BMB: No-Knead Wild Sourdough Boule

Kate’s first true sourdough loaf — no commercial yeast involved…Yay! Kate is the wild sourdough starter I began on New Year’s Day when I vowed to bake more breads. She’s only 3 months along, but doing well, don’t you think?!

This No-Knead Sourdough Boule — still warm from the oven is winging its way to Italy for Bread Baking Day #38, hosted this month from the gorgeous Lake Garda in northern Italy by Cinzia at CindystarCinzia is holding a “No-Knead Festival” and welcomes breads with ingredients of your choosing, as long as they are made using a variation of the no-knead method made famous by Jim Lahey of the old Sullivan Street Bakery. Bread Baking Day is that wonderful monthly collection of homemade breads from around the world, the brainchild of Zorra at 1x Umrühren BitteIf you’d like more inspiration for baking with sourdough starters, you’ll love Champa’s Round-up for last month’s Bread Baking Day: Breads Made with Sponge/Pre-Ferment.

I was happy to see that Cinzia chose no-knead breads as her theme because I’ve never actually baked one before. Sure, I followed the craze and drooled over everyone’s beautiful breads online over the last 4 years, but no, there was no actual bread. Now that I’ve finally unpacked my cocotte (Staub’s oval Dutch oven) and have a live and happy sourdough starter, this theme was perfect timing!

This recipe was adapted to use the flours I had on hand from one lovingly detailing the making of a no-knead sourdough loaf by Ann Marie at CheeseslaveBut the biggest difference between Ann Marie’s and this one is not really in the ingredients but in the timing — I did not have a chance to bake mine for 78 hours after the dough was assembled. That’s not a typo — it was over 3 days before I was able to bake. So to be honest, I was expecting this to be more a flattened brick than a nice airy boule.

My initial timing was thrown off when it took much longer to wake up Kate than I thought it would. Maybe because she’s a wild one — sourdough, that is. It was 10pm before I could use the activated starter for a dough, so I refrigerated the whole thing to retard the rise, hoping to bake in 28 hours or so. Life intervened in the form of workshops. Twenty-eight hours became forty-eight, then seventy-eight. Well, a retarded ferment is supposed to improve the bread’s flavor so I thought I would at least try baking it and maybe get an interesting flatbread. Maybe a useful doorstop.

Believe me when I say no one was more surprised than I, when the cover of the Dutch oven came off and I saw that crusty boule! I did sneak a taste already and this is the first loaf I’ve gotten from Kate with a very distinct sourdough tang. Not like the San Francisco sourdoughs I love best, but definitely along that vein. Guess there really is something to that long fermentation! The crust is surprisingly thin and crisp, with a little bit of a chew. The interior is bursting with flavor — yeasty with that tangy sourdoughness and good salt balance; and a moist yet airy crumb, with lots of toothsome mouth action.

I still can’t believe this worked out after such a long first rise. I can only guess that using the higher gluten bread flour and very gentle handling helped the dough cope with such a long ferment. Next experiment will be to do this again with the prescribed 18-hour ferment in the original recipe. Since this is my first go at the no-knead loaf, I have nothing with which to compare it.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

Adapted from Cheeseslave
1 one-pound loaf

Note: Please read the full recipe before starting. You will need a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or other 5-6 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid to bake the bread, and a large colander and lint-less cotton or linen towel for the final rise. If you already have an active sourdough starter on hand, you will begin at least 20 hours before you intend to bake, but if you have to grow a starter it will add an extra 24 hours on top of that to your prep time, so plan ahead.

¼ cup (40g) **active sourdough starter (for growing a wild sourdough starter [like Kate], I used this one from Know Whey)
12 oz (355 ml) filtered water, at room temperature
12 oz bread (340g) bread flour (aka strong or Typ 550 flour)
4 oz (112g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp. sea salt
rice flour, for dusting (I used mochiko, a glutinous rice flour)

**Make sure you wake up your starter by feeding it with equal parts of flour and water about 8 hours before you intend to make the dough. (You will find more information about activating a starter here.)

