preserves

Eat Good Food: Girl Meets Dirt is now in Bi-Rite Markets

I've barely left the house in six weeks. Don't worry, this isn't a cry for help or an admittance to agoraphobia, I've got a newborn baby on my hands people! This semi self-imposed isolation has actually been quite lovely thanks to the generosity of our little island community* and the invention of two things: Netflix** and Ebooks. 

Like many new parents our evenings are now spent watching LOST. Six long seasons, high stakes drama, gorgeous island beaches, a cast of characters sporting tans and six-packs it is the perfect escape (..and a lot like life on Orcas, sans a giant smoke monster).  LOST may be cheesy and disjointed but who cares, it's entertaining. The show presents itself as pseudo-religious where everything seems to have hidden meaning or philosophical worth. Weirdly, like many of the storylines of the show, most of these themes never play out. I find myself constantly wondering, "But what does it all mean?!" Oh well, I'm still left with gems of wisdom like when John Locke's says to Mr. Eko, "Don't confuse coincidence for fate." 

In this episode I'm not exactly sure who is the skeptic and who the believer but in general, I tend to live on team fate. For example: Audra recently returned from the Good Food Awards, eager to share new retail prospects. I was at home with the baby spending most of my free-time downloading food related reads on my Kindle. (One of the only activities effectively performed one-handed while breastfeeding.) I had just discovered that by typing in 'food' and 'business' to our library's ebook collection only two books show up. Right as a text came through saying, "Check out Bi-Rite in San Francisco", I noticed that one of the two books happened to be Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking and Creating Community through Food. (Insert suspenseful LOST theme sound here.) This my friends is my definition of fate. So, with that little nudge from the universe, I quickly devoured the guide, fell in love with the story of Bi-Rite Market and came to understand why Girl Meets Dirt in Bi-Rite Market is better than a gratuitous shot of a shirtless and sweaty Sawyer.  

On the other end of the spectrum, it was pure coincidence that Bi-Rite Market re-opened under management of the Mogannam family in the same year that Bob Dylan famously sang, "the times, they are a-changing...". Dylan's folksy ballad became the anthem of the civil rights generation, a song designed to spark activism and inspire change. It's an anthem equally appropriate for the Mission District of San Francisco, home to Bi-Rite Market. The oldest area of the city, it has been the site of bear and bull fights, baseball stadiums, grazing lands, horse races and duels. For the last two-hundred years the district housed countless Irish, German, Polish, Mexican and Central American immigrants bringing with them a melting pot of food and culture. 

I would bet brothers Ned and Jack Mogannam were clueless to what would become of their neighborhood and the grocery store they opened in 1964. Did they have any inkling that fifty-two years later Bi-Rite Market would evolve into the empire of taste and quality we know today? Not just a grocery store but a forward thinking family of businesses dedicated to changing the world through their practices. Could they ever imagine The Mission as the vibrant food hub, the modern Agora it is today? (A neighborhood currently so hip billionaires are choosing it over the traditional high end real estate of the Bay Area...)

The store's colorful history plays out in my mind in a Scorsese-like montage. I hear ole Bobby D belting it out in the background as I see the bright optimism of the art deco facade,  standing witness to the gradual decline of its surroundings. The famous neon 'Bi-Rite' sign from 1940, one of the only constants in the ever changing Mission District.  By the time the next generation of Mogannam brothers took over in 1997, there were bars on the window and frequent stabbings down the street in Dolores Park. Sam Mogannam, current owner of Bi-Rite, mentions casually in the book he co-authored, "By the time I was twelve, I had been mugged twice on my way to and from the store."

It's no wonder boys who spent their free time cleaning and stocking shelves after school had no interest in the grocery business. But, lucky for all of us, Sam Mogannam is a man of vision and entrepreneurial spirit. Tempted finally by the prospect of reforming the family store, he used his training as a chef and restauranteur to transform Bi-Rite Market. The first step, remove said bars from the windows.

