Saturday 31 August 2013

I'm Hosting (Long) Pasta Please in September 2013

I am delighted to be hosting Pasta Please #9 in September 2013.  Pasta Please is a monthly blog event founded by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes.  Each month there is a theme and I have chosen Long pasta.  That's right.  Spaghetti, fettuccine, tagliatelle, linguine, pappardelle, soba, rice noodles, udon, vermicilli.  Just to name a few.

Long pasta.  Softening and sliding into the pot.  Tangled in a messy heap on the plate.  Ready for a dollop of sauce.  Carefully arranged into birds nests.  Floating through soup like the tentacles of a sea monster.  Elegantly twirling around your fork.  Scooped up with chopsticks.  Shoveled into your mouth.  Slurped up noisily.  Flicking red sauce on your white shirt.  Dribbling broth down your chin.  Satisfying.  Comforting.  Fun.  Delicious.

I love long pasta.  Yet of all pastas, it is the one that most often leaves me feeling blank when faced with a packet.  I am hoping you will join in and send me some great ideas and inspiration.

How to join in:
  • Make a vegetarian dish using any sort of long pasta and post it on your blog
  • Link to this page and to Tinned Tomatoes in your post.
  • Please send only one entry per blog.
  • Use the Pasta Please logo in your post
  • Add your recipe to the Linky (below) by the 28th of September 2013.
I have posted the round up.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Sourdough Basics 103: Baking a loaf of bread

Following on from my two posts about my sourdough experience - making a starter and maintaining a starter, I will now share with you some of my experiences at making sourdough bread.  Again, this is written from a beginner's perspective.  I am still not exactly sure what I am doing.  Perhaps at a later date, I can be more sure of sourdough.  For now I am delighted and amazed at the miracle of sourdough bread.  Here are my notes on what I did and what I have learnt.

First off you must have your starter in order.  Easier said than done.  Well easier to read what the experts say that to do it.  Above is my starter on Day 7 when I had swithered about what to do and left it for what I thought was too long (18 hours at room temperature).  In hindsight, this is the bubbliest starter I have had and most like those I see others like Susan and Celia producing.

It might also be a good moment to confess that my starter has been poorly.  Perhaps it was my foolishness in naming her Drusilla in the first week.  I have since read this is bad luck (the timing, not the name!)  I returned my starter to the fridge after feeding and resting it for breadmaking.  I should have fed it more.  It produced a nail polish smell after a few days in the fridge.  I have been feeding it and after about 5 days have made a loaf that seems to have worked.  I will update my Maintenance post about the neglect.

When I had that bubbly starter, I decided I might as well bake some bread.  I had read enough about dodgy how first sourdough loaves can be.  I was pleased mine was quite edible.  It was quite sour and a bit damp.  It was still good.  I was impressed.

Since then I have made another 5 loaves.  They are good but I think they could be better.  I have used a mixture of recipes and intuition.  My experience in baking with commercial yeast has been useful.  Yet I have much to learn.  It still seems a miracle I have created a starter that will make bread rise.

Here are a few basics I have picked up from reading and discussing baking sourdough bread:
  • Baking a sourdough loaf take a lot longer than one with commercial yeast.  For me that has been between 24 and 36 hours.  The longer it takes to make the bread, the more sour it will be.
  • A couple of feeds for the starter will get it really ready for baking.
  • I have been using white bread while I get my confidence up.  My friend Kathleen uses wholemeal flour (and other grains) which she says works really well.
  • A good knead for the initial dough helps develop the gluten and the bubbles of air.  The Bourke Street Bakery recommends up to 20 minutes kneading by hand.  Kathleen does 10 minutes.  Dan Lepard likes to knead briefly and rest at regular intervals - but it seems too much clock watching for me.
  • After the kneading, let it rise for the first time.
  • After the first rise, the dough should be handled gently.  Don't punch it down.  Just stretch it into a square, fold horizontally three times and then vertically three times.  Now is the second rise.
  • After the second rise it is ready for baking.  It doesn't have to quite reach double the amount before going into the oven.
  • If you want to slash the dough (something I am not great at) a sharp scalpel is very useful or a very sharp knife. You should slash about 2 cm deep.
  • Bake it in a hot oven with a tin of water at the bottom to make lots of steam for a nice crust.
  • A good dark crust is my aim.  It should be hollow when tapped if it is cooked through.
  • Bread should not be cut for at least an hour after taking out of the oven because it continues to cook.