In a glass or other non-reactive bowl or cup, combine water and active sourdough starter and set aside.

In a large glass, ceramic or other non-reactive bowl mixing bowl, whisk together both flours and sea salt. Add starter and stir together with a wood spoon, or other non-reactive stirrer.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for at least 18 hours. If you would like to retard the ferment at this stage, you can place the covered bowl in the refrigerator. As I mentioned above, I unintentionally left the dough to ferment for over 3 days (78 hours) and my loaf still came out well. This may have been possible because of the bread flour (as opposed to regular all-purpose in the original Lahey recipe), but just know that if you exceed 18 hours fermentation, the dough might still be saved!

If the dough is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature for an hour before proceeding.

Place a clean, fragrance-free cotton or linen kitchen towel (do not use terry cloth) in a large colander, and sprinkle the towel generously with rice flour.

When the fermentation period is over, sprinkle all-purpose or bread flour generously on your clean countertop. Very gently, coax your dough out of the bowl and onto the countertop.

Still gently, fold the dough on itself, like folding a piece of paper in half. Do not press or you will lose some of those wonderful large holes in your dough. Rotate the dough mass 90 degrees and fold again. Rotate once more and fold a third time. Resist the urge to press on or knead the bubble-filled dough.

Gently cradle the dough and lift it into the prepared cloth-lined colander with the fold seam sides down. Cover the colander with an oiled plastic cover. (Hint: If you have a cheap, never used shower cap (like the ones you might find in a hotel), it makes a great cover because it is domed and unlikely to touch your rising dough.) Set your timer for one hour.

When timer goes off, place the covered pot on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat to 500F/260C. Note: It is not necessary to prep the pot in any way; if the pot is properly heated, the crust will set and release cleanly when the bread is done. Set timer again for 30 minutes.

When timer goes off, remove Dutch oven from the oven.

Take lid off of pot. Using the kitchen towel as a sling, gently (always gently!) lift out the dough and turn over the dough so it is now on the bottom of the Dutch oven. The seam from the foldings, which had been on the bottom of the colander, should now be on top of the loaf. Instead of having to slash the loaf, the seams will form a natural place for the loaf to open as it rises in the oven! Pretty cool, no?

Cover Dutch oven with lid, return to oven, and reduce heat to 450F/232C. Set timer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove lid and reduce heat again to 400F/200C. Bake for another 15 minutes. Test by rapping on the bottom of the loaf — if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!

Cool on wire rack. Admire your gorgeous loaf and marvel at how easy it was to make. Walk away if you feel the temptation to slice it while it’s still warm. Go to another room. Leave the house if you must.

When cooled, slice and savor — your just reward for waiting 24 hours (or more!) for this flavorful, moist and chewy bread. I love nothing more than to dip this in a nice extra virgin olive oil, maybe with a mixture of herbs and spices — try an Arbequina EVOO, a spicy, grassy olive oil available under the California Estate label at Trader Joe’s. We also added a za’atar spice blend which included hyssop, sumac and sesame that balance the peppery notes in the oil quite nicely. Delish!

BMB: Raisin Rye Bread

Update: Champa’s Round-up for Bread Baking Day #37: Breads with Sponge or Pre-Ferment, is ready. You’ll find a wonderful collection including a twist bread, pancakes, several versions of ryes and raisin breads, ciabatta, and so much more to tempt you!


Behold Son of George, the rye sourdough starter — smaller, milder and studded with golden and dark raisins, but no less chewy and perfect for snacking, slathered in butter or not: the Raisin Rye Loaf.

This recipe is an adapted version of master baker George Greenstein’s recipe for light rye bread, and assumes you have a sourdough starter on hand already. With only half as much rye flour in the final dough and only one stage of rye development (as opposed to three in Mr. Greenstein’s), the loaf is much less tangy and the rye flavor, while distinctive and clear, is more of a background note than the defining flavor.

