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Makin' Dough in Mexico

For the last several months I've been busy making dough… sourdough! I love it. It's so old school, tactile, physical, chemical, biological, nutritious, delicious... I love saying "I'm makin' dough" and I love making my own culture. Sourdough culture. (And it's Mexican sourdough - which is pretty cool!) And it may seem very technical at first, but once you figure out what works for you, it can be a fun creative free-style type of baking. It requires no fancy equipment, or special ingredients - and kneading dough is a great way to relieve stress. And if you're stressed about money, then you can say sing "I'm making dough" while you're kneading it and you'll start feeling rich - haha!

For all the healthy bakers out there on special diets who are interested in knowing, I'm still avoiding commercial yeast, and generally avoiding wheat. (I'm not allergic to wheat or celiac - just sensitive.) BUT - I learned that eating a little sourdough bread made with (some) wheat flour (which becomes fermented through the process) is easier on my system than non-fermented wheat foods. (Yay!) Fermentation, and moderation are the keys. Learn more about sourdough history and health here - super-interesting stuff.

I made my first sourdough starters from scratch - and it was so satisfying in that old school DIY way. Egyptians were making sourdough bread thousands of years ago - and when I was little I was convinced that I was Cleopatra in a former life... not that she would have been baking bread. You can make your own sourdough starter from scratch too - here are some great instructions for the novice. I made a wheat starter, a rice starter and an oat starter from these general directions and they all worked fantastically. For gluten-free bakers, a rice starter is super-easy to make (as the rice flour ferments quickly) and it's possible to make some tasty gf sourdough breads - I'll share the recipe I recently came up with when I have a chance. Here's the first rice/oat loaf I made - it was dense like pumpernickel and delicious:

I also used this technique to make a great little wheat starter. Basically it's a stiffer doughier starter (as opposed to the runnier "pancake batter consistency" starters like above). I made it with water that had (organic) raisins soaking in it. If you live in a drier environment that doesn't have a lot of yeast in the air, I recommend using raisin water (as the raisins have natural yeast on them, as well as sugar to feed the yeast). You can use the raisin water in the first technique I mention too. Right now I prefer a wetter starter (like the first one I mentioned).

My very first loaf ever I freestyled, and made it with a wheat/oat stater and all freshly ground oat flour. It was very dense. Very sour. Oh well.

My second loaf I made similarly, but added a bit of "dough enhancer". It had a bit more air… but tasted horrible. I recommend keeping it natural and avoiding dough enhancer (which includes commercial yeast). The Egyptians didn't have dough enhancer. ;)

At this point I was almost ready to chuck my starters, as I wasn't having much luck, I was wasting a lot of flour, and it was already a week into the experiment. (Maybe I had to wait longer for the starters? They looked and smelled ready. Maybe my experimental oat breads weren't the right consistency to rise?…)

So for my 3rd loaf I used my stiff raisin water starter and these general directions for Berkeley sourdough bread (as well as all all-purpose wheat flour - since it's impossible to find freshly ground whole wheat flour in these parts. I'd rather used refined flour than rancid whole grain flour. I also didn't think it was going to work…). But this one rose beautifully! All that gluten sure helped. I baked it in a cast iron skillet (which made a stellar crust) and enthusiastically misted it with water to create steam (as per the directions) and THE OVEN LIGHTBULB EXPLODED IN MY FACE. I was in shock. Luckily, I came away unscathed. I was REALLY REALLY LUCKY. We pulled out the glass and enjoyed it anyways. Livin' on the edge. It was awesome! Check it out:

What did I learn? Be careful misting around oven lightbulbs for starters! Be patient. My first starters eventually did work. It was the winter, and the room temperature was pretty cool, so they took much longer than I thought they would. Also, for my first 2 loaves, I was working with hardly any wheat gluten, and that requires a much different style of bread making. When trying something new, sometimes it's a good idea to follow a recipe. ;)

More tips: here's a great resource with recipes for sourdough bakers - and check out Dan Lepard's step-by-step instructions for rye sourdough

Currently I keep about 1-1.5 cups of wheat starter, and a separate rice starter in the fridge. With each I make one loaf per week (one wheat-based loaf, mostly for my sweetie, and a wheat-free loaf) and I feed them about once a week. They are my pets - my Yeasties. :)

And that was the start of my sourdough making adventures! I now feel like a bit of a veteran as I have many loaves under my belt, made with a variety of ingredients and techniques, and even baked some in a toaster oven - like the one in the top photo which was a raisin swirl bread - yum. I'll be sharing some of my favourite recipes eventually - including my oat and rice sourdough loaf - which can be made gluten-free - woo! In the meantime, I'm still really busy making dough.

xo Patty

Day of the Dead Skull Cookies

Happy Día de los Muertos! Here in Mexico, November 2 is a very special day, a time to spend with family and connect with deceased relatives and friends and celebrate life. I think it's a very beautiful tradition.