Below I will give a brief outline of how I have made my loaves.  The best loaf to date was Loaf 4.  I loved the crusty chewy crust.  This is the method I have used a few times.

The above photo is of a loaf that I shaped.  This was Loaf 5 which I knew was a bit dry.  I was adding flour late at night while chatting to E and just didn't concentrate.  I was pleased with myself for having a go at shaping but disappointed in the loaf.  The crumb was too tight because I added too much flour.  This is the risk of not following any recipe exactly.

I have faced quite a few of the problems with sourdough baking.  Kathleen feeds all her starter to start her loaf, then removes some before going to the next step.  I tried this once in Loaf 2 and almost forgot to save some of my starter.   This happened in the morning before going to a kids birthday party when I suddenly realised I had gone one step too far without removing some starter and had to mollycoddle it.  We were late to the party but the bread was still delicious.  And Drusilla lives on.

There are many ways to make sourdough bread.  I still find the myriad of options to be overwhelming.  A tyranny of choice.  I love my loaves but still hope for better.  (Lorraine says it took her 8 loaves until she had one to be proud of.)  I would love a beautiful heavy rustic loaf with a thick chewy crust.  Sourdough is about patience.  Nothing happens quickly. 

Sourdough Loaves I have Baked:
All use white flour and are baked in my slow oven.  I try to avoid putting it in the fridge because I have so little room there.  I have been surprised at how fluffy the bread has been on the day of baking. It firms up and keeps for a few days quite nicely.  And one day I will learn the art of slashing bread to produce lovely openings on top of the bread.

Sourdough Loaf 1
Adapted from City Hippy Farm Girl
  • 10.45pm - 200g of bubbly starter (a bit sharp - this is a 7 day old starter),  375g flour, 250ml lukewarm water.  Mix together and rest 40 minutes.
  • 11.25pm - Stir in 1 tsp salt.  I used my hands a little to squelch it in - very messy.  Leave overnight in fridge with a plastic bag over it.
  • 8am - warm up the dough for 3 hours - it is winter after all!
  • 10.45am - quick 1 minute knead on floured surface - quite sticky but with a bit of flour it became smooth.  Cover with plastic bag and leave to double in size.
  • 2pm - knead and shape on a tray - dust with a little flour because the last rise stuck to the plastic bag
  • 7pm - slash unsuccessfully, baked in preheated and steamy oven at 230 - 240 C for 40 minutes.  It didn't rise as much as I had hoped - the dough was a bit soft and didn't hold its shape when it rose.  Very sour and a bit damp.  It was very crusty and tasted amazing.  A good start.

Sourdough Loaf 2 
Based on advice from my friend Kathleeen
  • 10pm - Take starter from fridge.  Add 2 cups flour, 2 cups water and let rise overnight or for about 12 hours.
  • 9am - Measure out 4 cups of starter into a bowl, return remaining starter to fridge and then add 2 cups flour.  (I forgot to measure starter and return some to the fridge so I had to take some out once the extra flour was added and then add extra water - not recommended!)  Add add 1 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp sweetner, 4 tbsp oil.  Add as much extra flour as needed to make a firm smooth dough - some in bowl and then knead in some more - I think I added between 2 and 3 cups.  Cover and prove until doubled in size.
  • 3pm - Stretch and fold.  Place in lightly oiled bread tin.  Cover and prove again.
  • 7pm - Mine had risen a lot - maybe too much.  Baked at 220 - 230 C for 30 minutes.  I really liked this loaf, though it was a bit softer and I wondered if this was the added oil and sugar.  It had a good crust.  I think I preferred the simple flour, water and salt combination.