Since we undertook this resolution last month to bake bread at home, the recipes we’ve tried have not been enriched (added oil, dairy or eggs) and mostly whole grain — whole wheat, rye or oatmeal. We soon remembered one of the most challenging things about home-baked whole grain bread: you have to eat it within a couple of days because it becomes stale very quickly. Since there are only 2 of us and we are not usually very big bread consumers, my strategy involved dividing the dough to make smaller loaves, and giving away one. Great way to try many different bread recipes, not gain 10 lbs. a month, and gain popularity with colleagues and neighbors! While we would never want to take anything away from sharing, there is another solution. It’s called vital wheat gluten (VWG), and when baking with whole grains I think it is the home breadbaker’s BFF.

I came across mentions of VWG while perusing the forums on The Fresh Loaf, a wonderful resource for tips and stories from real bakers, both passionate hobbyists and professionals. VWG was touted as increasing the rise and improving the chew of whole grain breads, as well as prolonging their shelf life. We tried it with our first rye loaf, and were impressed at how fresh the loaf remained even on the third day after baking. The same as been true for this raisin rye, and now I don’t think I would bake whole grain bread without it. When a bread dough is enriched with eggs, milk and oil, these additions also aid in prolonging bread’s freshness and softness so vital wheat gluten is not necessary.

This loaf takes its sweet note to dear Champa of Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen, this month’s host for Bread Baking Day. In the 37th edition of this monthly event — the brainchild of our Zorra @ 1x Umrühren Bitte —  the theme is Bread Made with Sponge/Pre-ferment. I am late to the game this month, as the last day to submit entries is tomorrow, but Champa promises to have a round-up by March 5th that will include not only yeast breads, but may include cakes, scones, waffles, pancakes and the like as long as they use a sponge (such as a sourdough), are vegetarian (can include eggs), and made in the month of February.

Makes approximately two 1lb. loaves or one 1kg loaf

Start about 30 hours before you intend to bake.

For the Sponge:
1 cup (230g) sourdough or rye sourdough starter
1 cup (90g) rye flour
½ cup (120ml) water
½ tsp caraway seeds (optional)

Combine starter, rye flour and water and stir well to combine. Add caraway seeds, if using, and stir in. Leave to ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hours.

For the Dough:
¾ cup (98g) whole wheat flour
2¼ cup (293g) bread flour (aka “strong” or Typ 550)
4 tsp. vital wheat gluten
1 tsp sea salt
1 TBL raw sugar
2 cup  (158ml) warm water
2¼ tsp. active dry yeast (about 1 cake fresh yeast)
1 cup (150g) golden raisins
½ cup (75g) dark raisins
1 TBL flour, for raisins
1 TBL cornmeal, for baking sheet
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water, for glazing

In a mixing bowl large enough to hold the finished dough, combine both flours, vital wheat gluten, salt and sugar. Mix well. Make a small well in the flours, add warm water and yeast and allow yeast to dissolve. Add fermented Sponge to yeast mixture in well. Slowly incorporate flour mixture into the well, until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured table and knead well until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, this took me about 13 minutes of hard kneading. Shape into a ball for first rise.

Oil a large bowl and turn dough ball to coat lightly with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until doubled in size, mine took about 1½ hours.

Combine raisins and toss with 1 TBL flour to coat. Set aside until needed.

Pre-heat oven to 375F/190C. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and gently knead. Allow to rest under cover for about 10 minutes. Gently roll out dough to the size of a sheet of paper. Sprinkle half of raisins over half the sheet, and fold dough close, as if closing a book. Press dough to lightly, and press dough back to the size of a sheet of paper again. Sprinkle remaining raisins and fold over dough to enclose the fruit again. Gently knead to distribute fruit through the dough.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a free-form loaf. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cover each loaf with oiled plastic film and allow to proof until doubled in size, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. To test: gently press dough with a finger, if it springs back quickly, the dough needs more proofing time; if the indentation remains, it is ready to bake.