Step two, replace cigarettes and malt 40's with produce and products worthy of his own kitchen. Quickly hopping aboard the locavore locomotive and by listening to their passionate employees, guests and community, Sam and Raph*** developed these guidelines for Bi-Rite: Would we eat this ourselves? Would we feed it to our children? How was this raised, grown or made? What was the impact on the environment? How are the workers treated? Can we feel good about that?   

Diving deeper into this idea, in the fantastic book mentioned above, each section of your average market is broken down, explained and explored. A how-to guide, if you will, for getting the best of the best. Not just what will taste the best but what is good for all of us, in a global sense. There is an emphasis on buying local, organic, fair-trade and authentic products. For example, check out Bi-Rite's buying guidelines for selecting fruit preserves (sound familiar?):

  • Fruit listed as the first ingredient
  • Organic fruit
  • Varietal-specific fruit
  • Limited - edition flavors
  • Farmer direct
  • Sugar as the only sweetener
  • No added pectin

 Ding, ding, ding! At Girl Meets Dirt we share the same principles of excellence and sustainability that are the Bi-Rite standard. As you can see, it is no coincidence that our preserves made their way onto their shelves. We are proud and pleased to be carried by a company that believes, "...that every grocery purchase affects the environment, the economy, and the well-being of the people who feed us." And that, "We all have the power to either contribute to the problem or be part of the solution. We all have the opportunity to make an impact every time we eat."

Well said. 

Ours is a rapidly changing world, especially the world of food. Now more than ever it is important to have standards and guidelines for our purchases.  

As Dylan so poetically put it: 
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Some things will never change. At Girl Meets Dirt it is our commitment to quality, our love of the little island we call home, and the way that every year in these historic orchards bud turns to bloom, bloom to fruit, fruit to jam. 

I have plans to visit San Francisco in the spring and I can't wait to stop by Bi-Rite. If  I'm lucky maybe I'll sit down with the Mogannam family and listen to their stories. In my fantasy they'll wax poetically about their history, their legacy and speak reverently of the power of good food. In reality, we'll probably sit down to a cappuccino and compare notes on LOST.  (If I'm really, really lucky.) 


*If you're going to have a baby I highly suggest you try it on Orcas Island. I'm not exaggerating when I say that our family was fed for the entire first month of our son's life. In the process I admit I was shockingly wooed by Paula Deen's baked spaghetti  and I was nourished by the rich golden broth of a massive pot of peasant soup featuring collard greens, potatoes and chicken sausage. But in this onslaught of food it was Audra (of course) that brought over our favorite post baby feast. In the midst of packing up the Girl Meets Dirt booth to fly cross country and prepping her acceptance speech for the Good Food Awards she casually "whipped together" Pork Sugo with polenta and roasted vegetables. Foil covered the sheet pan of veggies ready for roasting that I admit I was indifferent to trying. Under the thin layer of tin I pictured lifeless broccoli trees, cauliflower turning brown around the edges and baby carrots bleached and molded into submission. (an understandable image of vegetables if you grew up with a mom like mine...) Oh how very wrong I was! In true Audra fashion the foil was peeled back to reveal chartreuse spiraling helixes of romanesco broccoli florets, the dark almost black purple spears of heirloom carrots, crescent moons of succulent orange acorn squash flesh (from the garden!), all topped with flaky sea salt and infused with the essence of fresh picked rosemary. In addition to all this she included homemade marshmallows dusted with a snowy coat of powdered sugar (um, who knew you could even make these at home? Marshmallows are like Pringles, they are delicious, they are only quasi food stuff and how they are made remains a mystery) and chocolate bars, mamma energy balls and tomato sauce from scratch. This is a woman who truly knows how to Eat Good Food. 
**My husband is constantly pointing out how lucky we are to live in the age of instant streaming. We would be missing so much of our favorite shows if we had to leave the room for every dirty diaper, every water-bottle refill, every baby meltdown. All-in-one clothe diapers with snaps and video on demand...we truly have it all!
***Raph is the buyer for Bi-Rite and was a judge for the preserves category at the Good Food Awards. He was the man we had the good fortune of meeting and sharing our mutual love of good food with.