Sourdough Loaf 3
Adapted from City Hippy Farm Girl
  • 1.30pm - firstly add 200g four and 200g water to the starter and leave until it is quite bubbly.
  • 10pm - my starter was nice and bubbly.  I removed 400g starter, fed the remainder and returned it to the fridge.  Added 750g flour and 500ml water.  Mixed til shaggy.  
  • 11.30pm - Add 2 tsp salt.  Knead for 10 minutes til smooth, adding flour as needed.  Covered and left to rise overnight at room temperature.
  • 8am - shaped dough into one loaf in a tin and one loaf on a tray.  Cover and rise.
  • 11.30am - Baked at 230 C with steam (didn't note how long but probably 30-40 minutes) until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.  This was one of the loaves that was amazingly fluffy when eaten fresh - see above photo.

Sourdough Loaf 4
No specific recipe used.  My notes on this bread are pretty rough - I have tried to make some sense of them because I loved this loaf.

  • 10pm (Wednesday) - fed starter a little
  • 9am - fed starter more
  • 8.30am - added flour and salt - left for a couple of hours
  • 10.30am - knead for 20 minutes and leave to rise
  • 1.45pm - the dough is very risen - I stretched and shaped and put into bread tin
  • 5pm (Friday) - slash and baked 35 min at 210-220 C.  When it came out of the oven I could hear the bread crackling as it continued baking.  What a joyful noise.  This was fluffy when opened, and then firmer the next day with a wonderful chewy crust.

Sourdough Loaf 5
This loaf was made without a recipe and I got a little over-confident methinks!  I fed my starter twice, and then added 3 cups of flour.  As soon as I did that I knew it was wrong and went through the difficult process of trying to knead in more water.  The lesson I learned was to go easy on adding flour to the starter.  The crumb was too close but it was edible.  I followed a similar method to loaf 4 but was too disheartened to take notes.

Sourdough Loaf 6
Again I used the same method as Loaves 4 and 5.  (This was my first loaf after the starter was rescued from smelling like nail polish.)
  • 9am (Tuesday) - remove starter from fridge and feed starter 100g flour and 100g water and leave until doubled in size in my starter jug.
  • 3.30pm - transferred all but about 100g starter from jug into a large mixing bowl.  Feed starter 200g and 200g water and leave covered with clingwrap until really bubbly.
  • 1pm - starter looked quite bubbly (but maybe could have have a bit more time -  I knew if I didn't start the dough soon it wouldn't be baked by evening).  I added 1 1/2 cups of flour - 1/2 a cup at a time until the dough was still slightly sticky but firm enough to knead) and 2 tsp salt
  • 3.45pm - dough was doubled in size (I think - this is one judgement I always find difficult) so I stretched and folded it into a loaf size and placed in greased bread tin.  Covered and left to double in size.
  • 7.30pm (Wednesday) - baked bread at 210-230 C for 35 minutes Sour with nice open crumb but not the large bubbly holes that I love in sourdough bread.  Crust good but not quite as thick and chewy as I like.  A good loaf of bread but much room for improvement.
Update November 2013 - for my more recent regular recipe check out my basic sourdough loaf.

Update March 2015 - my new favourite loaf is Celia's overnight sourdough loaf
And I have actually give this recipe to a few sourdough novices who found it really easy.

More sourdough information and recipes:

Sunday 25 August 2013

Spicy plum and apple chutney

I love having a nice chutney around the house for burgers, pies and sandwiches.  So I was surprised to find that I hadn't blogged about a chutney since 2010.  I was also a little sad that when I finally got around to making chutney for the first time in ages I wasn't bowled over by it.  It was a little too sweet, too much star anise and not enough bite.  But it is growing on me.  By the end of the last jar I might even be sad to finish it.

Before my mum and dad left for holiday some months ago, my mum noticed ripe apples on her apple tree.  She gave me a bagful.  When I think of my mum and apples, I have an image of her taking an apple off the tree, polishing it on her trousers until it shines (sort of like a cricketer polishes the cricket ball) and giving it to us for a bite.

The apples were a bit manky for eating so I decided to make chutney.  Since then Sylvia and I have discovered a love of stewed apples.  We eat them on porridge or just by the spoonful.  I have been buying cheap manky apples to stew.  But at the time, I felt the need for chutney.

I reduced the sugar by about a quarter.  It was still too sweet.  I resisted the urge to include mustard seeds but after trying the tomato chutney my mum brought home from Ireland, I regret that.  I have enjoyed star anise in a few meals but I am not so keen on it in this chutney.  I also boiled it longer than the recipe said because it just didn't look right.  Unfortunately I boiled it a little fast at the end and burnt the saucepan.