Brush loaves with egg yolk glaze, and slash tops with sharp razor or scalpel.

Place baking sheet in middle of oven, and spray sides of oven water. Immediately close oven door and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on its underside. A single 2lb/1kg loaf may take 35-40 minutes to bake. I turned the sheet around about half way through baking to ensure even browning.

Allow to cool completely on rack before slicing. Its mild sweetness and toothsome chew are wonderful on their own — it’s the only way T. has eaten it so far. I’ve indulged with a pats of unsalted butter to accompany my morning coffee.

I (Heart) Cookies: Oatmeal Super Cookies

Hope you had a great Valentine’s Day!

Mine started with a trip to the vet. Fortunately, it was just a folllow-up and we got the glad tidings that Kio is A-OK after 2 weeks of first not eating, then twice daily struggles to get him to take oral antibiotics. Cats and antibiotics are not a pretty picture. All the more reason Monday was a happy day when he got the all-clear.

A small thank you was in order for all the folks at the clinic who struggled with us to get him back on track: cookies that were good for their hearts and (we hope) touched their hearts. These oatmeal cookies have one-third less sugar than most oatmeal recipes, but you miss none of it because of all the dried fruit. I opted for a super antioxidant blend of blueberries, tart cherries, wolfberries, and cranberries for their colors, sweetness and heart-protective properties. In honor of V-Day, we went for the heart shape — what better way to say they come from our hearts, too! Even without the extra bling of dark chocolate drizzle, these cookies will satisfy any sweet tooth. Leave any guilt at the door!

(Makes 24-26 extra large heart-shaped cookies, or 4-4½ dozen regular cookies)

1cup (100g) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup (65g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
8oz/2 sticks (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1cup (190g) raw sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup (75g) dried blueberries
½ cup (70g) dried wolfberries (aka goji berries)
¼ cup (35g) dried cranberries, halved
¼ cup (35g) dried tart (montmorency) cherries, diced
3 cups (240g) rolled old-fashioned oats
(optional garnish) ½ cup/3.5oz (100g) dark chocolate chips (at least 60% cacao, if you want to keep it “heart-smart”, we recommend Ghiardelli)

In a medium bowl, combine flours, spices, salt and baking soda. Sift together.

In a large mixing bowl beat together butter and sugar until well blended. (You can use a hand-mixer or stand mixer for mixing until the point the dried fruit are added.) Add eggs and beat to combine. Add vanilla and mix in well.

Add flour mixture and beat on low to combine, then on medium for 2 minutes. Add all dried fruit and mix in with a wooden spoon. Add oats and stir well to combine oats and fruit evenly.

For heart-shaped cookies: Make 24-26 balls and place on plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow dough to chill enough to shape.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

After dough is chilled, work with 3-4 balls at a time to pat out a heart shape with your hands, and place on baking sheet. I could fit 12 cookies per sheet. Bake 15 minutes for soft, chewy cookie, or 17-18 minutes for a crisper cookie.
Immediately remove from sheet and cool on rack. Place baking sheet under rack, if chocolate drizzle will be added after cookies cool.

For optional garnish, place chocolate chips in microwave-proof bowl and microwave on medium heat for 20 seconds. Stir to melt and combine. If chocolate does not melt completely, microwave in 5 second increments, stirring after each session. Working quickly, use fork to drizzle chocolate on cookies. Let cool completely.

Share with your Valentine and everyone on your (Heart) List!

Schmalz & Gribenes: A Kitchen Experiment in Using Every Bit

Schmalz? Gribenes? Sound like characters in a cartoon strip from the turn of the LAST century, don’t they? In this case, though, they refer to two products from one of the most maligned chicken parts in our health-conscious world: the chicken skin. Schmalz is the liquid or semi-solid rendered fat, and gribenes is the crispy bits of skin left after rendering fat from skin (think: chicken equivalent of pork rinds). Why on earth would any one want to make these, much less eat them? Because they taste so-o-o good… Bad for you, absolutely. Delicious, undeniable.

