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Showing posts with label sourdough. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sourdough. Show all posts

Friday, August 14, 2020

Sourdough English Muffins



I've had various phases of my life in which I've made a sourdough starter, all of which have either died or been neglected to the point of molding. I'd love to be this kind of person that just has a sourdough starter to give away, to use, to pass on to the next generation. Even the community pressure of being a chef to have a sourdough or ginger bug starter is ever-present! (Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to be the only chef in your city to not have a sourdough starter?) The fact of the matter is that I just don't eat bread enough to justify keeping a sourdough starter around. Rice is the preferred starch in my home, and we so seldom have bread with our meals that I frankly would forget about it when I was working 10-hour shifts.

Nowadays, since we're in a quarantined state of emergency, there's not much else to do than to maintain a lovely sourdough bread starter. I am a very fortunate person because my partner works a good job that he's able to maintain remotely while I occupy my time with volunteering, studying, and writing. There's lots of time for me to experiment with sourdough, and an English Muffin is a great way to use up some of it without heating up your whole house with a hot oven!

Sourdough English Muffins

yields 12 large square muffins

  • 600 g flour
  • 12 g yeast
  • 100 g sourdough starter
  • 40 g olive or grapeseed oil
  • 50 g sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 310 g water or soy milk, body temperature
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • Semolina, as needed

Mix your flour, yeast, sugar, sourdough, liquid of choice, and eggs together to create a soft dough in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a hook attachment. You aren't kneading at this point, just mixing so everything is homogenous. The idea of this stage is to hydrate the flour and activate the yeast. Let this all sit for 20 minutes, and then turn your mixer back on. Add in your oil and salt while this mixes at a low speed for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn the mixer on to high and knead the dough until it's smooth and silky, which shouldn't take more than five minutes.

Scrape your dough into a plastic container that has been well-oiled and cover. Let this beautiful concoction sit in a warm place for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It's summer right now where I am, so I love to let this sit in the shade outside for that time. In the winter, I like to set my proving doughs atop my fridge to rise. While we wait, I'd like to discuss some technical stuff!

First of all, n English muffin isn't exactly English, but an American invention. An immigrant known as Samuel Bath Thomas created the original "nooks and crannies" muffin - then called "toaster crumpets" - in the 1880s. A crumpet is very much like the bread that we all call and English Muffin, but the holes are on the top instead of being sandwiched and hidden within. These little lovelies seem simple enough to make, but there are a few tricks to them in order for them to be just right.

  1. The dough is soft, so don't try to add more flour to make it stiffer.
  2. Your griddle must be of an even heat before you start
  3. Don't rush; patience is a virtue!
The idea of a well-done English muffin is to have those big, beautiful, deep, craggy bubbles. These big bubbles only occur in the first stage of the fermentation process, so you don't want to handle this dough too much. A gentle hand is a real key here! If you knock out too much air, those big bubbles will pop and be replaced by small bubbles in the second proof, which is not what you want.

It is a gentle hand that will make your English Muffin perfect!

Another thing you need to know about this item is that it is not baked but fried on a griddle. You can use a frying pan if that's all you have, but a good cast iron griddle is a multitasking item that you should have at your disposal. It's great for searing steaks, cooking pancakes, and - of course - making the perfect English Muffin. No matter what you use, you'll want a thick-bottomed cooking apparatus that will help thoroughly cook your muffin at a low enough heat to not burn the surfaces. 

Time to cook!

Your dough won't take very long to prove, as there's quite a bit of activity happening in the yeast department. My sourdough is quite active so it only took my dough 45 minutes to double in size. This is the tricky part!

Flour your rolling surface quite thoroughly with both all-purpose wheat flour. Prepare a sheet pan by dusting it with plenty of semolina or cornmeal. Use either a rolling cutter or a large, floured cleaver to gently cut your dough into shapes. As gently as you can, move your cut pieces onto your sheet pan and dust with semolina. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside to rise. I much prefer to cut my muffins into squares instead of circles because I don't waste any dough. This dough is not like biscuit dough where you can rework the scraps. The inner shape of the finished product won't be proper if you reuse uncut dough to rise later, so I think it's much better to simply pull your dough into a large rectangle and cut squares accordingly. I cut 12, but I could have gone as small as 18, as these will puff up to be rather large. 