Burnin' Love for Valentine's Day...or Galantine's Day!

Burnin' Love jam is spreadable perfection for Valentine's Day.

Burnin' Love jam is spreadable perfection for Valentine's Day.

Well, Amy Poehler, a.k.a. Leslie Knopp on Parks and Recreation, has done it again. She outsmarted me. She beat me to the punch. She proved once again that Leslie Knopp is very likely based on the junior high me.  

I sat down this morning optimistically wearing pink and red --inspired to write about reclaiming Valentines Day.  To explain how, despite many years of heartache and listening to the unrequited love songs of Patsy Cline and Billie Holiday, I maintain affection for the fourteenth of February. To admit to the world:

Valentine's Day is still my favorite holiday. 

In grade school Valentine's Day meant carefully decorating shoeboxes to hold mini bags of M&M's, Red Hots and Jelly Belly's, boxes of Sweethearts, and silver wrapped Kisses. Deciding under the florescent lighting of the grocery store (usually the night before) which theme of paper cards to hand out almost always resulted in a meltdown. "What if someone brings the same kind as me? ...that would be so not cool. Am I too old for Little Mermaid this year?"  Etc. Thanks to their many years of experience (and probable personal encounters of suffering) our teachers had only one rule for Valentine's: you have to give a Valentine to everyone. So, for the first decade of my young life, Valentine's Day was about sweets, sharing, and friends. It was just a special day where things got a little more girly and lunchtime got a lot more sugary. 

Then puberty hit and the world worked very hard to convince me that Valentine's Day without a sweetheart meant you must be miserable. That really, you're nobody, 'til somebody loves you. Even more it said, "Valentine's Day is dumb." (In hindsight I appreciate this disdain for romance. I think it's healthy for this age group. But, I digress..) It only took two years of this wallowing before I decided to attach my own meaning to the holiday. From then on I've used Valentine's Day to celebrate the ones I love, my friends. Being completely obsessed with Martha Stewart as an adolescent, I would stay up all night piping royal icing onto sugar cookies and drizzling chocolate onto paper thin florentines for my girlfriends. I'd get out my great aunt's vintage pumps and throw dinner parties with a dress code. My friends started calling me 'The Valentine Queen'. 

I thought these traditions were unique to me. The self-protective theatrics of a goody-goody girl determined not to feel bad about herself and her lack of suitors. But now I realize I had it all wrong. I haven't been celebrating Valentine's Day, I've unknowingly been celebrating Galantine's Day. (The writing staff of Parks and Recreation must have read the same NPR article as me on The Dark Origins Of Valentine's Day where we learn that 'Galantin' means "lover of women".)  

Whether you're celebrating Galentine's Day, or Valentine's Day, this Valentine Queen demands you serve up some of our Burnin' Love Pink Pearl Apple jam. Spicy and sweet, it is the grown up equivalent of a bag of Red Hots. Made with Fireball Whiskey and gorgeous local Pink Pearl Apples, it is Valentine's Day in a jar. I literally squealed when I tasted it.  My plan this year, grab some ricotta and some lady friends and feast on some crepes 'a la Burnin' Love. ('Cause let's face it, angst has been out since the 90's.)

Pink Pearl-3 copy.jpg

I haven't forgotten about all the lovers out there, looking for a more traditional spin on the holiday. For you, I suggest our Bittersweet Chocolate Conference Pear. Skip the dinner reservation and gift your sweetie a cheese board at home with some champange. It's positively naughty when done as Brie en Croute (puff pastry wrapped and jam stuffed, sprinkled with sea salt). Seduction, Girl Meets Dirt Style! This can get messy so an apron is recommended, what you choose to wear (or not wear) underneath is up to you. Girl meets dirty?  

A handmade Orcas Workshop Cheese Board for serving up Valentine's night in. 

A handmade Orcas Workshop Cheese Board for serving up Valentine's night in. 

