Sourdough Starter | Preferment | Mother | Poolish | Miche | Pâte Fermentée

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I love bread! Do you? Well, I find that I actually love it just a little too much. I’m not sure if it is perhaps some kind of gene incursion, or some other mutation in me if you will, that makes me crave bread from time to time — or maybe I’m just hardwired that way.

I’ve decided to try and figure that out. Not the physiological or scientific reason for my insatiable desire to consume bread, but rather, what makes bread tick. Here, I will examine the inner workings of bread, and what makes great bread great — by exploring the “mother” of breads I enjoy eating a lot. French country sourdough bread, with a crispy exterior and a slightly sour crumb. (Mildly sour). I like a hint of controlled sourness to my country bread and I think you’d agree if you tried my bread.

Sourdoughs, by and large, are sour by the natural yeast trapped by the starters, used by bakers to make their breads sour. Whether in a professional kitchen, or just a mom making sourdough bread at home and in her kitchen. My journey or sojourn started with the introduction of a thought, or implied thought of the implications of sourdough and how it can be life transforming. Not in a prayerful way, but how it can take up a lot of your time, in a good way, figuring out the machinations of great bread. So to work I went, trapping wild yeast from the very air I breathe and am accustomed to everyday I breathe within the confines of my Williamsburg Bk, apartment. I’m loving the ride and experience.

A great loaf of bread albeit, starts with what the industry calls a “Mother”, “Starter”, “Sponge”, “Preferment”, “Biga”, “Pâte Fermentée” or “Poolish”. By what ever name you give it, it is the butter of the bread metaphorically speaking. Sourdough starters, can take the place of commercial yeast, by acting exclusively as the leavening agent in a dough. Thus eliminating the need for commercially produced yeast, like baker’s yeast, active dry yeast, or rapid dry yeast. What makes the use of wild yeast starters unique, is, the fact that they give sourdough bread the unmistakeable quality and taste. It is after all, one of the oldest techniques used in bread production, with a pedigree that dates back to the Egyptian’s. It is a natural leavener, and one that must be nurtured over long periods to produce a quality product like great bread. Some starters are said to be in some families dating back perhaps a hundred years or more, whilst being handed down from generation to generation.

A great way to know that your starter is ready for use, is, to perform a float test. Simply taking a bit of the starter or poolish, and dropping it into some cool water (tepid if using immediately), will tell you if  it is ready by floating to the top of the water. It is a strong indication that there is enough carbon dioxide in the dough and should provide great leavening to your bread dough.

Taking a time out, to stretch and fold proofing bread dough!

French Sourdough Country Bread (Pain De Campagne)

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It was cold, it was snowing and in the end, it poured. What I did on my Saturday afternoon and Saturday night one might ask?! I made bread, I broke bread, and I ate lots of bread. I guess some would call me a Pillsbury dough boy, but that’s a moniker I’d rather not have to live or identify with thank you very much. I like my name just fine! Continuing on, It’s been sometime since I first contemplated the idea of baking, kneading, prepping and learning all that there is in the world, about the finer points of great bread making. Woot! I say; I did it. Scratch that off my bucket list, at least for now. Albeit, this trek for me, is not yet over though. As my dangerous foray into the netherworld of puffing and rising dough, is only yet begun, and beginning.

Plans are in the works today, to prepare yet another one of these fine culinary anomalies, this afternoon, and evening. What can I say, it’s a long prep for God sake. I digress, the trick today, barring pulling a rabbit out of my –bleep! is to execute a long ferment, or slow ferment in the refrigerator, over night: 18 hours roughly. It’s called “delayed fermentation, or retarded fermentation”. It is said to create a better chew and better flavor by allowing the yeast and flour the time to meld and create better flavors over night. Can’t wait! This is gonna be a good one. Umm umm! Not that the last one was bad I tell you. Right then, off to the market to pick up more flour.

So all of the above, from going to the market and baking off another loaf, was done. I am very impressed with both loaves. They were different in the texture of the crumb, with the latter, having a tighter crumb, while the first loaf I baked, had a bigger or wider crumb. They are both wonderful and make amazing breads. The difference in the crumb width, is due to the amount of water introduced during the mixing process, and also, to a large degree, the kneading process.  As you introduce more bench flour, to keep the dough from sticking to the counter or board, you consequently dry the dough a bit, making for tighter crumb. Ciao for now!

Storing Basil, Cilantro And Parsley

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How to properly store fragile herbs, like basil, cilantro, and parsley, has for most home cooks been a quandary and mystery. Here is a simple technique you can use for storing those precious herbs. I realize some people might say, if they go bad then I’ll buy fresh. Well, that may be true, but as a cook you have to figure out ways to keep cost down and maximize your bottom line. With a herb like basil, just cut off the stem just above the root level (re-snipping helps water absorption) and place into a quart container or something like it, glass is fine — then cover the whole thing with a clear plastic bag, or a zip-lock bag. Keep basil on the counter and never refrigerate. On the other hand, cilantro and parsley, can be kept inside the refrigerator, using the above method described. Simple efficient and it works. Harvest fresh herbs and change out the water occasionally and that’s it. I keep my basil right next to my hooch and sourdough starter. Enjoy!

