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!

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!

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?