Can't you see your sweetie serving up some Chocolate Brie in this? 

Can't you see your sweetie serving up some Chocolate Brie in this? 

How do you feel about the holiday and what are your Valentine's Day plans? We'd just looooove to hear from you in the comments below. 

Our small batch reserves are limited and go fast, order yours today!

Our small batch reserves are limited and go fast, order yours today!

Announcing our Holiday Open House

Visitors stop by after seeing our new hand painted sign, "What's Girl and the Dirt?" they want to know, "Is that naked lady you?", "Where's the dirt at?". 

Housed in the same building as Rock Island Communications and Orcas Rental & Saw, we bring a much needed feminine touch to the block. The yellow and orange leaves of our neighbors' trees stand out sharply against the dark-blue mountains of Moran, covered in mist and fog. Each trip outside to grab a bin of fruit out of the walk-in hammers home how lucky we really are. This kitchen shakes with low flying biplanes but with solid beams of cedar, we aren't afraid. Close to our little village, Eastsound, it's an inspiring space that we can't wait for you to experience for yourself.

Just in time for the holidays, we are opening our doors and 'spreading' holiday cheer.  This is your chance to see exactly where our product is prepared, by hand. (Yes, really, the whole process, from chopping fruit to labeling jars, is done by hand, in this kitchen.) You’ll also be able to visit our retail corner, Handpicked, and taste the exquisite product we’ve been putting away all season in our gorgeous copper pots. See what we’ve been up to and the new space we are happy to call home. 

steam from jam

Girl Meets Dirt Preserves are the perfect gift or stocking stuffer for that culinary minded friend, picnic basket toting couple in love, maven of holiday entertaining or anyone who enjoys something delicious and a little sweet. We'll also have hand-made cheese boards & more from Orcas Workshop, San Juan crafted linen kitchen aprons, and gorgeous cheese knives of local salvaged steel and island wood. 

kitchen knives

Follow the twinkling lights and warm glow on December 3rd to stock up on your favorite Girl Meets Dirt preserves, libations from our local distillery, and come celebrate with us!  

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Alchemy of the Simple: Sourdough Hearth Bread

Chocolate Sourdough Boule before baking

Chocolate Sourdough Boule before baking

Culture.  Starter.  Wild yeast.  Fermented flour.  I've wanted to write about sourdough for some time now.  But each time I reached to the back of my fridge, pulled out my crusty Le Parfait jar with a few tablespoons of milky paste in it, I hesitated.  There is magic in sourdough; alchemy in flour, water, & salt.  I learn a little more of it with each 'stretch and fold', but there is always more to learn, to smell, to taste.  Who am I to profess to know how to teach it?  

My starter

My starter

Maybe we all have a little magic to teach.  We may not be masters; perhaps only beginners.  But we share what little is revealed to us, and in another's hands, the mystery expands.  The unknown bubbles over -- and the seekers put it to good use, leaving a little for learning (and a little for sharing).  And so it is with my sourdough starter, gifted to me, and freely gifted out, built up and taken down, wiser and older than I'll ever profess to be. 

Starter, flour, water, & salt.  Before its first rest, right after mixing

Starter, flour, water, & salt.  Before its first rest, right after mixing

My starter came to me around the same time I was learning to preserve fruit.  I had received an unctuous, gently spiced and sweet handmade gift of apple butter around Christmas from an island mama and I was mesmerized.  Island apples, sugar, & spice.  Alchemy.  And then the starter, in an 8oz mason jar with holes poked through the lid, gifted from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from a friend --as it is with the best kind of starters.  I could instantly smell the crackled crust, smeared with grass-fed butter, and delicate plum preserves. 

Stretching- use the windowpane test - stretch it until you can see light through but not so much that it tears

Stretching- use the windowpane test - stretch it until you can see light through but not so much that it tears

...and fold it back onto itself, working around the bowl in a circular motion.

...and fold it back onto itself, working around the bowl in a circular motion.