At least I got the sterilisation of the jars right.  I found it quite helpful to put them in a large roasting dish when I put them in the oven because it made them so easy to take out and fill while hot.

It was very satisfying to hear the lids popping as the cooling air drew the seals inwards.  It reassured me that they would be fine to sit in the cupboard for a few months as directed by the recipe.  Often I am too impatient and/or nervous to wait that long.

After all the waiting, I was excited about tasting the chutney.  It was ok but didn't grab me.  I made some chia bread and vegan cheddar cheese to celebrate.  It didn't quite work.  The cheese needed a more robust chutney.  More spice, less sugar.

Then I bought a bitey blue cheese and the chutney still didn't work.  To be fair, I wasn't so keen on the blue cheese much either.  I have had more success using it with vegie sausages and with a vintage cheddar cheese.

It is nice to have homemade chutney in the cupboard again.  Yet when I finish it, I think I will revert to some favourite flavours.

One year ago: Top 10 photos, Pinterest, Delicious and Eat Your Books
Two years ago: Chickpea crackers and sweet potato stew
Three years ago: Election Blues and Matrimonial Slice
Four years ago: Beaut bush buddies
Six years ago: WTSIM ... Beggars Burgers

Spicy plum and apple chutney
Adapted from BBC Good Food
made about 8 smallish jars

1 garlic bulb
thumb-size piece fresh root ginger
2 large onions
1kg granny smith apples
3 star anise (or less)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick
500ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp sea salt
1kg plums
350g raw sugar (or less)
[Some black pepper or cayenne pepper would be good]

Peel and finely chop onions, garlic and ginger.  Chop apples and plums.  Place onions, garlic, ginger, apples, spices, vinegar and salt into a stockpot.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes on low heat.  Add plums and sugar.  Simmer another 40 minutes until thickened.  (Mine seemed more sauce than chutney at this stage so I boiled it for another 15 minutes until it looked like chutney.)

While chutney is boiling, prepare jars.  If you have a dishwasher you can put them through a cycle.  I don't have a dishwasher so I put mine into a big roasting tin (for ease of handling) and baked them for 30 minutes at 150 C.  I boiled the lids on the stovetop for 10 minutes.

Remove and discard star anise and cinnamon sticks.  Ladle the hot chutney into hot jars.  Put on lids while hot and they should depress as they cool.  I could heat the pop of the lids as they depressed.  This is a sign that they are sealed.  Cool.  Label (I used glue to stick on labels) and leave in a dark cool cupboard for at least 2 months.

On the Stereo:
The boy with the arab strip: Belle and Sebastian

Friday 23 August 2013

Chocolates with mint filling - the healthy ones

This has been the year of experimenting with filled chocolates.  Over the last few months I have tried four more fillings so I have a few to write up. to you.  The one I will share today is another peppermint filling.  But whereas the last one was creamy with mostly icing sugar, these are far more healthy and nubbly with coconut, cashews and coconut oil.

I haven't had good experiences with coconut oil.  It has tasted too much of coconut when I have used it previously.  Yet I know many people are huge fans.  I finally went into WholeFoods in East Brunswick and talked to a nice man there who explained to me how extra virgin had less of a coconut taste.  He even showed me that difference in colour between the virgin and extra virgin.  I have found this one more pleasing so maybe there will be more recipes with coconut oil here.

Not that it has been an easy ride even with this coconut oil.  I tried this mint filling and the coconut oil pooled at the bottom of the blender.  Not only did most of the oil leach out but quite a lot of the flavour went into the oil. (We made some dodgy energy balls with the oil that refused to integrate!)  Despite this I still ate the leftover filling straight from the bowl because it was so good.  And healthy.  Right?

The recipe for chocolate mint patties that I had seen on Pinterest came from This Rawesome Vegan Life.  Em had made her own chocolate to cover them.  I decided to just melt regular dark chocolate and use my moulds to fill them rather than dipping the patties in chocolate.  It fitted in well around soaking chickpeas, a trip to the library and was ready in time for a puppet show.

