Friday, January 18, 2013

New sourdough starter for a new year

One of the new projects that I decided to start this year was a sourdough. I've done sourdough in years past, but my baking projects never really seemed to ever work out. The bread was always tough and dense...I lost interest. 

However, over the past year, I have really hit my stride when it comes to bread baking. I would like to say that I read this or that classic bread baking book, that a glowing light descended from the heavens, and I suddenly learned how to bake bread. The truth is that I just kept at it and something clicked. I now know what the dough feels like when it is ready to go in the loaf pan or on the hearth. It turns out that it really isn't that hard. If you can remember back to when you learned to ride a bike, it is sort of like that. Seemingly impossible at first and then rather quickly you just do it without thinking. That is the best analogy that I have for my bread baking experience. 

There are some basic bits of knowledge that I can pass along though. 

Don't necessarily pay attention to any recipe. The fact that you didn't use exactly the right amount of yeast has very little to do with the door stop sitting on your cooling rack. Trust me. 

What I have found to be the biggest single factor in my successes is the hydration and gluten development in the dough. This is especially true when it comes to using our Entire Grain flour. In simplistic terms, you need to knead. And you need to knead more than you think. Leaving the dough to rest between kneading is a good trick too. I use our Kitchen Aid with the dough hook for 95% of my kneading. It works well and saves me sore arms and time. I leave that dough kneading for a good 10 minutes and I keep adding flour until I have a really stiff, dry dough. This stiff dough gives me the nicest, lightest bread. Whenever my dough has been too wet and floppy the bread turns out like a brick. Trust me.

This newest incarnation of sourdough on our farm actually got its start when a friend came over for dinner before Christmas and brought us a bottle of homemade hard Apple Cider. At the bottom of the bottle is the layer of yeasty type tailings that don't taste very good. When I was building my starter I used a couple Tblsp of Apple Cider, but not the cloudy yeast tailings. You can follow any sourdough starter you like. Googling "sourdough starter" will give you more results than you know what to do with. 
Apple Cider Starter - 1 month old

I think that people like to make things fancier than they need to be so I simply use equal parts of water and flour and a little of the cider. Keep the starter out at room temperature and wait till it starts bubbling. Once this happens, every day for about a week take out about half the starter and replace it with an equal amount of the flour water mix. There should be some critical mass with your starter. I use a jar that holds about 2.5 cups of starter. Once your starter is really humming along you can put it in the fridge and repeat the feeding process once every week and a half or so.

When you want to bake some bread, simply take a cup of starter and mix it in with your dough ingredients. When baking sourdough without adding commercial yeast it is important to note that the dough will take significantly longer to rise. Patience is the key to a good sourdough. I usually have to leave my bread proof for the whole day. Adding proofs within an hour, maybe 2.

All in all, baking bread is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Taking things a step further and playing around with sourdough is another bit of enjoyment too. Don't be afraid to give sourdough a try.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year on the farm

Another year is upon us. As I get older, the time just slips by faster and faster.

I lovingly remember, not all that long ago, Christmases as a kid on my Parent's and Grandparent's farms. A touch of sadness with fond remembrance of times past and people missed. Christmas Eve was almost always spent at Nana and Papa's with Aunt and Uncle and Cousins up from Calgary. Then we'd drive the two miles home before Santa was due. I remember watching the sky with anticipation, but perhaps more than that it was just simply beautiful. Winter skies in the country, away from the light-pollution of a million road lamps, are amazing. To this day, my favorite holiday activity is a quiet, lonely walk at night.

Mom and Dad made sure that Christmas Day was always the highlight of the year in our house. We were lucky, I realize now.

Mounds of gifts surrounded the tree in the morning and the pain of having to wait until everyone else in the house awoke was excruciating. Often, I would be up in the middle of the night and sneak down the stairs to the living room where I would turn on the tree lights and catch my breath at the sight of brightly coloured parcels and bulging stockings that weren't there when I went to bed. With my blanket on the couch I'd fall asleep again. Eventually, the house would creep to life with brother and sister first, then Mom and Dad. Punishable with death was the act of opening a present before adults were awake and coffee'd up...again an excruciating wait.

After the presents were unwrapped, Mom would almost always make waffles and bacon. For whatever reason, this was the only time she made waffles. Or at least that's what it seems in my memory. That must have been the world's oldest, most pristine waffle maker. Wondering now, if it is still in use? I'll have to check. 

Nowadays however, this time of year is a time of planning and hope.We are creating wonderful memories for our kids here on our farm. Our Son, like clockwork almost every winter night, puts on his coat and boots and heads outside. No doubt, one day in his forties, he will write an article very similar to this one.

The farm will undergo more changes in 2013. We are planning more landscaping and building improvements. More garden. More animals. More fencing and work for sure. Like a piece of artwork, our farm is slowly taking shape and is becoming what we want of it...a self-sustainable oasis of environmental stewardship, love and happiness. We're getting there.

Right now, my thoughts are with our customers and their families too. I hope that all of you know how much we appreciate your support. Without your help in spreading the word about our farm and products we would be elsewhere in our lives for sure. I smile when I think about our regulars at Strathcona Market and I am really looking forward to being there again in a couple days. Cindy and I were talking this morning of different ways that we can share our farm with more people in the near future. But in the meantime, here's hoping that all of you enjoy a wonderful 2013! 

John Schneider