After a few 'stretch and folds'

After a few 'stretch and folds'

But this starter was particularly special.  Not only because of the care attended to it by each successive friend, but by the care attended to it for more than a century. This was the oldest starter on the island, that made the very best bread, served at the exceptional Inn at Ship Bay Restaurant, owned by Chef Geddes and his wife Mary Anna.  The starter has been passed down in Mary Anna's family since the Yukon Gold Rush days -- having married into her mother's side of the family via her Auntie 'Gret's husband Uncle Morris.  I get goosebumps when I think of that tiny jar, passed down from so many hands, rolled up in bedrolls and stoked with body heat to stay warm, having warmed prosperers with countless meals of Yukon flapjacks and fresh hot bread in dismal, frozen conditions.  

Ready for the final proof in the refrigerator or unheated area

Ready for the final proof in the refrigerator or unheated area

I've got a thing for old stuff, I'll admit.  I love thinking of the lives a thing (a living thing - the fruit tree, this starter) has touched.  Tucked in the back of my fridge, I lovingly restore it when fresh bread calls -- but it's been in so many other kitchens, on so many other tables.  One simple, simple thing, has shared so much.  Mary Anna jokes that the starter was part of her dowry upon marrying Geddes, who enlivens it each day to make the best sourdough loaf around (the perfect companion for soaking up the layered pan jus and garden fresh drizzles and sauces Geddes artfully creates for his dishes).  I think a lot about terroir these days - in fruit, family, and rootedness -- this starter has a deeply rooted place and history here.  I am grateful to be part of its ritual.  

Inverted - after a long 8+ hour cold fermentation/proof

Inverted - after a long 8+ hour cold fermentation/proof

If you haven't guessed by now, starter is just flour and water activated by a little warmth, time, and all the beautiful little organisms that make a home in it, and multiply.  Before coming to me, I'd only baked quick breads and soda breads.  But the starter intrigued me.  Having set on a path to eat intensely local, and make as much of our food as possible from scratch, the notion that three ingredients could make artisanal bread, floored me.  No commercial yeast.  Nothing fancy.  Just time, technique, and intuition.  

Score your loaves with a knife or lame to aid the bread's expansion

Score your loaves with a knife or lame to aid the bread's expansion

Artisan Sourdough Hearth Bread

Artisan Sourdough Hearth Bread

I didn't start with intuition, and neither will some of you.  Intuition can be learned.  And you will learn it if you bake bread enough.  I set on a course to make beautiful, delicious bread.  And I eventually got there - with many a flat pancake loaf, bloated boule with balloon size holes, and burnt crust, in between.  But if you need inspiration- I've never made anything that didn't taste good.  If not, fully delicious, toasted with butter and handmade preserves.  

Chocolate Sourdough Hearth Bread

Chocolate Sourdough Hearth Bread

I've fallen in love with the rhythm of making sourdough - the feel of it before it's fully developed between my fingertips as I stretch and fold, stretch and fold - the earthy smell of starter fed several hours before, the kneading against my palms -- the unexpected delights of pancakes, muffins, quick cakes, and flat breads made on the fly with spent or unused starter.  

When I need balance, comfort, or a reassurance that the impossible can and does happen, I pull out my sourdough starter and I bake.  I add water and flour and I wait.  I mix in more water and flour, and then a pinch of salt and I stir.  I knead a little.  I let it rest.  And then I stretch and fold, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, until it's pillowy with newly found lightness.  Patience is what good bread requires.  If it's ready, then I gently shape, rounding the curves so the skin holds firm.  Then I leave it alone, somewhere cool, until the next morning, when I slide it on a blistering hot stone and bake.  I wait again, watching for the 'oven spring', listen as the crust edges crackle above the lip I scored into it, and inhale deeply -- each time more mesmerized, that these basic ingredients, and time worn techniques, yield something so astonishing.

And so I hope it is with you.  That you find something to bake, or mix, or stir, that reminds you of the alchemy of the simple.  The transformations that are possible from what seems like nothing.    Like the fruit, soaked in sugar, and preserved to become something more powerful than when plucked from the tree.  Like flour, water, and time.  Magic happens. 