My cleaver is the workhorse of my kitchen, and it's perfect for cutting dough!

I usually turn my cast iron griddle on to the lowest possible flame and let it all heat for about 15 minutes before I cook, so now is the perfect time to heat your chosen cooking apparatus. I don't let my muffins puff for more than 20 minutes at the absolute most, otherwise, the bubbles risk collapsing when you move the muffins to cook. 

Transfer your muffins with a spatula onto your hot surface and set the timer for 6 minutes. Do not, under any circumstances, touch these muffins until that six-minute timer is up! Your bubbles will rise and form and puff, and the dough will cook on this side. Once your timer is finished, flip the muffins as gently as you can to cook for another six minutes on the other side. If you don't flip it gently, you risk breaking the big bubbles that form the signature nooks and crannies of a proper English Muffin, which is not what you want.

A good cast iron griddle will last you generations. Mine is from Crate and Barrel!

When finished with your total 12 minutes, remove your muffins from the griddle and continue to cook all of your muffins in batches until done. This is a time-consuming process and does require a little bit of extra attention to heat management, but it will well be worth it in the end. 

I love this recipe because it's a quick way to use sourdough without the effort of making a whole loaf of bread. You can use English muffins for sandwich bread for an easy lunch. Best of all, English muffins freeze perfectly when wrapped properly, therefore making it a great project to wrap yourself in for an afternoon. Even The Kitchn agrees that the freezer is your best asset for the year!

I hope you've enjoyed learning all about English Muffins! Did you make them? Tell me in the comments below! I hope you're staying safe and healthy in this trying time. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Rustic Country Loaf

If you're a big researcher, like me, check out what Reddit has to say about making bread!
I believe that a simple bread recipe should be in the arsenal of every cook in America, be they home cook, broke student, or professional chef. There's, of course, an art and deep and wonderful science to bread, but this isn't the blog for that.

Bread, in essence, is air. It's far more air than bread; we're eating air that you can make a sandwich out of. A CT scan of bread will show you that it's mostly the skeleton of a gas that's been released during the cooking process, with starches and proteins freezing (or baking) in time with the transformative nature of heat to help it along. It's thanks to bread that we have civilization, and that's not even a hyperbole. Because of fermentation, we found a way to make more food out of less ingredients, and that truly is a magical thing. Here's how to make some magic in your own kitchen.

Simple Country Loaf
yields two small loaves or one big loaf
Adapted from Mother Earth News's Country Loaf recipe
  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp sugar(honey works, too)
  • 3 Tbsp fat**(we'll get into details down in the recipe)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c water, body temperature
  • 1 cup liquid levain**

Turn on your oven to 250. Mix your flours, salt, and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment, or just a large bowl if mixing by hand. If using a liquid levain, it is best if it's at least at room temperature before starting. Hmm? Oh, what's a liquid levain? Haha, sorry...

A liquid levain (or poolish, if you prefer) is essentially a sourdough starter. You can start it by mixing equal parts of flour and water and letting hang out for a few days to ferment on its own, or you can start it with a pinch of yeast and sugar, if you're a little desperate. That being said, it should be at least two days old before starting with it. After all, what's a sourdough starter if not a little funky, and funk comes with maturity. A levain should be fed every day with a little bit of water and flour, stirred, and allowed to rest; you can also keep them cool, in the fridge, to let them sleep. They say you can only keep them for a month before they go too dormant, but I've honestly let mine hang out for 2 months in the fridge before and it still comes back to life every time I bring it up to room temperature. Who knows? Since the fermentation comes from wild yeasts, perhaps I caught the kind that's super-resistant to cold? I am, after all, in the midwest. Anyway. A levain is the key to a good, complex bread, and if you're serious about baking breads and other yeasty stuffs, seriously consider starting your own liquid levain. 

