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!

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!

Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin Bread

It was soggy in San Luis yesterday. Very soggy. I don’t think it stopped raining from 11am to… well, I went to bed around 10. I also don’t think soggy is a very nice word. It’s wonderfully descriptive and fun to say, but just kind of sounds gross.

Anyway, I’m not a fan of being cold. I like the cold and how festive and fresh it feels, but I like experiencing this while all bundled up in loads of jackets and fuzzy socks. Especially those ugly fuzzy socks that you would be mortified to be seen wearing in public. I’m of the opinion that the uglier the sock, the warmer they will be.

I definitely wear mine in public.

So yesterday morning, to prepare for the rainy day ahead, I decided to make some bread. I wanted something warm, and cinnamon seemed to fit the bill. I wanted something sweet, so enter lovely raisins. I wanted something chewy, and oats seemed just right. So I threw them all in a bowl and ended up with a loaf that I am truly pleased with.

So here it is – my spur-of-the-moment Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin Bread, that just might warm you up on a soggy, rainy day (and there’s that word again…).

Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Print this recipe!

5 oz whole wheat flour
9 oz all-purpose flour
2 oz rolled oats
6 oz soy milk (or regular milk, for the non-vegan version)
6 1/2 oz water
3/4 oz butter (I used Earth Balance, but regular butter works for non-vegans)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 oz raisins
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp melted butter, for brushing (optional)

Place oats and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix in the bowl or in a mixer until a shaggy dough forms.

Knead 6-8 minutes, until a smooth forms. You won’t get super awesome gluten development because of the raisins, but it should still be smooth and stretchy.

Form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Let rise 60-90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Shape into a log and place in a well-oiled 8.5×4.5 loaf pan. Let rise 60 minutes, or until crested 1 inch above the rim of the pan.

20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden. The crust should sound hollow when tapped.

Brush with melted butter, and let cool 1-2 hours. Enjoy!

Note: Brushing with butter is optional, but the lack of moisture in the oven will create a white-ish look to the top of the loaf. Brushing with butter returns the pretty golden hue, but isn’t necessary to the overall flavor.

Question of the Day: What’s your favorite remedy for a cold, rainy day?

I make myself some coffee, find a warm blanket, and snuggle down with a book (usually of the textbook sort…). As long as I can stay warm, bring on the cold!

Cranberry Orange Bread

Before I get into this post, I wanted to apologize for the blurry photos… Every time I think I can shoot without the tripod, I am reminded that it is a bad idea!

I wasn’t happy about this bread. I didn’t like how it came together, I didn’t have the ingredients I wanted, and I forgot to add the walnuts. I put it in the oven and expected to be disappointed.

As you might guess (since I decided to post it), the bread actually turned out alright. I do thing adding walnuts would have improved the overall flavor and texture, but they definitely aren’t necessary, especially if you aren’t a nut person. I had to use canned cranberry sauce because there were no fresh cranberries to be found at my grocery store. So strange, considering that November is cranberry month! The canned cranberries turned out fine, but I would like to try it using fresh. I feel like the flavors would just pop!

Cranberry Orange Bread

Print this recipe.

1 tbsp ground flax seed
3 tbsp water
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup vegan vanilla yogurt (I used Whole Soy & Co. yogurt)
1 tsp grated orange rind
1/2 can whole cranberry sauce OR 1 1/4 cups cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Combine flax seed and water in a small bowl, set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, combine juice, yogurt, and orange rind. Add the flax mixture and mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix only enough to moisten all the flour. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts (if using).

Pour batter into an oiled 8×4 loaf pan (or I used the KAF bake-and-give pans). Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Question of the day: Are you ever surprised about the outcome of your baked goods?

I often am! Many times I am surprised in a good way, but it’s such a bummer when something I think is going to be good turns out bad. All I can say is I’ve definitely failed at zucchini bread a couple of times…

Have a good Wednesday!

Breadmaking 104 – Bakers’ Percentages

Cinnamon Raisen Bread!