Sourdough Hearth Bread

It is difficult to give you a recipe for sourdough bread.  Here is a template for a beginning.  It may work for you perfectly,  But more likely it will need to change, based on the starter, your needs, your schedule, your flour, & home environment.  Do it over and over again, and note your changes as you go.  I promise, you'll have it down soon enough.  Don't forget to share.   

Tools:

  1. Digital scale (if you want to bake good bread, invest in a scale)
  2. Non-reactive bowl
  3. Shower cap or plastic wrap (really, the shower cap is genius - reusable, fits perfectly)
  4. Dough scraper
  5. Seasoned proofing basket (well rubbed with flour) or colander lined with tea towel and dusted heavily with flour

Basic Artisan Hearth Bread  (72% hydration)*

Yields 1 large ~950 g loaf or two smaller loaves

Refreshed Starter, 133% hydration**:  150 grams
Total Flour***:  485 grams (50 grams whole wheat flour + 435 grams white bread flour)
Water:  300 grams
Sea Salt:  11 grams

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Timeline:

This is very flexible.  I generally pull out my starter the evening before I want to mix my dough - and that usually means it's two days before I will actually bake.  Here's two options. 

Day 1 Evening: Pull our starter & refresh.

Day 2 Mid-morning: Start making dough. Stretch and fold leisurely throughout the day. 

Day 2 Evening: Shape and do final cold proof overnight in the refrigerator.

Day 3 Morning: Preheat oven and bake.

OR

Day 1 Evening: Pull our starter & refresh.

Day 2 Morning: Start making dough. Stretch and fold during the morning keeping to schedule below (45 minute rest time in between, but no more).

Day 2 Early afternoon: Shape and final proof at room temperature for 2-4 hours.

Day 2 Early evening: Preheat oven and bake.


Refreshing your starter:

1 part starter : 2 parts water : 1.5 parts flour

Frothing with yeasty pleasure !

Frothing with yeasty pleasure !

Alright! We're ready to get started.  First step, pull out your starter from the refrigerator.  I don't recommend keeping your starter on the counter.  Doing so requires daily "feedings" and if you ask me, is high maintenance for someone who might bake once a week, or once a month.  I keep my starter in the fridge in between bakings (though sometimes I'll bake a few days in a row or make pancakes, but I always return it to the fridge).  I like to give it a good 12-24 hours to freshen up (overnight is great).  For this recipe, pull it out the night before you want to start.  Let it warm to room temperature and feed it.  

For a 133% hydration starter you will "feed" it in these proportions: 1 part starter : 2 parts water : 1.5 parts flour.  (2/1.5 = 133%).  Measure your starter.  I keep my starter in the same vessel and I know how much that vessel weighs so it's easier to plop the starter on the scale and weigh it without removing it from the jar.  I'm lazy.  But it saves me from dirtying another dish.  For first-timers, you may have to remove the starter from the jar to find out how much you have.  If you have 50 grams of starter, you'll feed it 100 grams of water and 75 grams of flour.  If you have less starter, you may need to feed it twice (space feedings at least 8 hours apart) to get it up to the volume required for the recipe (150 grams).  If you are refreshing a starter that has sat in the fridge for more than two weeks without being used, I would allow an extra day and pour off about 75% of the refreshed starter before feeding again, to properly balance the pH.  ALWAYS KEEP A SMALL AMOUNT OF STARTER LEFTOVER TO REFRESH THE NEXT TIME YOU BAKE. 

Starter is refreshed. What now?

Is your starter ready?  Okay, let's move. 