We first sampled Schmalz when we lived in Germany, where it might be brought to the table as an alternative to butter for bread, or purchased as an open-faced sandwich snack. In Germany, though, most of the Schmalz we saw was made from pork lard, rather than from chicken — it was white and firm, and very bland on its own though it was most often flavored with herbs, onion and salt. I was never crazy about Schmalz in the 7 years we lived there.

Chicken schmalz, though, is a different animal. Golden yellow and fragrant, it makes a nice little smackerel on crusty bread, preferably sprinkled with its fraternal twin, gribenes. Schmalz can also be used as a condiment — I read that some delis offer schmalz on roast beef sandwiches! And gribenes can be used to garnish pasta, potatoes, salads — pretty much anything to which you want to add a little crunch. Other types of schmalz can be made from goose or duck fat.

Undertaking this process was more about finding useful purpose for things we would otherwise throw away than as a call to endanger heart health. I decided to try my hand at making schmalz when I ended up with a tray of a dozen kosher chicken thighs. Normally when we buy large quantities of meat, I divide them into smaller freezer packs, trimmed and ready for use later.

In this case I de-boned some of the thighs, and removed all backbones still attached to the thigh bones — those made a quick chicken broth that can be used for soup or for cooking. I also trimmed away the excess fat and most of the skin. Rather than throw out the skin as I usually did, I cut it up (kitchen shears worked much better than my knife) and threw it and the trimmed fat into a cast iron pan set on medium low.

To start, I did not add any seasoning. I wanted to keep some plain schmalz to use as a cooking medium, the same as we have a jar of ghee for certain types of South Asian cooking. As the fat began to render and liquefy, I removed enough to fill a half-pint jar to keep for cooking. I then added a quarter of a small onion, finely diced, to the pan and about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt. The pan continued cooking on medium low until the skin reached the desired browning and crispness. This took about 40 minutes total rendering/browning time.

I considered this finished.

After decanting the seasoned liquid schmalz into 2 containers (top and bottom right), I added some of the onions and gribenes to each container. The remaining gribenes were kept separate — they can be re-crisped before using. The clear gold jar is the unseasoned schmalz for cooking.

In the remaining fat in the pan, I browned a few skinless thighs for dinner, then deglazed the pan with some of the broth on the back burner. To be honest, I was so focused on the fat products that I hadn’t made an actual plan for the thighs themselves, so I put them and the deglazing liquid in the slow cooker with onions, garlic and bay leaves, as well as a cinnamon stick and cumin and caraway seeds with a vague notion of later adding chickpeas and dried apricots for a North African style stew. After cleaning up, I sat down for a break and to catch up with some favorite blogs when I came across an inspired touch from Rowena @Rubber Slippers in ItalyShe shared a recipe for an African beef stew with a peanut butter sauce called Mafé, and there was something about the peanut butter that sounded really good to me. I immediately added some butternut squash, the chickpeas and the remainder of our jar of peanut butter — about a 1/3 cup, to the slow cooker. Rowena used different seasonings so I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but in fact we really liked the final combination. Don’t you love when inspiration smacks you on the head like that?! (Thanks, Rowena!)

The schmalz for snacking will look like this before and after the fat cools. In the photo on the right, the gribenes was toasted in a toaster oven, where they “popped” and became even more like pork rinds in texture — airy and very crispy. I’m thinking they would be great mixed in with some popcorn too…

In keeping with my resolve to bake bread at home, I opted to make my own light rye bread to go with the schmalz and gribenes. I count kneading bread as exercise to justify these calories. LOL. No, really….

I limited myself to a single slice of bread as a snack. It was hard. Very hard.

From this kitchen experiment, we also got that African (via Lecco, Italy) chicken stew
with butternut and chickpeas in peanut butter sauce, and…

From the chicken broth we got a soup with Cinderella squash, lacinato kale, meatballs
and whole wheat shells for a second dinner the following night.
All in all, a very satisfying experiment!