When I made the other peppermint chocolates, someone commented on the chocolate looking good.  They spoke too soon.  This chocolate was good on the day I made it.  The next day I took photos (with a cute DIY cat that Sylvia was given as a party favour at a kids party) and the chocolate was not quite right.  The day after a friend dropped in and I proudly gave her one of the last chocolates, only to find the chocolate was virtually inedible and crumbly.  Argh!

Since then I have looked up tempering chocolate a bit and my method of making it in the microwave seems fine because it doesn't get too hot.  I wonder if a bit of moisture got into the mixture and made it seize.  Anyway, I got chocolate paranoia after the first batch.

The next time I made these when Sylvia was sick and we were staying in.  I blended everything before adding the coconut oil in the filling.  It was too crumbly without the coconut oil.  I barely blended the coconut oil and was amazed at all the flavour without it leaching out.  However I still found the mixture quite oily when I rolled it into patties using my hands

I decided to make the chocolate like Em did rather than risk melting regular chocolate.  I made the patties into disks and dipped them in the homemade chocolate.  I could have just eaten the bowlful of silky smooth chocolate.  However I didn't melt the coconut oil first and it was rather thick.  I foolishly microwaved it a little to see if that loosened it up but it just made it thicker and less glossy. 

The chocolate still tasted amazing around these patties, or dobbed on top of them as I did with the last two.  By then there was no way I could dip and cover them.  My next challenge is to try the homemade chocolate with melted coconut oil and try it in the chocolate moulds. 

As it was, the homemade chocolate was quite thick around the patties but delicious.  I was pleased to give it a three day test (using great self control) and find it was better on the second day than the first because it was firmer and it still tasted great on the third day. 

I am sending these chocolates to Elizabeth of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary for We Should Cocoa.  The theme this month is truffles, chocolates and balls.  I am also sending them to Ricki's Wellness Weekends.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Top 10 photos, Pinterest, Delicious and Eat Your Books
Two years ago: CC Pumpernickel Rolls with Currants
Three years ago: Fitzroy Gardens with soup
Four years ago: Shopping, Sylvia and Soup
Six years ago: Blues Clues Birthday Cake

Chocolates with healthy mint filling
Adapted from This Rawesome Vegan Life
makes 10-12

1/3 cup dessicated coconut
1/3 cup raw cashews
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey or agave)
1 tsp peppermint essence
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp melted coconut oil

*Chocolate mixture:
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp maple syrup (or honey or agave)
Pinch of salt

Blend coconut, cashews, maple syrup, peppermint essence and salt   Add the coconut oil and blend briefly until incorporated.  Use your hands to roll into 10-12 small patties, and place on baking paper on a baking tray or plate.  Place in freezer to firm up.

Make chocolate by blending all ingredients until smooth and shiny.  Dip firm peppermint patties in chocolate mixture and place on baking paper.  I left mine to set at room temperature and the 'chocolate' was better the next day.  Our chocolates lasted well in the three days before they were gone.

*Note: you can dip the chocolates in regular melted chocolate rather than making your own chocolate.

On the Stereo:
Collected: Massive Attack

Thursday 22 August 2013

WHB Creamy strawberry icy poles, a party and surprises

It is a wet rainy evening but we were enjoying strawberry icy poles.  I made them on a whim after browsing magazines in our local newsagents yesterday.  I think my enthusiasm got away with me.  It probably wasn't the day for it with lots of other baking going on.  But the strawberries at the fruit and veg shop were cheap and tempting.  And pink things are very popular in our place.

Before telling you about the icy poles I will share a few more pink photos from my niece, Stella's first birthday party on the weekend.  My sister really knows how to plan an amazing party.  A BBQ outside and table heaving under sweet food inside.  A barbie doll cake and a cake of many layers.  A bouncy castle out the back.  Pin the tail on the unicorn game.  Then a strawberry shaped pinata.

Sylvia still gets starry eyed when she remembers the lollies raining from the pinata.  I on the other hand have a shiver of horror at the memory of the kids weilding a big stick to hit the pinata.

Let's not dwell on it.  Instead here are three moments that reminded me that the best laid plans don't always work out as we expect:
  • I know my way to Fran and John's place quite well.  Yet I wasn't concentrating and headed towards my parents' house instead.  Sylvia and I took the scenic route to the party and got there a little later than I intended.
  • Sylvia was quite excited about the party.  Yet when she arrived and saw all the people there she was stuck by shyness and it took her quite a while to warm up and enjoy bouncing up and down with the other kids, lollypops in mouths!
  • It was Stella's birthday yet she was fast asleep before all the games began.