And, yes, you too can use your liquid levain/sourdough starter to make delicious misshapen cinnamon rolls!
Once your dry (and not-so-dry) ingredients are hanging out in the bowl, whisk together the yeast with the sugar and water to dissolve. Let it sit near your oven, but not on the stovetop of your oven, just to let it warm up. When I say that the water should be body temperature, I mean that you should stick your fingers in the water and it should feel rather comfortable, maybe just a hair warmer than your body is. I like the cooler temperature for yeasts to ensure it won't be killed, and you'll also get a nicer flavor from a slower rise. You'll also be letting it be in a rather warm place, anyhow, so it'll bubble up nicely anyway, which usually takes five minutes.

While we're waiting, let's talk about fat and its role in bread. It's, in essence, a dough conditioner that will keep it soft and add some flavor. You can use an infused olive oil or coconut oil, but I prefer saturated fats in breads. Why? Because a saturated fat stays solid at room temperature(such as shortening, lard, coconut oil or butter) it has, by nature, a more solid molecular structure, and it ends up improving the end texture of the product, whereas an unsaturated fat(such as a plant oil, like olive oil) would be more for flavor than texture, and they may go drier quicker. And yes, yes, some fats are bad for you - but let's be honest, you need some fat in your diet so your body can process your vitamins. It's just a fact that certain vitamins are only fat-soluble. Besides, we shouldn't fat-shame bread anyway. You wouldn't do it to your friends, so you oughtn't do it to your bread, who is doing their best, by the way. 

When your yeast is bubbly and alive, stir the mixture into the flour using either a wooden spoon or your machine. Begin to knead with the machine or your hands, but for heaven's sake, knead in the bowl by pressing and pulling the dough. Seriously, you can do this, and it'll keep your counter all that much cleaner. About halfway through(2 or 3 minutes in) add in your chosen fat. I chose rendered drippings for my fat, mostly because it's what I had on hand, and also because it's such a great thing to have dripping. Oh, dripping is fat that's leftover from cooking bacon, or perhaps roasting a pork belly in your oven, or even roasting chicken skin for craquelins, all saved in a nice jar either in the fridge or in the pantry. It's a very flavorsome alternative to butter(which can be expensive) and honestly a rather common practice to have on hand anyway. Remember the can of fat that your grandmother had on the counter? Or the coffee cup full of bacon grease your dad kept in the door of the fridge? That's dripping - and you can use it to make bread. 

Once your five minutes are up, transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and let sit for 2 hours. It's at this stage you can clean up, go see a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store, and then come back. No, you shouldn't leave the oven on while you're out of the house, so please do turn it off if you're doing that, but leave the dough on the stove so it'll stay warm.

Oddly, you can pick these up at home improvement warehouses- many of them will sell you
the mis-cuts for a discounted rate, if they have them.
Now that you're back home, turn your oven to 450(not kidding) and put an empty metal pie tin in the bottom of the oven. Shape the loaves as you so desire, but I like the long and simple country loaf shapes for this particular application. I did two different shapes, mostly because I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for. Shape them on a well-dusted counter (or marble slab if you're a privileged jerk like me) of flour and cornmeal to either logs or boules(round loaves) and put on a sheet tray lined with parchment (or a silpat mat, if you have it) and cover with the clean tea towel once again. Let proof on your stovetop in that nice warm space for 45 minutes. 

Time for a nap, loves!
Open up your oven and put your bread onto the middle rack of your oven, and dump 3 or 4 cups of ice into the pie tin in the bottom rack of the oven. This will create steam and give you that wonderfully rustic crust that we associate with baker's bread. Shut that oven door and let cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until deliciously dark and brown and temps out at 200 degrees. (Yes, bread has a temperature it should be at.)

Evacuate from the oven and immediately pick them up and put them on a cooling rack. This is because you don't want steam to be trapped on the bottom of your bread as it cools, so it's a good idea to let some airflow happen underneath your loaf as it cools. It's likely a safe assumption that you don't like having a soggy bottom, so it's an even safer assumption that your bread won't either - be considerate to your bread. 

I hope this has inspired you. Please don't hesitate to comment on my blog or my instagram on what you'd like to see next. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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