So many people ask, “What’s up with these bakers’ percentages?? How does one loaf of bread make 175%?!”

So, I’ve come to tell you all about these bakers’ percentages. Let’s do this backwards. I’m going to tell you the summary first, and the reasons why after. It’s like a scientific paper! What is that called again? Oh yeah. The ABSTRACT! I feel like I should start all of my posts with an abstract….

Anyway! Here is my abstract: Bakers’ Percentages are the best things ever!

I guess that doesn’t help much, does it? Maybe I should reconsider my biology major…

Let’s start with Hydration.

The hydration of a bread recipe is the ratio of water to flour. For example, if you are using 10 oz flour and you add 6 oz water, you have a 6:10 liquid to flour ratio, or 60%. Typical hydration ranges from as low as 45% to as high as 80%! This is a huge, drastic difference. The first is very stiff and will be fairly dense when baked. The second is very wet, will be more difficult to work with, and will yield a light, airy loaf. Standard levels are as follows:

45-55% – These are your bagels, pretzels, and crackers. The dough is stiff and almost hard feeling. It isn’t sticky at all and doesn’t like to be stretched too much because it will rip.

55-68% – These are your sandwich breads, sweet breads, dinner rolls, and buns (of the cinnamon sort!). The dough is moderately sticky and a bit more flexible. The enriched doughs (ones that use fat in them, such as butter or oil) generally fall into this category and result in a softer crust.

68% and up – These are your “holey” breads – most are free-form (don’t use a loaf pan) and are not enriched. The dough is very sticky and loose and can be difficult to work with. But don’t be scared! Working with these doughs can actually be a pleasure and open you up to types of bread you never thought you would be able to make!

Now that we understand hydration, we can move onto the Bakers’ Percentages. The total percentage of a bread can help you see how much stuff is going into the bread. The higher the percentage, the more stuff. I know that seems vague, but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it.

The total amount of flour used in the recipe is 100%. Always. If you use a 100% sourdough starter (I’ll post about sourdoughs later), then half of the weight of the starter used is also calculated into the weight of the flour.

Any other ingredients are weighed and calculated as a stuff-to-flour ratio. So if you use 10 oz flour and 2 oz seeds, the you have 20% seeds. So your bakers’ percent is now at 120%. Add in the water (let’s say you have a 60% hydration dough), and you’re at 180%. If you got crazy and added some applesauce, you might be up above 200%.

Back to the stuff. So the less amount of stuff you have in your recipe (such as a recipe that calls for just flour, water, yeast, and salt – like french bread!), you will have around a 160% recipe, depending on what hydration you used. The more stuff you use will hike up the percentage.

Percentages are also useful because they give you the ability to see the fat content of your dough. Doughs without any added fat will be very crusty and light. Enriched breads generally have up to 12% fat, lending a heavier bread with softer crust. Anything above that falls into the dessert bread category, in my opinion (think brioche and cinnamon buns! mmmmm).

The final and most useful application of bakers percentages is the ability to make whatever size loaf you want. As long as you know the percentages of flour-to-stuff, you can re-size that recipe to be perfect for you. For example, say you have a recipe that makes a 2-lb loaf, but you only have an 8×4 loaf pan (perfect for a 1.5 lb loaf). Well, simply use 3/4 of the flour you would have needed and recalculate the rest of the ingredients using your handy percentages! It may seem confusing at first, but definitely gets easier and helps a TON in the long run.

The only thing about using Bakers’ Percentages is that weighing ingredients is absolutely necessary. This requires you to buy (or pull out from storage) a good, accurate scale. I use the Salter Maxview Scale and I love it. It works every time and I don’t have to worry about how hard I packed my flour that day. And it really eliminates a lot of dishes that would have gotten dirty if I had needed to measure them all out! In other words, get yo’self a scale! You’ll thank me some day, I promise!

Question of the day: What’s your favorite kind of bread? Do you make it, or should I work on posting a recipe for it?