Traditional treats and happy sugar skulls are part of the deal too. It's funny that up north (Canada and the US) skulls are usually portrayed as dark and evil, but down here they're often cheery and whimsical.... and sometimes very sweet too. To celebrate, C and I decorated our own little skull shortbread cookies. It was muy divertido (very fun!)

I used a couple of chilled rolls of cookie dough (from my last slice-n-bake cookie experiment) and after slicing 1/4" rounds of dough, I pinched the "chin area" and flattened them a bit more with my fingers to make a basic skull shape. No cookie cutters required - and they all turn out a little different. I threw them in the oven, and 5 minutes into baking had a good idea how to define the face. So I pulled them out of the oven and worked on half of them - leaving the other ones smooth. With a fork, I pressed down gently to make teeth. Using a chopstick, I pressed the fat tip in to make eye sockets, and the small tip to make the nose cavity. Yum. ;) Since they were already partially baked, they ended up cracking - which was actually pretty cool since skulls do have cracks and fissures. Check out my last blog entry to see how they look without the icing - they're pretty nice looking plain too.

The decorating was super fun. C got in on that action. I was inspired by these cookies, and these chocolate trees (learning that the fine lines were made using a ziplock bag as an icing bag with a tiny piece of the corner snipped off). I don't have a lot of fancy kitchen stuff here - but I do have ziplock bags! I made 3 simple icings (just squishing the ingredients right in the bags to mix):

White: 2-3 Tbps icing sugar with a few drops of rose water and just enough water to make a thick paste.

Orange/Brown: 2-3 Tbps icing sugar, ~1/4 tsp cinnamon and just enough water to make a thick paste. (mine was pretty dark because it had about 1 tsp of canela)

Dark Brown: Melted semi-sweet chocolate. (This worked very well, but I wasn't able to stack these cookies because the chocolate stuck to the other cookies. For cookies that need to be stored efficiently, I'd make an icing sugar icing like the ones above, but with vanilla and cocoa.)


Senior Skull courtesy of Crispin (Gracias!)

This was seriously my first time making "fancy" decorated cookies. (Not counting the gingerbread men from kindergarten - or my recent iBooster app cookies hehe...) I was delighted with how easy and fun it was - and how effective the ziplock baggie icing bag/tip technique was.

Making funny little decorated skull cookies for Día de los Muertos is going to be a yearly tradition for us from now on - as well as remembering our beloved deceased relatives, sharing stories about them, and celebrating life. :)

How to cook pizza on a gas BBQ

I'm into baking on the BBQ. Last year I made soda bread successfully; I was stoked. The other week I burnt some muffins; there is an art to it.

I came across this sweet little video tutorial on how to cook pizza on a gas BBQ: nice technique and use of cans Mr. Urban Griller :-)

(saw the video on my first visit to 5min.com. The site's a video wikipedia: people post 5 minute how-to videos on all sorts of topics. Cool. I'll make a few videos soon...)

Beautiful buttery flakey pie crust

Double-crust Sweet Berry Pie

How do you make a traditional flakey pie crust? The answer is here - check out these 2 videos hosted by Julia Child: Harvest Apple Pie, Part 1 and 2

I followed this pie crust recipe and production technique with fantastic results.

(Here's an alternate technique on How to Bake a Double-Crust Fruit Pie with tips and videos.)

This type of crust made with refined wheat flour and lots of butter is not all that healthy. It is, however, delicious - and great as an occasional treat. Using organic wheat and butter does make it healthier!

I filled this superb crust with fresh local blueberries and cherries. This particular pie was made without refined sugar: Double-crust Blueberry Cherry Pie

Good stuff. Here's a shot of the last piece :-)

Double-crust Sweet Berry Pie