Goat Cheese Pizza Con Prosciutto E Aceto Balsamico

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Not long ago in the hood, my hood, I discovered an amazing little pizza shop. It was called La Nonna. It was the very best Bedford Avenue pizza, and without question, the very best pizza from here to south of Spring street. Miraculously, they managed to coax uber flavors, from their basic tomato based sauce and wonderfully thin crust slice. Sadly, they are gone now and I am disappointed to say the least. After learning of their demise and hasty closure, I decided to take pizza matters into my own hands. So what’s a pizza lover like me to do, without their favorite pizza shop you ask?! Make home made pizza and figure out ways to make it exciting and fresh (and maybe jazz it up a bit too).

So that’s what I set out to do with this superb little pizza I came up with, that is finished with the very finest Villa Manodori, Aceto Balsamico Di Modena. Short of being somewhere on the Naple strip in Italy, I have found a winner right in my very own kitchen. I didn’t want to use the quintessential red tomato based sauce for this recipe, so I came up with a tomatillo salsa that is the absolute perfect balance of flavor and acidity for the fresh slices of bosc pear and sweet basil harvested from my kitchen counter green house. LOL! It’s really just a quart container with fresh basil, with their stems cut off  just above the roots and placed in about an inch of water (basil leaves are covered with a zip lock bag, to create a mini green-house). Keep this set up on your counter top, and do not refrigerate.

Braised Pot Roast (Żywiec Beer)

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So, yesterday I got this text from my neighbor, Margarette Garland, telling me that I need to eat meat (red meat). What struck me ass odd, is that she happens to be a vegetarian. (Altruism has no face or shape). Oh wait, she does have a face and her name is MG. The follow up to that text was that she purchased a gorgeous piece of beef chuck, from the local butcher. She was so keen on making sure that I ate beef for some odd and strange reason. Reasons only she knows. She also included a wonderful assortment of root vegetables, and aromatics, along with brussels sprouts, red bliss potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and lastly, this gorgeous acorn squash. We got down to business, prepping and getting this pot roast in the oven in no time flat. I also took the time to photograph every step of the process, and also found the time in between, to give Margarette a knife skill lesson, cutting onions.

In addition I discovered some rainbow carrots in the crisper portion of my refrigerator and decided to cook those along with the roast. They are so beautiful representing just the right colors of the spectrum, needed to make the pictures pop; also, flavor and texture. The roast was braised in Żywiec Beer, from Poland. I first pan roasted the meat in extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to develop a crust and brown the meat. No color no flavor!  The mira-poix, and other aromatics were sauteed and the pot (Le Creuset dutch oven) deglazed with beer, to harvest all of those beautiful flavors that develop during the caramelization of the meat proteins and natural sugars that are released during the process. A bouquet garni, was also included with the aromatics of: laurel leaves, black pepper corns, fresh thyme, and dry rosemary.

Żywiec Beer, is a staple in my fridge and my go to beer for price and flavor. Well worth it! Part of the recipe came from Margarette’s mom, but of course, I had to chef out with her and make this recipe along side her, to lend my skills to the process (it’s my OCD). It is every bit as delicious as it looks. In fact, I’m having a second helping right now, or is it my third?! Yummy!

Handmade Pasta (Hand Rolled And Cut)

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It is late on a Wednesday night, when suddenly and without warning (soon after arriving from work), I get this insatiable urge, for homemade pasta. (No! I don’t smoke weed). I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone start rolling out dough, but roll out dough I did and this is the result. (The case of satiating an untenable and beguiling, pasta craving!).

I don’t own a pasta machine or fancy Kitchen Aid, with pasta attachment, (not yet anyway!), but found the creative energy to satisfy my urge and indulge my taste buds in a simple yet decadent handmade pasta. The ingredients are a staple in my kitchen, and so, they should be in yours too. All purpose unbleached flour, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, and kosher salt. That was all it took to make this delicious pasta, albeit, and some common household kitchen accessories: cutting board, chef knife and bench scraper.

Organic Vegetarian Quiche With Farmer’s Goat Cheese

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So I’m not exactly what you would call an advocate of organic foods, mainly because they are very expensive to buy and shop for. If however, I did have my druthers, I would buy only organic. Albeit though, in this instance I did manage to shop exclusively for all organic products, including the flour that I used to make the dough with and butter. Oh and lets not leave out the eggs too. :-) All manner of organic ingredients, were taken into account and considered for this amazing and brilliant little tart quiche, that I made especially for my very dear and good friend, Margarette Garland. (It is without question the best quiche I have ever had). The inspiration for the ingredients, was dictated by market price and the freshness of the product too. For this all vegetarian quiche, I used farm fresh organic goat cheese, lacinato kale, asparagus, organic eggs, whole milk, and double cream.

Dough Dough Dough!