Fran did heaps of baking for the party.  And as if that wasn't enough she made amazingly good gingerbread biscuits for the party bags for the kids to take home.  Stella might not remember it very clearly but it was an impressive do.

At home we also had a few unexpected moments yesterday:
  • We had a swim and left the car in the swimming carpark while we went to the newsagent and fruit and veg shop, stopping to talk to a few people we knew from swimming.  I was most displeased to get back to the car and have a parking ticket for overstaying the time limit by 20 minutes.  There are a few places in Melbourne that I am very wary of overstaying parking but not in our local area.
  • Sylvia lost a little and tiny castle my parents brought back from Denmark.  She moved lots of furniture around in the loungeroom in search of it.  We found the castle in her bedroom.
  • When Sylvia was searching for the castle, I was pleased to finally find some green shoes I had been searching for.  Unfortunately they had a huge hole in them and had to be thrown out.  Perhaps that is why I had shoved them in a corner in the first place.

Another little irony was that I ended up buying the BBC Vegetarian Good Food (Summer 2013) magazine where I found the recipe.  Yet it was so simple that I never even consulted the magazine again before making the icy poles.

The recipe that interested me because it combined the healthiness of lots of fresh fruit with the decadence of condensed milk.  Doesn't the drizzle of condensed milk look pretty in the above photo!  I was also interested because, having recently experimented with condensed milk in no churn ice cream recipes, I was aware that it makes a creamy ice cream.

It would also make a child happy if you just topped it up with milk and gave it to them in a cup.  I know this because I had a little of the mixture leftover after filling 10 icy pole moulds so I did just that.  Sylvia drank it in record time.

And how did the icy poles taste?  Amazing!  Very sweet but also slightly fruity.  (Perhaps lemon juice would take the sweet edge off it?)  Yes, I am afraid it is not the healthiest ice cream.  The condensed milk had its way over the fruit but the strawberries.  But only just.  I found the flavour reminded me of a strawberry ice cream or milkshake that I might have had in my childhood.  But better.  Sylvia demonstrated how much she loved it with her reluctance to share it. 

I have a busy September coming up with a holiday, Vegan Mofo and hosting Pasta Please.  I am trying to prepare as much as possible for it beforehand.  The rest of yesterday's baking will appear later.  This morning, I was pleased to be able to share a little of it with my lovely fellow bloggers Kari and Mel when we met for a coffee at Brunettis.  Now I just need to stew those apples!

I am sending this soup to Simona from Briciole for Weekend Herb Blogging #398, the weekly event coordinated by Haalo and founded by Kalyn.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: WSC chocolate cherry cookies
Two years ago: Potage St Germain
Three years ago: SOS Chickpea, lemon and mint soup
Four years ago: Potato boston bun
Five years ago: Shepherd’s Pie Traditions
Six years ago: Midweek Mock Fish

Creamy strawberry icy poles
Adapted from BBC Good Food's Strawberry Milk Pops
makes about 9-10 icy poles

400g strawberries
395g tin of condensed milk
100ml soy milk

Wash, hull and chop strawberries.  Use a blender to puree.  (As you will see in the photos, my food processor was otherwise engaged so I used my hand held blender in a large bowl.)  Add condensed milk and soy milk and blend til pureed.  Pour into icy pole moulds - leaving a little room at the top for the mixture to expand when frozen.  Freeze overnight.  To remove icy pole from mould, run under hot water until the icy pole comes away from mould easily.

On the Stereo:
Again: Alan Stivell

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Sourdough Basics 102 - Maintaining a Starter and a Toss-Off Flatbread Recipe

Update: I have written a more recent post on sourdough maintenance in March 2017.

"What the heck. This is bread, not birth control."
Susan of Wild Yeast

Creating a sourdough starter is a great achievement but unlike most baking endeavours, it doesn't end there.  In fact, it need never end if you nurture it with love and attention.  I wrote about making a sourdough starter recently and one of the challenges was working out how to maintain it.  Here are my beginners notes.

