1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 51

I enter my kitchen, the clock reads 3:55pm. I look outside and I can’t see the garden. I am not ready for it to be night, to be dinner, to be the end of the day. I am not ready for it to be so dark and so still. I am not ready for the last cup of tea and to go to bed. 

I gather my starter from the fridge, turn my oven on and set the butter on the counter. Is this today or yesterday? Was I here? Yes I was. Yes, it is me here right now again. I have the cookie sheet, the baking mat, sugar and flour. 

The past three years, around the first week of December, my body and I have embraced this new routine – woman-made sunshine hour. There is no sun. It is not perfect, but we came to an agreement. It is not because it is the holidays and I like to bake. It is a construct, a discipline, a rescue mission, a mission to salvage myself. For some it may be their hour in the gym, but for me, this time I capture is about creating space where I am.   

I watch daylight reduce to a bit more than a third of the day. This year’s winter solstice we will only have  8 hours and 46 minutes. Life speed and time is so relative for all of us, how we experience it and feel it. While I am in my time warp on Earth, astronauts at the International Space Station are witnessing 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets in 24 hours! How did I just learn that? Where we are has an impact on our bodies, our rhythms. I always wonder how it would be to live on a mountain top. I lived by the ocean for a season and loved it.  My sourdough baking was different. The dough sprinted through the day, even in the fridge, and I baked late in the evenings. 

Our concepts of time are personal. Even inside my household, my loved ones live differently in their days. Whatever your sense of time and self, I give you my example in these shrinking days. 

Today’s bake is a fermented black and white dough, a request from my youngest kid. It is a slice and bake. But you could use it as a base for cut out cookies. 

Sourdough (Fermented) Black and White Icebox Cookies 

This dough can be used for cutout cookies.

2 ¼ cup of wheat flour (mixing ½ cup of other flours like cornmeal and buckwheat are super tasty)

½ tsp of baking powder 

½ tsp coarse salt

½ cup of butter

¾ cup of sugar (½ if desired less sweet)

1 large egg

½ cup of sourdough starter

2 tsp vanilla (I used peach pit extract I made last summer)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180C) and prep trays with a baking mat, parchment paper, or lightly greased.
  2. Cream butter and sugar.
  3. Add the pre-ferment and mix until well incorporated.
  4. Mix baking powder and flour.
  5. Add flour to the butter mixture.
  6. Take half of the mixed dough and add 3 tbsp of cocoa powder.
  7. Roll out the chocolate and vanilla doughs separately, into a rectangular-ish shape about the same size.  Stack the dough on top of each other and roll the dough away from you to make a log.  Wrap in parchment paper for put in a container.
  8. Let the dough ferment on the counter for a day then move the dough to the fridge to continue fermenting for another week. Then, I like to move it to the freezer to make it easier to slice the cookies. This dough can be used for cut out cookies and I also prefer to work with it cold.
  9. When ready to bake, slice cookies. Bake 350 F 11-12 minutes

If cutting shapes, and you would like to decorate the cookies. Here is a simple royal icing we like to use: 1 egg white, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 ½ cup of powdered sugar (made by blending sugar on high speed blender)

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1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 50

I am looking at an old photo of the sourdough mother my friend Phyllis made and gave to me 9 years ago. She passed away two years ago and baking with this starter is like we can meet in a land that is not here or there. We can meet outside of time because I can touch something she touched that is alive in the past and in the present.

I don’t get to talk with her everyday, but I am so thankful I can still be connected with her through what she shared with me.  We tried to make a calendar together once. We planned activities around baking for others. Her voice lives on in hundreds and hundreds of emails we shared with ideas around food, family, faith, and living. The emails are like mixtapes I can listen to and celebrate our friendship.

Her emails and photos don’t make me as homesick as to think of the day she gave me this starter. Maybe because today I can look at it as an early parting gift we could have not thought of. Inadvertently, she gave me a way to keep going, a way to keep on baking my emotions and feelings into it. Baking bread is not like reading in the past. Bread answers in the moment. 

I am still baking with her. She started this culture with pineapple juice and I remember being in such awe as I baked a loaf then as I am tonight.