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So what do you get when you are exhausted beyond words can describe?! Really and truly I am. You get dough, dough and more dough: that’s right! I knead dough!! It’s amazing what a small and tiny little voice in the back of your head and mind, can do for you. It’s called impetus I guess. At any rate, that small impetus to make dough, defined an evening of refinement for me in terms of technique and harnessing those infinitesimal details that can get away from you (me), in understanding the complete process (gestalt premise). Here I show off four different dough’s and what it takes to make them and the obvious difference (or not), to perfect them in my kitchen and the delicate science behind it. The last shot is of resting and proofing pizza dough. And finally the second rise of the pizza dough, after resting it over night in the fridge. All in a nights work! Some folk’s need a drink, while others need a fix of some elicit drug, whilst I Knead Dough!

Pizza (Home Made)

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Lovely home made pizza is easy as pie, and where it’s at these days. With one cup of flour, you can make a 12 inch pie in no time, along with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil; and of course, a fresh tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. The kids love it, I love it, and most adults do too. And the best part about it, is, you don’t need any special equipment to make it. Just some basic gear. A sheet pan (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet), a large mixing bowl, a chef knife, and a hot oven set to broil. So get ready to make some of the easiest dough and pizza right in your very own kitchen. I say, make dough not war! Have fun watching the super bowl and make some kick ass pizza for your guest, or hey, if you feel lazy, order in and try this one soon. will continue recipe soon

Crispy French Fries (Pommes Frites)

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Please oh Please! don’t serve me wimpy, wet, under cooked fries ever, or I will have a fit. Well, not literally, more like an internal fit. You know the kind?! It’s just not cool to make an amazing burger, or perfect strip steak, only to be proffered, disgracefully prepared French fries. Oh what agony it is for me. Okay, enough about me. The technique I will describe here, will most certainly give you perfect fries every time, if you follow my method.

Ingredients:

Russet Potato (s)

Cooking Oil (Canola, Vegetable, Peanut, Blended)

Kosher Salt (Maldon Sea Salt Optional)

Large Pot or Wok

Sharp Chef Knife (LOL!)

Cutting Board

Large Metal Mixing Bowl

Sheet Tray or Cookie Sheet

Kitchen Towel

Working Freezer

I know you’re thinking to your self, why on earth all of the equipment? Well, there isn’t much to cook here other than fries. So in the end, the gear is very essential to the prep. Before the first cut to the potato is made, be sure to wash your potato (s), first in cool or warm water. I use a small sponge with a tiny bit of soap and scrub my potatoes, as I leave the skins on. Oh yes! never peel them. There is such goodness and health benefits to the skins, so leaving them intact is a requirement not only for health, but also, for the flavor they impart to the fries. Slice off a thin layer from the rounded edge of the potato, not the flat side. Russet’s, have a flat side and or more rounded side as a rule – so finding it makes all the difference in the way the final product is cut. Now that you have your flat surface to lay your potato on, slice your potato into 3/8″ – 1/2″ slices. Include the outer slices too: don’t discard. Now cut your baton’s of potato, by keeping with the width of the slices: 3/8″-1/2″ baton’s. This way they’re all even. Also, makes for nicer presentation. Place the potatoes in a bowl under cold water, while running the tap to allow the starch  to wash out. Once the water runs clear, you can drain them and place them on the kitchen towel and pat dry. I wrap them in the towel and allow the towel to soak up as much of the water as possible. At this point, get your pot or vessel ready for frying the potatoes.

Your first fry if using a measured temperature, should be somewhere in the 325 degree Fahrenheit range. I don’t measure as I am very familiar with my wok and method by now. Using a medium low flame bring the oil to cooking temp, by heating the pot or wok for about 10-14 minutes. Add your potatoes at once, or in batches. Cook for 8-9 minutes making sure that the potatoes do not get any color. (This first fry is called “Blanching”). What you are doing here is cooking the flesh (meat) of the potatoes interior and also, cooking out the water, while maintaining the colorless exterior.

A bit tricky at first but once you’ve done it enough times, you will get the hang of it. Now place the fries on the sheet tray, or cookie sheet and spread them out. Place the sheet tray into the freezer (Yes! the freezer). Keep the heat of the cooking vessel (wok, or pot) on low at this point to keep the oil from cooling. Freeze or chill the potatoes from 10-15 minutes ideally. Fifteen minutes better! Once you anticipate cooking your potatoes for the second fry, bring your oil up to temperature, by turning up the burner to get the oil temperature as close to 350-365 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now get your potatoes out of the freezer, and place them into the heated oil. If they are getting color to fast, reduce the heat. Fry them for about 4 minutes till they take on a golden-brown color. Have a metal mixing bowl ready (metal bowls are light weight), and your kosher salt (or Maldon’s). Remove the fries from the oil and place into the bowl: immediately coat the fries or as we say in the restaurant, hit them with salt to coat and season them. This is the best time to season as they are coated with the cooking fat (oil). Serve at once and enjoy! You will see that they are much crispier than your usual method of frying once and will not go limp on you, before you get them to your guest.

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