puree. Silly me, indeed. The soup was a grainy oatmealy consistency – rather disgusting to look at to be honest. I’m going to eat that? Mushroom soup is already fairly drab. So, after it was all back in the pot I took out my trusted immersion blender (to the rescue!) and was very happy with the outcome. Don’t you agree? The last photo shows the smooth buttery finish.

And… finally, to top off the soup was a tasty homemade piece of sourdough bread. The mother starter was laid to rest after the making of this bread, as it was going to be too time and flour consuming to continue its growth. Perhaps Paul will tell you about it. Perhaps he’s still trying to decide whether or not the two weeks of love and nurture he gave it was worth it. It was a perfect combination with dinner, so I would say it was worth it.

The recipe for this soup (Cook’s Country, Oct/Nov’09, p. 17):

4 T unsalted butter
3 pounds (!) white or cremini mushrooms, broken into small pieces
2 Leeks, white and light parts only, halved lengthwise and chopped
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 t chopped fresh thyme
5 c beef broth
1/2 c cooking sherry
1 c half & half (original recipe called for heavy cream, but I subs. w/ H&H)
2 t lemon juice
Chopped chives for garnish

A: Melt butter in large dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until butter is golden brown and has nutty aroma, appx. 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, leeks, 1/2 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper, and cook, covered, until mushrooms release their liquid, appx. 5 minutes. Remove lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, appx. 15 minutes. Remove 2/3 c mushroom mixture, chop fine, and reserve.

B: Add garlic and thyme to pot with remaining mushroom mixture and cook until fragrant, appx. 30 seconds. Stir in broth and sherry and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until mushrooms and leeks are completely tender, appx. 20 minutes.

C: Puree soup in blender (unless you want to go the extra step like I did!) until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot, stir in half & half, lemon juice, and chopped reserved mushrooms and return to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Serve, drizzling individual portions with additional sherry and sprinkling with chives.

P.S. THREE POUNDS? It was worth it!

Indian Monday

The Menu:

  • Salad
  • Hummus
  • Pita Bread
  • Chicken with Indian Rub

The Recipes:

First up, I used this mix as a guide and created a simple Indian Spice Rub from the menagerie of spices pictured below.

Rubbed that on some chicken breasts and mixed up some hummus, following this easy recipe from the Savory Sweet Life blog. It was so quick that the only picture I got was the final product.

That turned out delicious, although maybe a tad too garlicky.

To scoop up the hummus, I decided to try making some homemade pita bread, following the instructions in Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day.

after about one minute -- the initial puffiness

five minutes later - whoa!

The pita bread turned out GREAT! It was the easiest bread I’ve made so far. I mean, yes, there’s some rolling pin action involved, but there’s no steam in this recipe and the baking time is 5-7 minutes. I actually went ahead and made a second load of pita bread so we’ll have some extras to enjoy with the leftover hummus over the next couple of days.

The final product was a well-balanced, but relatively easy and quick dinner.

Mother Starter

Remember that Sourdough Seed Starter?

Well, it has graduated to full-fledged Mother Starter status.

This is going to need a feeding on Friday, so I’m going to have to do a little baking with it between now and then. Do I go with the Pain au Levain? The San Francisco Sourdough bread? Some sourdough pizza dough? All of the above?

I think what I most need to do is research how to go about mixing some doughs and then freezing them.

Any opinions from our six readers?

Sourdough Seed Culture

This is my second attempt at trying to get a sourdough starter going. This time, I’m using the method in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.

The ingredients: unbleached bread flour and pineapple juice The initial stir

I mixed up the seed culture on Friday night. The first feeding will be Sunday evening, then it’ll be time to wait and see how long it takes to get some quality fermentation going. (I’ve seen some notes that talk about this process taking longer in the cooler, drier winter months)

Saturday Night Calzone

What we ate: Spinach & Cheese Calzone from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

How it looked:

This is the calzone right out of the oven. It was huge! A look inside.


  • This recipe was EASY! Assuming you have some dough in the refrigerator, you can have this on the table in under an hour (roughly 15 minutes to prep, 25 minutes to cook, 10 minutes to cool)
  • While mixing the filling, I kept thinking, “There’s no way this is going to be enough to serve 2-4 people” – mainly because it only called for 1/2 cup of spinach
  • On the other hand, when it came out of the oven, I was stunned at how large it was. My first fear was that it was going to be too “bready,” and while the edges were maybe a little thicker than they needed to be, it certainly wasn’t the case flavor wise.
  • Our main comment after dinner: “It would be interesting to make this with some other ingredients.”