Rules of thumb
If the starter is warm, the yeast grows faster and needs more feeding.
If the starter is cold, the yeast grows more slowly and needs less food.
If the starter is too sour, feed it more regularly.

At first....
When I made my sourdough starter a few weeks ago, I got to the stage where I had a mature bubbly starter.  It felt like the moment when I brought Sylvia home from hospital and thought, it's a baby, now what do we do.  Fortunately as the top quote from Susan suggests, a starter is far easier than a baby.

In a panic about what to do with my starter I searched online for advice.  Wild Yeast and King Arthur Flour gave me useful advice.  Then I invited my friend Kathleen over for coffee and advice because she had been a regular baker of sourdough bread at one stage.  Books, blogs and forums have all be useful in gathering information, but best of all is chatting with an old friend.

My jug in which I keep my sourdough starter.
Keeping a starter at room temperature
There is the option to keep the starter out on the bench (with a lid) and feed it twice daily.  Though in Bourke Street Bakery: the Ultimate Baking Companion they advise against this in warm weather when it might grow too fast.  It seems practical for those who bake bread every few days.  That is not me.

Keeping a starter in the fridge
I chose the second option to keep the starter in the fridge (with a lid).  A cold starter grows at a much slower pace with a far smaller appetite than a warm starter.  Most of the online information I read said you need to feed a starter in a fridge about once a week but Kathleen said she did it about every couple of days.  The fridge is the more forgiving option.  If you forget to feed your starter it is less likely to die but may need pampering, depending on how it looks.

How much to feed it
Like most things with sourdough, there are bazillions of ways of feeding a starter.  I have seen all sorts of ratios.  I keep about 100g of starter (toss off the rest - see below) and then I add 100g white flour and 100g water (often cooled water from the kettle).  This is a good rule of thumb for me though I often have a bit more than 100g of the starter.  This means it is about 100% hydration because it is equal amounts by weight of water and flour. 

I've started buying flour in larger bags since starting to bake sourdough.
How to feed the starter
If you are just refreshing the starter that you have on the benchtop or in the fridge, take out as much starter as needed to reduce the starter weight to 100g.  (The discarded starter is the Toss-Off - see below.)  Gently stir in the flour and water.  I have read that you don't mix it all in really well.  If you are keeping it in the fridge leave it out for a couple of hours to allow the starter some playtime in fresh air.  (However I find my starter gets bubbly in the fridge so I am not sure this is essential.)

When starters linger in the fridge:
I haven't had my starter long enough to have problems with neglect.  I add these notes in anticipation of needing them one day.  I was impressed to see a photo of a starter that had been in the fridge untouched for 2 months in Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf.  It looked ok.  It had a coloured liquid on top, known as the hooch.  Apparently if the hooch is grey that is fine and it can be stirred in or tipped off, depending on if you want it more sour (stir in) or less (tip off).  If it is pink or red or mouldy you need to throw out the whole starter and throw out.  (Update: this sourdough starter recovery advice seems useful too.)

Update - the nail polish smell
(29 August 2013) Since writing this post, I had my starter smelling of nail polish about a week ago.  Fortunately I had reassuring advice from friends Kathleen and Yaz to say that starters can be rescued.  I read forums and followed advice.  It seemed that my starter was hungry (I had returned it to the fridge after feeding and leaving for baking bread and perhaps should have fed it before storing).  I read that feeding it frequently helped so I did that - even three times on one day, keeping it out of the fridge and watching it so that I fed it every time it doubled in size.  I also made sure I was reducing it to quite a small amount (between 50-100g).  After 5 days I started a new loaf which was quite sour but very edible. 

To the right is a sourdough flatbread ballooning up on the frypan.  I tried baking these as pizzas which were good but not great.
Using the Toss-Off
It is ok to throw out the toss-off but it can be incorporated into baking.  I have managed to use quite a bit of mine in making these sourdough flatbreads with starter straight from the fridge that has not been fed.  We all love them.  I tried making them as pizza - both by cooking on the stovetop or prebaking in the oven before adding toppings but they seemed a bit stodgy this way.  I really like this recipe because unlike so many other sourdough recipes, it gives instant results.  Be warned though, I managed to set off the fire alarm while frying these!