  1. Mix together all ingredients except salt in a large non-reactive bowl.  This doesn't need to be perfect.  The idea is to make sure all the flour particles have been moistened so they can fully absorb the water.
  2. Cover and rest 15-30 minutes.  This is where the shower cap is super handy.
  3. Add salt and knead for 5 minutes.  (I choose a bowl big enough and knead directly in it). Alternatively you can move the dough to a floured surface and knead liberally.  If I know I'm going to do a lot of stretch and folds and a long final cold proof, sometimes I barely knead at all.  Do what works for you.  Learn to knead though, it's fun, and a great workout.  
  4. (Optional).  If you have add-in's, work them in now.  I find it's easiest to remove the dough from the bowl and spread it out in a rough rectangle and add half the toppings on the top side, flip is over, and spread the rest around.  Knead gently to work them in. 
  5. Bulk Fermentation (steps 4-8).  Return to bowl (or keep in bowl).  Cover and rest 15-30 minutes.
  6. Stretch and fold at least one full rotation.  Check out the photos above for the stretch and fold technique.
  7. Cover and rest at least 45 minutes.
  8. Stretch and fold at least one full rotation.  Come on, do a couple!
  9. Cover and rest at least 45 minutes (you can repeat this cycle a few more times if you have the time)
  10. Shape to a freestanding boule(s) and place in a banneton (a colander lined with a heavily floured towel is a good substitute).  This is when you split the dough into loaves (1 large one or 2 small ones for this recipe) and shape them in preparation for the final proof.  You can find several tutorials on bread shaping via a google search but the basic method is to pull one side over the other, and then pull that side back over the one you just closed.  Rotate around doing this a few times until the dough starts to form a 'package' - with the skin tension on the bottom of the dough.  Move the dough and place on rising surface such that the side with the tension is facing downwards.  This is important to ensure the bread had good oven rise as the part exposed to air while proofing can get a little dry and crust over.  I really like proofing the dough in the bannetons - it makes less of a mess and helps the dough keep it's shape.  I've also used a colander lined with a linen towel dusted with flour- works nearly as well but it's a little harder to invert it when the bread is ready to bake.  You can also nestle the loaf between a few floured towels if you have nothing else.  
  11. Final Proof.  Cover with plastic wrap (with room to double) or a shower cap.  Put in a cold room or refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.  You don't have to do this cold.  Alternatively you can leave it at room temperature for a much shorter period of time, but you'll need to watch it to make sure it doesn't overproof.  You're going for no more than a double in size.  I like to let it rise less to avoid the risk of deflating in the oven.   I use the poke test- poke it in with your finger- if it pops back quickly, it's not ready.  If it takes about a minute, it's ready.  If you do a long, slow, cold final proof, you don't have to fuss as much.  It should have good oven spring (the rise you can watch during the first 10 minutes of baking) even if it doesn't look like it doubled.  And the flavor will be more complex from the long, slow, ferment. 
  12. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a baking stone if available. I like to place a cookie tray or cast iron pan at the bottom of the oven to pour water on in step 13 (for steam!).  I have also busted the glass in both of my ovens by doing this so - proceed at your own risk!  You'll get awesome crust though. 
  13. Invert your banneton onto a bread board/cookie sheet and gently coax out the bread so that the tight rounded side faces up.  I use a bread board dusted with semolina flour for the transfer, you could use a cutting board or a cookie tray.  Regular flour works fine too, but use lots of it.  Oats are great, so is coarse cornmeal.  Semolina, if you have it, works perfectly.  
  14. Score your loaf.  Give it a nice little slash (or several) with a very sharp knife or lame (I got one for $2).  Slashing the bread is not just decorative - it helps control the rise. 
  15. Slide the loaf into the oven onto the stone.  If you don't have a stone, use a cookie tray.
  16. Pour 3/4 cup water onto the cookie tray at the bottom of the oven (optional). Close the door quickly to trap as much steam as possible  
  17. Turn temperature down to 450 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. 
  18. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes (until internal temp reaches 200 degrees or if you knock on the bottom of the bread and it sounds hollow).  Smaller loaves will cook faster.  If you make one large loaf it'll probably need the full 25 minutes.  
  19. Attempt to allow to cool before you bust into it (to allow the crumb to set).  Or not.  Eat lustily and make some more.

