taking sourdough to social media

Got into some conversation today about sourdough bread with some loaf enthusiasts, and was relating recent activity in the home-kitchen.

Thought I would offer up a link into a recent Instagram post about the sourdough sandwich loaves that I am currently cranking out.

There sure is a lot going on out there in Instagram-land about the sourdough.  I’ve picked up some good connections on there from all over the place.  Must be all the relentless #hashtagging!  Home-bakers, and professionals all crafting their sourdough bread outcomes.  Is great to be a participant in this online community!

Here are some of the sourdough bakers I am following out there on Instagram:

about sourdough starter

I have this sourdough starter, and no, I have not named it.  I should say “them”, perhaps, as there are 2 of them.  They live in the fridge together, and come out to feed on a regular basis.  They need to feed, and develop themselves, just like any other living creature, I suppose….

I thought I’d pull together some thoughts here, as sourdough seems to be trending in these parts, and I’ve issued instructions via email on more than 1 occasion.  Is nice to hear that these starters bred in James Bay have made their way to such exotic wild-yeast destinations such as Esquimalt, Mt. Douglas, near Colquitz Creek, and Central Saanich!

The first starter I bred from a seed-culture, based on the formula offered by master baker Peter Reinhart in his classic text The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  That was in 2009, and it is still with me today.  Even after I lost it once, but that is another tale, that has a heroic outcome.

The 2nd starter was a gift, from a colleague that wished to pass on a package of the famous Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.  By now, I am sure these 2 starters have merged in a glorious union of sourdough barm activity, but who knows.  I’d recommend that you read Suzie’s Sourdough Circus to get the complete picture as to what it is really like to carry on life as a member of a wild-yeast colony.

Here is the sourdough cycle that I’ve been on for a few years now:

  1. take starter out of fridge, feed starter
  2. use some starter for bread dough
  3. put starter back in fridge
  4. Go to 1

I have found a way to moderate volume of starter kept, vs. amount needed to make bread and consumption by family.  I’m currently keeping 2 starters, about 10 oz., and bulking them tto make bread, about four 25 oz. loaves per week.  Sometimes 6, depends on how much bread people are eating.  Family of 6 in the house.

Feeding Instructions

I store the starter in the fridge, in a ceramic bowl, with a saran-wrap cover that is held in place by elastics.  You may hear of starters that are kept under more tightly-lidded conditions, and may blow their lids off – has never happened to me.

After taking the starter out of the fridge, I see if any hooch has developed since last feeding.  If so, I generally dump it down the drain.  Really not something to enjoy in a cocktail, but you might as well take a sip, just so you know what your starter is developing.

I’ll also reduce volume of starter kept to about 8 oz. before feeding.  Seems to work out well as far as volume goes.

I always double the volume when I feed the starter.  So, for 8 oz. of starter, I’ll seek to double the volume to 16 oz. of starter in a single feeding.  I’ll add 4 oz. of flour, and 4 oz. of water to make it so, because 8 + 4 + 4 = 16

Stir in the new flour and water, and leave out on the counter for an afternoon, or a day, or overnight – as long as you want to observe the sourdough action, and watch the wild-yeasts bubbling away. You may want to co-locate the bowl of starter with a wild-yeast source in your home, if you find a preferred one. Wild yeast tends to congregate in all sorts of places, so have fun with this aspect of maintaining your culture. I keep mine by a bowl of ripening fruit, and a container of fresh compost clippings destined for the backyard, but that is just me.


You may want to experiment with types of flours, and the liquid ratio to achieve a more-firm or less-firm starter.  I don’t mess around too much here, and have settled on these products :

  • Flour : Anita’s Organic Unbleached White Flour (13% protein)
  • Water: Aquafina bottled water

Tap water may do the trick, depending on what they’re putting in the water in your area.  Your mileage may vary.

So – once you have doubled the volume of the starter by mixing in flour and water, just let it sit out and expand.  You’ll want to find a container that can accommodate sourdough expansion.