The companion website for the book has this post from almost two years ago featuring a discussion about packing slices of these calzones in school lunches.

Would we make it again? Absolutely!

Three Loaves

I’m new to the whole breadmaking thing, but near as I can tell, the last couple years have featured a big uptick in the market for books about making “artisan” bread at home.

What is “artisan bread?”

Artisan bread is exactly what its name suggests: bread that is crafted, rather than mass produced. Baked in small batches rather than on a vast assembly line, artisan bread differs from prepackaged supermarket loaves in a number of ways. Special attention to ingredients, process, and a return to the fundamentals of the age-old bread-making tradition set artisan bread apart from soft, preservative-laden commercial breads.


Anyway, my exposure started with a gift from my now sister-in-law’s boyfriend and discussions with my now father-in-law. That was back around Christmastime 2008. We had this little wedding thing in the Spring that replaced a lot of kitchen time with planning time, then it was summer and who wants to heat up a kitchen in summer? In late 2009, I made an attempt to build a sourdough starter from the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Likely more to my lack of skill than anything else, it failed, never rising. I didn’t know if it was the cool temperature in the house, or what it was, but I just couldn’t get that dough to rise at room temperature. The frustrating thing at that point was just how much flour had been pumped into that starter.

Discouraged, I gave up on the artisan bread idea for a bit and then noticed bread books popping up on my sister’s birthday wishlists. A few birthday gifts later, along with some newer artisan book browsing at the in-laws over Thanksgiving and I was motivated to try again. The big change? It looks like the thought process around making artisan breads at home has evolved quite a bit during the last 2-3 years.

In books alone, I’ve been exposed to:

Equipped with a simpler recipe, I was re-energized to make some homemade loaves. As one final preparation step, I bought a 6-qt Camwear Food Storage container to hold the dough in the refrigerator. Then it was time to whip up some dough, which was crazy simple. Some yeast, some hot water, a little salt, and some flour. That’s it. And it looked like this:

No way was that going to result in multiple loaves said the cynic who failed to make a sourdough starter. However, after two hours of rise time and a night in the refrigerator, it looked like this (which is actually a little bit down from its peak height while on the counter):

Goodness. Now I understand the “don’t store dough in a mason jar because it could explode” warning.

It was then time to bake the first loaf. I went with the Boule style to start, since it seemed pretty easy. Make a ball and plop it down on a corn mealed pizza peel. Which, thanks to my brother-in-law, I have the top-rated (by Cooks Illustrated) and fairly magical Super Peel (picture below, holding said Boule dough).

A hot oven filled with some quick broiler pan steam and 40 minutes or so of baking time later, and the finished product came out looking like this:

That really does look like “real” bread, doesn’t it? I was so excited by the result, and the awesome house-filling smell that I ignored the advice to let it completely cool and cut off two warm pieces, one for me, and one for my still-in-bed wife. It was really really delicious (although still a little moist in the middle due to that whole cooling-advice-ignoring thing). That loaf was gone in two days.

Next up, I made the batard shape:

It was also quite tasty. My goals going forward? A more uniform width and some more attractive cuts across the top. That one also got eaten quickly, so with the final amount of dough in the refrigerator, I decided to try the sandwich loaf version:

It’s not as big as one would really want for sandwiches, and again, but it did introduce me to the different requirements of using a bread pan. I ate some of this this morning.

With the emptied container, I took the book’s assurances that not cleaning it is a good idea (helping the sourdough-ish process along) and made a whole new batch in the same container. That’s in the refrigerator now awaiting some baking time. What loaves will come out of that one? I’m thinking another boule if we’re just eating it for a meal or two, a couple of baguette shaped loaves if we serve lasagna for our friends next week, and/or some fresh pizza dough.

If you’ve been intrigued by this artisan concept like I was, but you’ve been skeptical (really? 5 minutes a day?), I can assure you that this is one of the simplest things I’ve ever baked. Honestly, it might even be easier than a packaged brownie mix. My suggested starting point is the Hertzberg/Francois book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking