Buliding Your Starter – Days 4-7

Hi all! Just checking in today. Hopefully you noticed some changes in your starter. Mine rose a bit more today and is starting to develop a pretty bad smell… Who knew that would ever be a good thing?? 🙂

Here’s the level it was at after feeding yesterday, just a bit below the tape…

And here it is today! It is definitely above the tape – success!

Sorry about the picture, all my photo stuff is packed up and ready to be moved! So camera phone it was…

I highly encourage you to smell your starters every day. Don’t just stick your nose in there and take a big ol’ whiff… You might knock yourself out with the smell. But, smelling it can help convince you that something is happening in there ,if you’re doubting. The starter should start producing a “sour” smell in the near future, if it hasn’t already.

One thing I forgot to mention is that yeast has more activity in a warm environment. If your house is 60 degrees, it’ll still work, it just takes longer. To help give it a boost either turn the heat on in your house, or find a warm place for it to sit (which is what I like to do since the heater gets so expensive!). Try the top of your fridge, in your laundry room, over the stove… anyplace up to about 78F is good. Even a bowl of hot water in the microwave helps a lot.

I’m going to be going on a short vacation for the next few days, so I won’t be posting much. Just follow the same routine as yesterday (throw out half, then add 2 oz bread flour, 2 oz water). You’ll pretty much keep this up until it is “ready” to be used (which I’ll post about when I’m back).

I hope you all have a really awesome Thanksgiving! Remember that Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday to eat lots of tasty food (although it is a BIG plus), but it is a holiday to really think about all the blessings you have. Tell your friends you appreciate their friendship and all they do for you; thank your boss for giving you a job; thank you parents for raising you right; and thank your significant other for… well, being significant.

If I have time tomorrow, I’ll post a recipe for a vegan pumpkin pie! Don’t get your hopes up, but keep those fingers crossed!  Check back tomorrow for the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever had! It’s both vegan and soy-free. Awesome!

Building Your Starter – Day 3

Welcome back! How are your starters doing? Mine hasn’t had much progress. I marked the top of my starter with a piece of tape, and, while there was a little bit of growth, it was nearly at the same point. I could see some little bubbles forming on the side of the jar, so I know it’s working!

Now you just have to feed it again. First throw out about half of what you have. There is a reason behind doing this. Whenever you feed your starter, you want to double what you have on hand so that the yeast have enough to feed off of. So if you start with one cup, you double it to two. The next time you feed it, you’d have to add another two cups for a total of four. The next time you’d end up with eight…

As you can see, it can get out of hand. Once you start using the starter in your recipes, you won’t have to throw half of your starter every time you feed it. But, until we get a strong starter going, we need to keep the amount in check.

So, throw out about half of what you have. I made a guess and then weighed my jar:

This is about 17.5 oz. If you recall, my jar weighed 13.75 oz. So, there’s a little less than 4 oz left in the jar, just what I wanted! Remember we added a total of 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of liquid the first two days for a total of 8 oz. Thus, the 4 oz I have left is just about half.

Now, feed your starter just like you did yesterday. Add 2 oz unbleached, unenriched bread flour and 2 oz water. Mix together and replace the lid.

If you did it right, the level of your starter should now be at the same level it was yesterday. I left the tape in place when I fed mine today, and afterward it was about the same height:

Hopefully we’ll start to see a little more activity by tomorrow. Even if you don’t see any activity, don’t despair! I can’t stress enough how sourdough takes patience – not just building the starter, but in making the bread, too. This does not translate into “difficult” or “time-consuming,” as the hands-on time is just like any other bread you make. You just have to plan ahead a little better.

I’d love to hear how your starters are doing! And, as always, I’m so happy to answer any questions you have – email me at ovenmittsblog (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

Building Your Starter – Day 2

If you’ve just come across this post, be sure to check out my Intro to Sourdough to get you started!

Today’s task is even easier than yesterdays – all you have to do is feed your starter a little flour and water. You probably didn’t notice any changes in your starter since you made it yesterday – that’s okay! Mine didn’t either:

Today we’ll just be using bread flour and water. Add 2 oz flour (or a little less than a half cup) and 2 oz water (or a 1/4 cup) to your starter. Mix it together really well.

You’ll notice that it’s a little easier to mix together today than it was yesterday, even though the ratio is the same. This is good! It means things are happening. Replace the vented lid or saran wrap and leave it out on the counter again.

If you’re curious, you can place a piece of tape or rubber band around your container to mark the top of your mixture. If you do this, you will be able to see if you’ve had any growth!

Do you have any previous experience with sourdough? Do you have any questions related to starters or sourdough breads in general?

This is my third time building a starter, and the first two times were successful. My first starter used commercial yeast (gasp!) and, while it looked and acted like a sourdough starter… it never made bread that tasted sour. So I made a new one using this method and I can’t tell you how good the bread is. Each time I eat it I think to myself, Wow, this bread is so awesome! I’d say I’m more than pleased.

Have a good Sunday!

Building Your Starter – Day 1

Happy Saturday! I know you’re excited. What better way is there to spend your Saturday than by making some sourdough?!? Not much I can think of.

Yesterday, I told you all about what exactly a sourdough starter is, and how easy it is to grow one! Today, we’ll begin the process of growing your very own wild yeast culture.

Let’s start with finding a place to keep your starter, preferably something with transparent sides. Both plastic and glass are okay, but don’t use metal. The fermentation of the starter will corrode the metal and can ruin your bowl over time and make your starter taste metallic.

I decided to go for a recycled pasta sauce jar. They’re nice because you can easily see if your starter has had any activity. Whatever you decide to store it in, make sure it’s not air-tight. You can cover it with saran wrap and secure with a rubber band or you can use a tupperware and poke a hole in the lid. I just stabbed the lid of my jar and that works just as well.

The next thing you want to do is weigh the empty container and write the weight down. I wrote it right on the bottom of the jar so I don’t lose it. By doing this, you can just weigh the whole jar (including starter), subtract the weight of the jar, and know exactly how much starter you have on hand.

Now it’s time to make your starter! Add 2 ounces (or slightly less than a half cup, for those of you not weighing ingredients) of coarse grind rye flour to your jar. Then, add 2 ounces (or 1/4 cup) orange juice, pineapple juice, or water.

Then, mix it all together! It’ll be a bit difficult to get all the flour incorporated, but work with it a bit until it is.

And you’re done! Replace the lid (with an air hole!) and set out on the counter. Don’t expect to see any activity yet… it’ll take a couple of days.

Congrats! You just took the first step toward building your own wild yeast culture. We’ll feed our new pets tomorrow. Until then, enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

Sourdough 101 – About Sourdough Starters

I’ve been avoiding writing this Sourdough series for a while.

Not because I don’t want to show you, but because I want to show you correctly. I want to walk you through the process every step of the way. I want to build a starter with you, so you can see that it does happen in real life. The problem is, I just haven’t had the time. With school and work and trying to keep up with friends, things get pushed to the side!

But, I feel that it’s time. So let’s make some sourdough.

This is my current sourdough starter. He’s about 6 months old, and extremely flavorful for such a young guy! My boyfriend says that it makes the best sourdough bread he’s ever had, hands down. It took a few weeks for him to get going, but one day I made a loaf and WOW! Flavor explosion. But instead of using him as an example, I’m going to make a new one to show you guys how. And maybe, if anybody is interested, I’ll give it away when I’m done!

What is a Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a culture of yeast and bacteria that you grow on a water and flour medium. That sounds technical. Basically, it’s a living thing that you can add to your breads for natural leavening (as opposed to commercial yeast) and a fermented, or “sour,” flavor.

Sourdough, or wild yeast, starters are grown using just flour and water (or sometimes pineapple or orange juice to keep away bad bacteria, as we will use here). There is no commercial yeast added to “get it going.” This will hinder the growth of a really good starter.

Wait. Isn’t yeast, yeast?? Unfortunately, no. The yeast you buy in the store to make your loaves is a different strain of yeast, whose name I won’t burden you with. It is grown specifically to leaven bread. The yeast used in sourdough cultures and breads is a naturally occurring organism found everywhere. It is on your clothes, in your hair, in your food… and it tends to have high concentrations in your flour. Except the bleached stuff. Much lower concentrations there.

The trick with this wild yeast is capturing it and convincing it to grow in large amounts in a small area, i.e. in your new starter. This isn’t very hard to do at all – in fact, it is very easy. The most difficult part is being patient and not giving up. It might seem like the starter doesn’t do anything for the first week, but all the sudden it awakens!

This is due to a phenomenon called exponential growth. Say you have an initial yeast population of 4. If those divide once, you have 8. If those divide again, you have 16. Then 32, then 64, then 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, and soon you have millions! The problem is, you don’t see the yeast activity until you have huge numbers of them in your culture. Growing this many can take a up to 14 days depending on the conditions, so be patient. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there.

That being said, there are some bad bacteria that can find their way into the culture and kill the little yeasties. We’ll use orange juice in our starter to try and ward off these guys. If you’re worried that the flour you are using is contaminating your starter, try buying a new bag, possibly of a different brand. The flour you are using might be contaminated.

So what’s the process?

As I said, growing your starter is very easy. All you need to do is feed it (add some flour and water) once a day, and stir it twice a day. Ideally, you’ll want to feed it by weight, but I’ll include volume measurements here for those of you who haven’t yet invested in a scale (do it!!!). After a couple days, you’ll notice that your starter will start to rise a bit. If you’re using a glass or see-through plastic container, you’ll be able to see little air bubbles forming along the walls of the container. Soon, your starter will only take a few hours to double, and it will be active enough to use, kind of like this:

I had only fed him (I guess it’s a he?) about 2 hours before hand, so he’s just getting going. Also, this isn’t really where he lives, it just looks a lot better than this:

which is his real home. Their containers can get kind of yucky, but you’ll get tired of trying to clean it. It’s like the dirty roommate – you don’t care how tidy they are as long as it stays in their room.

We’ll make our starters tomorrow. All you need is some coarse rye flour, unbleached & unenriched bread flour, pineapple or orange juice, and water. You can make it with just the bread flour (still unbleached and unenriched) and water, but rye flour is a good kick-starter (ha. ha.) and the juice helps keep bad bacteria out.

Have a good Friday, and get ready to capture those wild yeast!

Follow-Up Posts

Building Your Starter – Day 1
Building Your Starter – Day 2 – coming soon!

Breadmaking 105 – All About Flour!

We all know it – flour is kind of a big deal.

In nearly every type of baked good, there is some sort of flour involved somewhere in the process. Whether it’s the main ingredient (like in bread), or if it’s just a part of the whole (say, pie), flour is essential.

When I first got into this whole baking/cooking/spendingallmymoneyoningredients deal, I really only knew of one type of flour – the bleached & enriched All Purpose that comes in five lb bags at the grocery store. When a recipe called for flour, that’s what it got.

But then I got into bread. And holy moly. Who knew flour was such a big deal?? And not just they type of flour used, but even the brands matter! And I can tell you, you won’t find a more dedicated following than those who use King Arthur Flour. Their flours are (in my opinion) of the highest quality out there. You can read about them here.

I know there are a TON of flour types out there, so I’m just covering the big ones. Here we go!

With any type of flour you buy, the absolute best is to buy the Unbleached and Un-enriched stuff. The goal is to get the least amount of processing possible. Your baked goods will taste better, shape better, and be better for you. That being said, I buy the 25 lb bags of bleached and enriched flour from Costco for my everyday breads. I’m not happy about it, but with how much I bake, ingredients get expensive. I do buy KAF Bread and Whole Wheat flours because I find that the quality of those is really crucial, as I will discuss shortly.

All-Purpose Flour (AKA AP flour, or white flour)

All-Purpose flour is just what it sounds – a flour that will work for most circumstances. It is milled from wheat berries and sifted to remove the bran. AP flour has a protein content of about 10-12%. The protein content of a flour determines it’s “strength.” For example, a loaf made with a low protein content flour will not hold its shape as well, nor rise as high, as a loaf made with a high protein content flour. Most AP flours reside around the 10% range. KAF, on the other hand, makes their All-Purpose with a high 11.7%! This is part of the reason you pay a few cents more at the store to buy the King Arthur stuff.

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole Wheat flour is your typical AP flour, but with the wheat bran included. While it does have the same protein content as AP flours, it doesn’t act in quite the same way. The bran is fairly sharp and poky, and so cuts the gluten strands some as they form. The bran also absorbs more water than regular all-purpose. Thus, whole wheat baked goods tend to come out a little more dense. This is okay, as long as you compensate for the whole wheat by adding a little more liquid to the recipe.

Whole Wheat flour is what most people associate with “healthy.” While it does have many more nutrients than your typical AP flour, beware that most recipes (and products you find at the supermarket), contain a smaller percentage of Whole Wheat flour than your would expect. To really reap the benefits of whole wheat flour, experiment with 100% whole wheat recipes and products.

Bread Flour

This stuff has a higher protein content than AP flour – around 12-14% protein. Again, KAF is at the high end of this range. Bread flour is perfect for… you guessed it, bread! It really helps maintain the integrity of the loaf throughout the process, allowing for longer fermenting times and, consequently, better flavor!

Just a quick note: if you keep a sourdough culture, make sure to always feed it with bread flour! The lower protein content of the AP flours breaks apart much quicker than the bread flour, and results in an immature ripening and loose, or weak, culture.

Durum Flour

Milled from durum wheat, this variety of flour comes in three grinds – coarse, fine, or extra fine. The most common one is Semolina flour, or coarse durum. This high-protein flour has a beautiful yellow hue and is commonly use in Italian cooking – think homemade pastas, pizzas, and breads.

Rye Flour

Most commonly associated with the rye bread of specialty sandwich shops, rye can be a pleasure and a pain to work with. It has an increased amount of fiber than most flours, but a lower gluten protein content than even AP flours (thus, the pleasure and the pain). It’s flavors are often associated with caraway seeds and dill, but most don’t know the flavor of a rye bread by itself.

Cake & Pastry Flours

These flours have a very low protein content (6-7% & 7-9%, respectively) and are used to make dense but soft baked goods – like cakes or muffins. Because they are ground very fine, cake and pastry flours come in handy especially when you want to add whole wheat flour to your recipe, but don’t want to change the texture of the product (like traditional whole wheat can).

Gluten Free Flours

I can’t ignore the fact that a whole subset of flours for those who avoid gluten exist. From bean flours to rice flours, these are intended to help those with a gluten intolerance enjoy baked goods. However, I don’t have much to say about these since I am not gluten-free and haven’t experimented much with them (though I plan on it!). If you have any input to give about these flours, please leave it in a comment below and I will add it to this page. Thanks for the help!

How to Bake VEGAN

It’s no secret that I like to bake. More often than not, when someone asks what I did the past weekend, my answer will be somewhere along the lines of, I made an apple pie! or I baked a cheesecake! or I spent hours taking photos of my food!

So when people discover that I am vegan, their questions usually revolve around how I get around baking without the standard animal products. I’m usually at a loss.

What do you mean “get around” baking? Why does everyone perceive veganism as an obstacle??

The truth is, baking vegan is so EASY! Especially when so many people are devoted to helping people learn the values of a plant-based whole-foods diet. All you need is a recipe.