Tonight’s bread was Laura Valli’s “no-recipe” 100% rye sourdough. I used whey instead of water for the liquid levain. I have been wanting to make this bread for a long time. I love she explained women in Estonia, including her mom, pokes 3 holes in the bread and let it rise. We will know it’s ready to bake when they are “barely visible” maybe I grew a little impatient in this cold Maine morning. I can’t wait to cut it tomorrow. Thank you Laura for the inspiration.

Radio Bread

Stopping by to share that my friend Amy Halloran and I were both on the radio last week. Amy was on WAMC Northeast Public Radio Flour Hour talking about all things flour, from Election Cake to Brown Bread.

I got to join a discussion hosted by Maine Public Radio “Maine Calling” on bread baking in Maine and talk about being a “bread doula.” 🙂

Let me know if you have bread questions. You can reach me here or on Instagram.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 49

This year I have been reflecting on time and sourdough. I have been fermenting baked goods in ways I have not done before – to see what happens when I let different ingredients linger a little or a lot. 

Each kitchen and cook has a rhythm. As I work, I often wonder if recipes and methods are born when we try to meet our needs, our tasks or when they meet us. In my kitchen, both. 

I’ve learned that when I am focused on what I can do during a particular “time slot,” I am focused on a particular outcome. But the beauty of fermentation and working with microorganisms is that they remind me that time is relative and fluid. Time is the ingredient that can develop a project into a new story. 

The pathways are not set. And as we humans pass through times, we may not remember or be able to hold on to lessons from previous generations. Since progress, whatever that is, is happening, earlier lessons probably wouldn’t  even fit us anymore. However, some of the microorganisms we don’t see may remember everything for us.  We can relearn from them, or learn with them.

When I ferment, I give myself permission to be, not just to do. I can observe, accept or reject and work with the outcomes. The open formulas I use are not product-oriented. Instead of perfection, I seek connection with the process, and try to link myself to the opportunities for growth that my ingredients hold. 

Here the fermented wild apples rye bars sheltering the last blueberries and grapes of the season.

Fermented Wild Apples Rye Fruit Filled Bars

Mix all ingredients and let ferment on the counter for the day. If longer fermentation is desired, continue fermenting in the fridge for several days. 

2 cups flour ( wholemeal rye, wheat or we love all cornmeal or a mix of flours. For GF version, use GF starter or just ferment your favorite flour with milk kefir. )

½ teaspoon of salt

1 stick of butter, softened

¼ cup sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup of sourdough

About 1 cup of grated wild apples, if desired

2 tablespoons of milk kefir or whipping cream.

Split the dough into 4 pieces.

After fermenting, divide the dough into 4 parts.

Press a thin layer of dough into two loaf pans, lined with parchment paper, or greased with fat.

Fill the bars with jam or fruit preserves and cover with more dough. I use us my fingers to flat 2 inches pieces and lay over the fruit. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar and bake. It will even out in the oven as it bakes.

Bake 350F for 35 minutes until golden. Let it cool completely before cutting into bars.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 48

August  23, 22

I am taking a break from writing my syllabus to bake a cake, a simple “bolo.” This is what you might call a snack cake. Or is it a muffin baked in a bundt pan? A bread if I bake in a loaf pan?

For me it is a zucchini bolo #bolodeabobrinha . I can’t quite translate and unpack all the meaning of this simple action. It feels like a reflex. In many ways it represents the way I cook and bake, feed my family, and share food. My bolos started as I watched my mom and ate her bolos. She always puts whatever she has into the blender and adds, as she says, “one tablespoon of baking powder, and you have cake.” It was like magic! How humble ingredients can come together to create something so tall and golden, savory or sweet, always appealing. We could smell it everywhere in the house. How does some squash skin, sour milk, leftover bread, and banana peels end up looking so appetizing on the plate? 

That statement has fueled my baking journey. She gave me a license to use what I have without fear of messing up. Well, there is fear, especially in the sense of wasting precious resources, from ingredients to time, but I feel like my mother gave me a magic powder, one that makes random food into gold.