Have fun, and may your wild yeast prosper!

fence project complete

fence-lineWell, every 20 years or so it’s probably time to replace a faulty wooden fence – you know the kind, the sort of fences that have been propped up by angled-support stilts, and really wobble in a heavy storm.

Summer 2014 is the year for our fence-replacement project, and is a backyard project that has recently been completed.

This project has been a long time in coming, and the turning point to carry this one into the execution phase was really the drafting of the plan. Lance spent some time coming up with a nice plan for the fence, and laid it down on paper for us to go over. The plan featured a way to recycle a bunch of the existing materials into the new fence, so that was a big win. Not only a smart design-move, but cost-effective as well. Speaking of cost, we worked a deal with the neighbour on this project:

  • we do the labour
  • he buys the lumber

The project unfolded over several weekends in August and September this summer, and we had many sunny days out in the yard to work on this one. The post-holes are all about 2′ deep, and filled with Post-Haste quick-set concrete, and some large hunks of concrete aggregate that have been laying around the yard for a while.

So, basically what we have is a 60′ fence with:

  • 9 new cedar fence posts
  • many new cedar 2x4s
  • recycled cedar planks from old fence (rot removed!)
  • new 2×2 cedar lattice panels, cut to size

What you can see in the 2nd picture here is the design approach – 8-foot sections with 2×4 cedar beams used to hold the recycled cedar planks from the old fence. The old fence had the planks touching the ground, so we chopped the rot off those bad-boys and nailed them in. 2.5″ framing nails did the job there. Oh, and the metal 2×4 braces make it super-easy to support the 2×4 beams on the fence posts.

The post-hole digging was fairly easy, going down into soil and a bit of clay. Only 1 of the 9 holes presented a real back-breaker of a problem, where I crashed right into some major tree roots. What to do ? Do you move the hole, and get flexible with the sizing of the rest of the sections, or do you wiggle around in the ground a little bit to squeeze the post in where you wanted it ? In this case, I had to make a tough-decsion, and I didn’t do the tree a favour – I hacked through part of the root so I could get the post in the “right place”. argh.

fence-treeHad to get a little creative in the last mile here, as the fence-line basically collides with a tree on the property line. So, I stayed true to the fence-line, in the interests of keeping it straight, and ducked the lattice panel underneath one of the tree limbs. I also had a cedar plank with a chunk muscled out of it that would fit nicely around one of the lower limbs that stretches out into the neighbour’s yard. I was topping the lattice panel sections with a 2×4 cedar beam, but couldn’t quite squeeze a 2×4 into this section, so used a 2×2 cedar length instead.

Many trips to Castle Lumber over on Cook St. for the supplies on this project.

making panettone at home

Seasonally speaking, this is the time of year for enjoying panettone. You might be able to find a few panettone left at your local bakery, or grocery outlet – indeed I saw a few left at the store yesterday. They hadn’t been picked up before the holiday, so were sitting there, waiting for purchase, or a trip to the mark-down table.

Prices vary on store-bought, from under $10, to over $20 – so your mileage will vary there.  Panettone can also be made in your home-kitchen, and in this blog post, I’ll show you how you can make a fine panettone at home.

This year, I made 4 panettone in the home-kitchen on Dec 20-21 – 3 went out as gifts, and 1 stayed home for us to enjoy on Christmas morning.  I selected the recipe from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for this round.  The formula results in 2 panettone loaves, and I usually like to do 2 batches at once to yield the 4-pack.

barm-mediumThe activity is spread out over 2 days, so does take some time, and a bit of organization in the home-bakery.  This recipe also calls for a wild-yeast sourdough starter, which I do have handy in the fridge.  There are other recipes out there that don’t call for a barm on standby, so look around if you don’t happen to keep a sourdough starter alive in your kitchen.  I keep 2 bowls of wild-yeast starter going at all times here, 1 of them since 2009, so if you need some let me know. Pictured here are the 2 batches of wild-yeast starter mixed with milk and some flour. The sponges get assembled the day before the dough is mixed, so here they are. I mixed these up in the evening, and let them sit out overnight.

spiked-fruitWhile the sponges are doing their thing, you can also prepare the candied fruit mixture, spiked with your preferred seasonal liquor. This year, I found some pre-packaged glace mix at the store, added raisins, vanilla, and spiked with whiskey. In past years I’ve mixed various types of candied fruit with dried fruit and spiked with rum, so various combinations will work here. Having some orange or lemon extract is also a nice touch, but I didn’t have those on hand this year. No razz-cherries this year, either. I’m usually a little more-prepared for this particular baking event, but it kind of crept up on me this year, so I did the best I could with what I had available. C:-)

So, with sponge bubbling and fruit spiking, then go to bed, and return to the kitchen the next morning.