This seems like a lot of steps, but you'll get the hang of it, I promise.  The bonus is that this recipe is just a canvas.  You can switch up flours, add nuts, dried fruit, herbs, go nuts.  But try to get the feel for a plain (most magical) loaf first.  This will allow you to 'feel' when the dough may need extra water - for example if you use a higher proportion of whole wheat, it likely will, or if you add certain add-ins that absorb lots of liquid.  Or try leaving your starter out on the counter for a week or weekend - make pancakes! Muffins!  Deviate.  Life is too short. 

Details/Notes:

*A note about hydration: I've noted above this recipe is 72% hydration.  Bakers talk like this- you don't have to, but if you're technically minded, it might help you get started.  It will absolutely help you understand how your starter reacts with the rest of the ingredients however.  You'll also need to understand it if you want to veer from this recipe to others and adapt.  72% hydration means that water comprises 72% of the total flour.  Ignore the salt or other add-ins.  This is easy to calculate if your starter is 100% hydration (meaning that to refresh it you add equal amounts of water and flour by weight NOT volume - i.e. to 50 grams of starter you add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour, and hence).  If your starter is 100% hydration, you would calculate the dough's hydration by taking 50% of the starter in grams to represent water, adding the 300 grams in the recipe and dividing that total by the 485 grams of the flour plus 50% of the starter.  That calculation looks like this:  (75+300)/(75+485) = 67%.  You're probably confused now since I said above this recipe is 72% hydration.  It is.  I keep my starter at 133% hydration, meaning it's a wetter, more liquidy starter.  I do this because I find it expands and grows better in my house this way, as opposed to being stiffer (i.e. more flour).  It's your call.  But if you're just starting out, I advise you feed your starter based on my proportions below to achieve 133% hydration and follow the recipe above.  If you insist on using a 100% hydration starter, no problem, just amend the water in the recipe to maintain a 72% hydration dough:

Refreshed Starter, 100% hydration*:  150 grams
Total Flour**:  485 grams 
Water:  330 grams
Sea Salt:  11 grams

**My best recommendation on how to acquire starter is to ask around -- someone is bound to have one and would be happy to give you a tablespoon to get started (seriously that's way more than you need).  There are also many reputable sources online where you can buy them.  If you're feeling adventurous- make your own! I could write an entire post about this but instead I will direct you to an excellent method here.  

***Flour:  10% whole wheat flour gives the bread optimal texture.  That would be 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 435 grams of unbleached white bread flour.  If you don't have wheat flour, don't sweat it, do without, just note your dough will be softer.  The better your flour, the better your bread.  I highly recommend Fairhaven Mills, based in the Skagit Valley.  Their organic flour is predominantly from wheat grown in Washington.  I dig that! When you get into it you can try grinding your own flour from Bluebird Grain Farms Organic Wheat Berries (or sprouting them!).

Clockwise from left: Walnut Wheat Levain, Basic Sourdough Boule, Chocolate Sourdough

Clockwise from left: Walnut Wheat Levain, Basic Sourdough Boule, Chocolate Sourdough

Growing pains

We've had an incredible Spring rise from the dirt here on Minnow Creek Lane -- the wisteria is in full bloom, arching over our stone patio.  The jewel pink roses I inherited have begun to blossom, and the blushing peonies have opened their pom pom eyes.  We've been eating gorgeous greens for over a month now - Bordeaux Spinach, with its red-wine stems, sautéed over toast and topped with a poached egg; Roquette Arugula pureed with walnuts, garlic, and parmesan for a refreshing pesto; French Sorrel gratineed with potatoes, cream and gruyere; baby Valmaine Romaine tossed in a mustard vinaigrette and topped with blackened Coho Salmon; Lacinato Kale stewed with shallots and finished with apple cider butter; baby Rainbow Chards with sesame soy glaze over soba noodles; and countless mixed green salads with garden radishes and a simple vinaigrette.  I'm thankful this season for the distraction of an armful of greens and thinnings.  Greens are good for the body, but lately, they've been feeding my soul.