Armed with her confidence, I survey what I have: Vegetables or fruits? Which fat? What flours would be nice to use? Anything about to go bad? Yes, if you are baking from the garden or able to enjoy summer’s bounty, you may be answering zucchini or summer squash but there may be a forgotten brown banana on the counter or half eaten peach from the kids, each will add sweetness and variety. 

Back to work now, I try to apply my mother’s assurance. I consider how to mix and bake up my syllabi. I hope my excitement and love of teaching will work like this recipe!

A note on fermenting cakes and cookies. I have been exploring during this #halfcupsourdough series. I have been mixing all ingredients including eggs, baking powder and baking soda if using and letting it all ferment on the counter for several hours or overnight in the fridge and then baking. 

For the sourdough starter I am also using what I have at the moment. Both fed (ripe) or unfed (discard) from the fridge will ferment cakes and cookies. But you can also add the starter as an ingredient, for flavor, to use up the discard from feeding the starter or because you like to add more fermented flour to your diet. 

Sourdough Zucchini Bolo

Today’s bolo went like this:

Mix:

2 cups of grated zucchini ( I used the rest for dinner)

½ cup of  sourdough starter 

½ cup of sugar (extra ¼ if you like more of a treat)

3 eggs (they were from food barter from a farmer and different sizes)

⅓ cup of fat 

Stir in:

1 ⅓ cup of whole grain flours (I did a mix of wheat and rye meal) (extra few tablespoons if you are not using whole grains)

2 teaspoons of  baking powder

½ teaspoon of baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon salt 

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Stir in ½ cup of chocolate chips

Pour into a greased pan and bake 350F for 55-60 minutes.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 47

I took the tortilla press this afternoon, the heart stamp and made some egg white sugar glaze. I wet my hands and pull chunks of the cold sticky fermented rye dough. I place between plastic sheets and press into a thin layer. I cut some squares with a cookie cutter and sandwich with peach leather, goiabada (guava paste) and cassis (black currant) jam. I repeat and repeat. Maybe these are not all the fillings one would think to add to Pryaniki, but in our family, American, Latin and Estern European flavors mash is a thing. And we often celebrate our “thing” with food. 

Fermentation can serve as a metaphor for so many instances in life. I  am grateful my husband and I have been fermenting this one together. We were a couple for a long while and then added kids to the mix. Recipes don’t work and advice doesn’t fit. Transformation is at the essence. Best to taste and adjust as we go. 

This weekend I baked many thank yous for Father’s day to this batch of Pryaniki. I added my heart to each one. 

This is one of my husband’s childhood cookies. Pryaniki, or “Spiced Cookies” are traditionally made with rye. Dmitri helped me research, translate and taste test as we adapted the recipe to use local wholemeal rye.  The recipe is part of the #12grainsofChristmas 2021 booklet. I like to also ferment these cookies as some historical recipes suggest. We make several variations of Pryaniki in our home. I like to ferment them with honey, milk kefir, but for this version, I used ½ cup of sourdough starter. I let all ingredients ferment on the counter for half a day and then move to the fridge for several weeks. 

Fermented Rye Pryaniki 

3 ½ cups of Maine Grains Rye meal 

½  tsp coarse salt

½ cup sugar 

½ cup water 

½ cup honey 

6 tbsp butter 

½ tsp baking soda 

¼ tsp vinegar

Add 1 egg (or 2 yolks and save the whites for the glaze)

Add ½ cup of sourdough, optional if you would like to ferment these cookies)

Dry perfume (spices) : 1 tsp of each: coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, anise star, nutmeg… or other desired combinations