Make sure you’ve got all your ingredients ready the next morning, as you’ll need to plan for the various stages in the dough-making phase. This year, I got into the kitchen a little late, around 11:30 AM, but still had enough time in the day to complete.

dough-risingYou’re going to start with making 2 batches of dough, shown here. You’ll need flour, sugar, salt, commercial yeast, the sponge, 1 egg, and an egg yolk. This dough will need some time to develop the gluten, so that’s what is happening here.

I used 2 varieties of organic flour on-hand in the kitchen pantry for this dough, an organic unbleached white flour (14% protein) and a red-fife sifted wheat.

The formula calls for the wild-yeast to be spiked with commercial yeast, and I stuck with that plan – although didn’t actually proof the commercial yeast, so not sure if it had legs before I used it.

Once the dough has had a little time to proof (at least 20 mins), time arrives to mix in the spiked fruit, and some butter. The whisky did the job on this batch, creating quite a nice batch of fragrant, soaked fruit. Mmmmmm! This dough can be mixed by hand, or in a mixer. I’ve got the KitchenAid stand mixer here, so that really helps accelerate the bread-making process around here. However, this dough hits the capacity of the mixer, and needs to be carefully tended while making rounds in the bowl. This year I didn’t lose too much of it as it crawls up past the top of the dough hook into the axle housing of the mixer.

dough-mixedSo, here is the mixed dough, on the right, after a round in the mixer, and then some kneading by hand. It’s helpful to do a bit of kneading by hand so you can get the feel for how far along the dough has progressed, and transitioned out of sticky, and into tacky.

dough-almondsOn the left here, you can see that there is a bowl of almonds soaking in the background. I picked up organic whole almonds for this batch, and needed to blanch them before slicing them up and mixing them into the dough.

Once the almonds got mixed in, then the dough needs to sit out and rise at room temperature for a couple of hours, to increase in volume by approx. 1.5 times. During this time, go for a coffee, or run an errand or something. If needed, make sure pets will not devour the dough, and remind young children not to squish or slap the dough around, as it needs to rise undisturbed. This year, I went downtown to tackle some last-minute shopping while the dough was rising.

pre-bakingOnce the dough has risen, it’s time to divide, shape, and set up in the large size paper panettone baking sleeves. This year, I had 10 sleeves on hand which is great, so no panic there. I divided the dough by eye-balling it, then fine-tuned with a kitchen-scale to get an even distribution for the 4 loaves. Shape by rounding into boules, and then put into the prepared baking papers. Cover, and leave out to rise at room temperature for another 2 hours. The photo shows that these loaves have risen nearly to the top edge of the baking papers, and at this point I put them into the oven – at 325 degrees, for up to 90 minutes.


As you can see, the kitchen activity is quite spread out, so keep that in mind for planning purposes. This year, the loaves came out of the oven well before midnight, so that was nice – but if you start too late in the day, you can easily wind up spending a late night in the kitchen. You’re heading for an internal temperature of 185 degrees on these, so keep a close eye on that past the 60 minute mark. This year, I went just a touch long on the baking, so overshot 185 degrees – a valid excuse I have is that we got a new range this year, and I’m still getting used to baking with it ? c:-)

While I was out today, I called around to my usual suppliers in order to buy some more large-size panettone baking sleeves, but all advised that they were low on stock in the large size, and to try again next year. Bond Bond’s had some small-size panettone papers, so I bought some of those – thanks! I usually re-stock at this time of year while the local bakeries have their supplies at hand.