The challenge that I think these people are referring to is not a challenge limited to vegan eating. In fact, it is not a challenge limited by any type of diet or diet at all! The challenge is in the nature of baking itself – to create a product that meets the standards of flavor, texture, and nutrition that you have set for yourself. If you have a recipe that doesn’t meet these standards, you change it. It doesn’t matter if you change the amount of sugar you add, whether or not butter is involved, or the hydration of your dough, you are changing your recipe to find what you love.

And this is the essence of vegan baking.

So, to help you on your way to discovering new ways make things that meet your standards, I’ve compiled a list of vegan alternatives. Each of these acts in a different way and can change the outcome of your product. Get familiar with the different methods and how they react in your baked goods. Soon, you’ll be a pro at making traditional recipes animal friendly! Remember – vegan baking is FUN!

Egg Replacers

There is a wide variety of options for replacing egg. Some are used for binding purposes, some for moisture, some for leavening, and some for a combination of all three. Here I’ve listed the ones I’ve had the best experience with. There are others out there, but I wanted to keep it simple.

1 tbsp ground flax seed + 3 tbsp water (let sit 5-10 minutes to thicken)
1 tbsp chia seeds + 3 tbsp water (let sit 5-10 minutes to thicken)
1 tsp Ener-G egg replacer + 3 tbsp water (combine before adding to recipe)
1/4 cup applesauce or other fruit puree
1/4 cup silken tofu (use only in recipes that get pureed)
2 tsp baking soda + 2 tbsp water (combine before adding to recipe)
2 tbsp corn starch + 1 tbsp water (combine before adding to recipe)

Milk Replacers

Soy, almond, and rice milk all work very well. Try them all and find a flavor you like. BUT! Don’t go into drinking these thinking that they will taste like milk – they won’t. The texture is similar, they look the same… but it’s not milk. Not that that’s a bad thing! Not at all. Think of it this way – if you closed your eyes and expected to eat cake, but got soup instead, it would probably taste really gross, right? Not that the soup is gross – it might be the best you’ve ever had. But you expected cake, and soup is definitely not cake.

For me, I very much prefer the flavor of soy milk to regular milk. It is sweeter and lighter – and doesn’t involve any cows!

Butter Replacers

I don’t really have too much to say here… I use Earth Balance 100% of the time. It looks, acts, and tastes just like butter.* Just to be clear, just because it is vegan butter doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Earth Balance is simply fatty oils, through and through. Yes, it’s cholesterol free and animal friendly, but should still be used in moderation. You can substitute applesauce or yogurt for some of the butter or oil used in a recipe, but I don’t normally recommend substituting the entire measure.

*The Earth Balance “Whipped” style is not appropriate for baking. It is whipped more as it cools to incorporate extra air into the butter to make it more spreadable and less dense. While this is great for spreading on toast, air = nothing in baked goods, so it won’t turn out the same. Always use the “original” formula.

Other Alternatives

Yogurt – More difficult to find, but many grocery stores carry soy or coconut milk yogurts. Try them; they’re good!

Sour Cream – Tofutti makes a great tofu-based sour cream. No, it is nothing like tofu, and no, I don’t know if it really tastes like sour cream. I never liked sour cream growing up. But, I have tried this and I think it is fantastic – both as a topping and used in baked goods (such as a sour cream coffee cake!)

Cream Cheese – Again, Tofutti makes a wonderful tofu-based cream cheese. I’ve used it in awesome cheesecakes and just by itself, and I’m always impressed.

Note: None of the items above are found where you would expect them to be in the grocery store. For some reason, the employees there feel that alternatives need to be in their own sections (aka, hidden). My yogurts are found with the tofu (that is next to the beer), and the sour cream and cream cheese are found tucked in between the cheese and orange juice. I don’t know why yogurts don’t go with yogurts, or sour cream doesn’t go with sour cream, but I’m just happy they carry it! Ask around if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

That’s about all I can think of for now. I’ll continue adding more as I think of them. If you’re not sure of what type of substitute to use in a recipe, just shoot me an email at ovenmittsblog (at) gmail (dot) com and ask. I’m so happy to help!