Dry fruit or jam to fill the cookies

Glaze 1 : 1 egg while, 1 cup of conf sugar and 1tsp lemon juice

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220C) and prep trays with a baking mat, parchment paper, or lightly greased.
  2. Mix flour and salt.
  3. In a heavy bottom sauce pan, mix sugar, water, honey, 6 tbsp butter and cook to caramelize and bubbly.
  4.  Mix in all of “dry perfume” spice mix 
  5. Add ½ tsp of baking soda mixed with ¼ tsp vinegar.
  6. Turn heat off and stir 2 cups of the flour mix into hot liquid and stir.
  7. Add 1 egg and the rest of the flour and knead the dough with a wood spoon. 
  8. When cool, add sourdough starter if using and mix well.
  9. Chill the dough at least 4 hours best overnight. If fermenting, let ferment for several weeks in the fridge if desired. 
  10. Flour the mold, press a layer of cookie dough, fill with jam, we liked orange peel candy and dark chocolate squares. Then another layer. 
  11. Or roll out and stamp shapes
  12. Bake 425℉ for 10 minutes for 3 inch-rounds or 3 inch square cookies.
  13. Let the cookies cool completely before glazing.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 46

Walking and standing

Afternoon walk, picking up some feelings as we go. 

We freeze frames of moments and hold them in the corner of our eyes as our bodies stretch and move forward.

The waters stand.

The trees stand.

The bushes and flowers stand.

But not just. They hold place and take a stance. It is enough. I am affirming or am I asking? 

Maybe it is a way that a standing world can grow and expand. Right there where it is.

Because it bears witness. 

When we walked today, we saw some “zemlyanika” or wild strawberries on the side of our walking path. D. told me the zemlyanika name in Russian ​roughly translates “close to the Earth” 

We name them so we will remember them. The mushrooms that grow by the birch, the berries that are blue… and they travel with us. 

I can’t stop thinking about being rooted. When we are young we want to break free.

My mom texted me about mothers wrestling, reckoning and reconciling with the fact that “her kids can find their own path.” She is writing in another language and I can’t find the exact word to match how she estimates this feeling of letting go.

Maybe she is saying I am, she was like a maple tree, watching her seeds. Some may grow next to her —to me—but some will fly away. But seeds are magical and we can’t see  all they will become, and trust that stories will survive without our tending.

The sourdough batter from the blender cup gets poured into the heated cast iron and into a circle. It knows how to expand. 

Thank you Amy Halloran for your encouragement and support in all things food and stories since the beginning for story cooking!

Sourdough Crepes

1 cup of flour (mix of wheat and rye) or all buckwheat

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup eggs (3 eggs)

1 cup liquid (milk or a mix of milk of milk and water for example)

½ cup of sourdough starter (for  GF version use Brown rice starter)

3 TBSP melted fat, like butter

Blend all  ingredients by hand or I like to use the blender for this job. Let it ferment on the  counter and/or in the fridge. Use 1-3 tbsp of water to thin if needed. Cook on a low heat cast iron skillet on both slides. It makes about 15 6.5 inch rounds and freezes very well. 

Enjoy with some summer fruit, favorite jam or savory filling.

Strawberries grown by my husband we got to taste this week.

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 45

One turtle came to our backyard on this beautiful rainy day!

We spotted it near the chicken coop. It stayed around all day, maybe looking for a nest spot. I went to see the turtle and found one daisy growing near the garden beds. That one flower made me think of a few quotes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, one of my favorite books growing up:

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…

They don’t find it,” I answered.

And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”

Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.” 

I was wondering what else to make for the Baking Barter Box I put together every week for my friend. She said her grandmother made coffee cake with lots of cinnamon. I followed that one thought.

Sourdough Coffee Cake

For the cake

Mix:

1/2 cup fat, I used butter, softened

2 eggs

½ cup of yogurt (could use sour cream or milk kefir)

½ cup of sourdough starter

Add:

1 cup sugar (1 used one, but you can add more if you are looking for a sweeter dessert )

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

1  tsp salt

1  cup of chocolate chip cookies, optional

For the Filling: Cinnamon sugar or could use your favorite jam or seasonal fruits

4 tbsp of sugar  

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the Streusel Crumble Topping

½   cup light brown sugar

4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup flour

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

To Assemble:

  1. Grease 9×9 for taller cake or 9×11 or 8×10 pan
  2. Spread half of the batter (you will not be able to pour)
  3. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar filling or jam
  4. Top with the rest of the batter, again it is a little tick, but spread across
  5. Cover with the  crumble topping
  6. Bake 350F for 35 minutes

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 44

After long winters and slow arriving Spring here in Maine, there is a moment when it feels like we have turned the corner towards warm days. We hear the peepers and birds announcing the new season. The light floods the screen porches in our home and it hangs around past dinner time. The chives, sorrel and the  rhubarb came back in the raised beds. The muddy ground is firm again.  Soon, we dare to hope that we will slice fresh tomatoes from the garden and eat on a slice of sourdough bread. And there will be birthday cake requests to celebrate the Summer births in our family. 