Anyhow, the panettone turned out nicely this year, and I’m almost ready to do 1 more round – will have to keep that wild yeast fed, and set aside a Friday night, and all-day Saturday to tackle this task…

seasonal blogging

Yes, I see that I was blogging in the summer, while on the road. And now here we are in Winter. Could be that I’ve become a seasonal blogger ? Yah, that’s it! Let’s break all those rules about blogging regularly, and blog at only select special times of the year! Happy New Year!

California road-trip 2013: Day 7, sun, sand, and some surf viewing

We like to get the kids out first thing in the AM, before it gets too hot.  Charlotte has a friend she met down at Dinosaur Caves park this week, so we went down there to play around 9 AM.

A quick trip down to Arroyo Grande this PM to shop at Von’s – yes, we shop daily in these parts.  We went out later on with the kids to Spyglass Park to play on the pirate ship there.  They ended up in a (California) gold-mining role-play with the sand and the stand-up shower unit down there – good times panning for gold nuggets in that thar playground sand.

I peeked over the cliff edge, and could see one surfer was out on St Ann’s break.  Follow the link in the image to a description of this surf spot.  There is not much swell right now, but he got a few rides so that was fun to watch.  I have not been out on the waves yet….


California road-trip 2013: Day 6, local playgrounds again

Mitchell Park












We tour several playgrounds when we are here.  After the morning jaunt at the Dinosaur Caves, we came home for a spontaneous outbreak of “family band”.  That’s right – grab an instrument and jam!  We had bottles, pie plates, the cooler, and various other noise-makers going on in the side-yard, next to the fuschia garden.  Good thing I made a few voice memos on the spot so we could enjoy that round later.

We then when into San Luis Obispo to do some shopping, and then have a play-session at  Mitchell Park.  Huge fun there, with some other local kids in a round of something like “good guys or bad guys”.

Returned home in the PM to cook up family-dinner, then get ready for story-time, and lights-out….

The solstice approaches….


California road-trip 2013: Day 5, part-time residents again

We’re off to do the things we usually do as part-time residents of Shell Beach.  Hit the local coffee shop, and go to Dinosaur Caves Park to play in the morning.  After coming home for a break, we hit New Frontiers Market to get our groceries and supplies.  Somewhere along the way, we’ll grab waters and other beverages to quench the thirst, then return to Shell Beach to relax.


California road-trip 2013: Day 4, are we there yet ?


Shell Beach, CA

Took the road west out of Tracy, CA this morning, and drove through this neat windmill farm on the way to the Bay Area.

We took route 505 west, and then went down south past Gilroy, heading for Salinas, and the 101 route south.

We’d driven hundreds of miles through farmland, ranch territory, and wine country, and the kids were really looking forward to getting off the road.

If you’ve driven south on the 101 past San Luis Obispo, you know that you get the first glimpse of the ocean just past the Avila Beach Road exit, just over the crest of that hill.

We told the kids that we’d play a fun game as we crested the hill – first one to glimpse the ocean could shout it out.  I watched in the rear-view mirror as they were both peeping wide-eyed through the front window, looking so expectantly for that wide-open ocean, marking the end of the long road-trip.

Right after the Pacific was spotted, we took the first exit, and landed at our destination, in Shell Beach, CA.

California road-trip 2013: Day 3, travel in theory, and in practice

Left Yreka, CA in full sun this morning, with kids very eager to reach destination.  We had lots of discussion today about how far the trip was in miles, and how long that would take.

Are we there yet ?

Many teachable moments along the way including looking at the road-signs, and seeing how many miles to the target, and then checking our average speed to see how long it might take to get there.

Travel to our destination definitely takes longer in practice.

We made a playground stop in Stockton, before calling it a day in Tracy, CA.

I have fond memories of the last visit to Tracy, when I found this Indian sweet shop at the edge of town, and grabbed a box of sweets for the trip north.  This time, I ordered us a 24″ pizza from Milano’s and GADZOOKS that was a massive meal.  Got quite sleepy after that, so no trip out for sweets….