We rely on our memories to see us through to the next season. Or someone else’s memories feed us the possibilities. We have faith that those tiny tree buds will open into leaves and when they open up, they will color and adorn the trees. And it will smell so amazing to walk by them we think. It will also smell so amazing to take the chocolate cake out of the oven and add a layer of frosting.

But we need not to wait for that season for cake. The daily everything in our lives is a cause to celebrate with cake. So I made the Depression Era Cake (wacky cake some call) to perfume our house. I used “aged sourdough starter (discard) from the fridge and there is no need to use the 1 tbsp of vinegar (but you can) as the secret ingredient that makes this cake that doesn’t use eggs, butter or milk so fluffy. The fermented flour is sour and when we add the baking soda, it does the trick! The sourdough starter in baked goods tenderizes, flavor and extends the cake shelf life. 

Sourdough Depression Era Cake ( sourdough wacky cake)

1) Combine Dry Ingredients:

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

¼ cup of cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

½  tsp salt

2) Combine Wet Ingredients:

½ cup of  fermented flour (sourdough  discard)

½ cup of water, coffee, or desired liquid

⅓ cup of oil or melted fat of choice

1 tbsp of vinegar (optional)

3) Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until combined.

4) Bake  350F for 30-35 minutes for 9×9 or divide the batter between two 8 inch circle pans for a layer cake.

For  cupcake size,  bake 18-20 minutes. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

For regular Wachy cake and some variations:

1/2 cup of sourdough

Day 43

Food is a language that can feel so full of meaning but sometimes it leaves us without words. When the world is spinning mad or our lives are too, talking about food feels like an indulgent escape. Why does speaking about food seem like we are diminishing problems? As if by elevating food language – referring to ingredients or sourcing or nutrition concerns, then we can talk about cookies when we are hurting. Or we apologize for talking about the cookies.

Food is one of the most intimate things we share with each other. Maybe that’s why we look for cooking metaphors to soften our exchanges, to help digest, so to speak, our experiences.

But we don’t need to digest anything – not our thoughts or actions. We don’t have to wrap food in words. We can present someone with a cookie as we give a hug and that is enough. We can let food speak for itself. Can we listen? I mean, can we receive? 

Listening to someone’s care for us is hard. In our society, which is so individualistic, I feel we only learn the art of receiving when we need to, when we have to. Giving suits us. It is easier.

Either way, food speaks. Food gives us agency. The closest person in my life, my mom, spoke one language – food. I watched my mother, who had only 4th grade education to make sense of the world, articulate and connect not with articles, poetry, debate, but with a slice of “bolo,” cake. Her cooking contains the bridge, lessons, the meaning.

I wonder if that is why my mom would watch us eat our meals. Not only her, but my aunts as well. Her message was understood when I took that bite. The attention was not on what was said but how we ate, how we came back for more, how we received the next dish. 

The world is full of tragedies and crimes. Our lives are spinning, but when we break bread, or open a jar of cinnamon. We stop and pay attention. 

We should not apologize for “speaking food” to each other when we are hurting. It may feel trivial but food as a language, as a vocabulary of emotions and contact, is universal.

Spiced Sourdough Wholemeal Rye Cookies 

for ice cream sandwiches as requested from my oldest child

Mix: 

1 stick of butter room temperature

½ cup of raw sugar

¼ cup molasses

1 egg

½ cup of sourdough starter

Add:

2 cups of wholemeal rye

1 tsp of salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

Ferment on the counter half a day and/or several days in the fridge. 

Bake 375F for 12 minutes or a few extra minutes if you like crunchy.