Sourdough flatbreads.  Great with a curry, a dip or a stew.
Quick sourdough flatbread
From Mum's cookbook
Makes 4
  • *250g sourdough starter (100% hydration - straight from fridge without feeding)
  • *200g bread flour
  • 50g filtered water
  • pinch salt (optional)
Mix all ingredients.  It looks quite too shaggy and dry.  Knead and it should come together into a smooth - albeit fairly firm - ball of dough.  Cut into four.  Roll out each portion into about a 0.5cm thick oval on a lightly floured board .

Heat a heavy based non-stick frypan over a high heat.  Place a disc of dough onto the pan.  Heat for a few minutes or until it balloons up and brown spots appear on the other side.  Flip over, flatten with an eggflip or spatula and fry another minute or two until you have some brown spots on the other side.  I tend to brush out the flour from the pan (with a kitchen towel) before frying the next one so it isn't covered in burnt flour.  Best eaten on day of frying. 

*Note: I have also reduced the amount to 200g of starter and 180g of flour when I don't quite have enough starter and it works fine.

I am still baking sourdough loaves.  To see how I am doing this go to Sourdough Basics 103: Baking a loaf of bread.  For more information, check out my updated post on sourdough maintenance in March 2017.

Do you maintain a sourdough starter?  Any feedback or other advice on maintenance is welcome.

On the Stereo
Raising the Gospel - James Yorkston

Sunday 18 August 2013

Chickpea pilaf

It has been a busy weekend at the Fitzroy Market and a first birthday party, following hot on the heels of a busy week and Sylvia waking at night with a cough.  And then I find that Vegan MoFo is starting a month early.  I feel all done in.  (So is Sylvia - she fell asleep before tea.)  So today I share a simple weeknight Chickpea pilaf that will see you right through a night or two of leftovers.

Actually I feel a bit cheeky calling it a simple weeknight meal because I found it on Bite Sized Thoughts where Kari had it at a celebration meal.  Hers had sultanas, almonds, yoghurt and spinach.  Yet it is the sort of forgiving recipe that is flexible enough to accommodate your choice of vegies and spices.   It would also be a great dish at a potluck.

I used what I had on hand - peas, broccoli and tofu bacon.  I also changed the spices so it was not very spicy.  (This meant Sylvia could have a small taste.)  I really liked the mild flavours that allowed the vegies to shine.  E added both tabasco and worcestershire sauce because he loves his condiments far more than me.

I am grateful to Kari for bringing this dish to my attention.  It is the sort of dish I used to make regularly when I was first vegetarian.  Then I got bored.  Now I am rediscovering it and loving it.  Not that I ever had it with tofu bacon.  That is something we often have around because Sylvia loves it so much.

I think there is enough pilaf to serve 6 people if you don't snack on it during the day.  We had enough left on the the third night to eat with a pizza I made with a sourdough base.  The base was a bit undercooked but I loved the silverbeet topping.  I used tomato sauce, 1 onion sliced and fried, 3 medium silverbeet (chard) leaves fried with 3 cloves of garlic and 2-3 tbsp of sultanas and a pinch of salt, with cheese on top.  (And I guess that it would taste as good without cheese!)

Maybe pilaf and pizza aren't traditional dinner plate partners.  They were both delicious and worked surprisingly well together.  The ultimate plate of comfort!  I am sending the pilaf to Jac's Bookmarked Recipes event at Tinned Tomatoes.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: NCR African Curried Coconut Soup
Two years ago: Besan Vegetable Frittata and a week of eats
Three years ago: Mushroom and chocolate risotto
Four years ago: WHB Broccoli – brassica royalty
Five years ago: Soup for the Leguminous Evangelists
Six years ago:SHF #34: Pumpkin scones

Chickpea Pilaf
Adapted from Sanitarium via Bite Sized Thoughts
Serves 4 to 6

1 tbsp oil 
1 leek, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup peas (or sultanas)
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp turmeric 
generous shake of each cinnamon, allspice and ginger
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
400ml vegetable stock (oops I used 500ml)
300ml water
3/4 tsp salt, or to taste*
fried tofu bacon bits (or slivered almonds) to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan (or stockpot).  Fry leek, carrots, rice, garlic, peas and spices for about 5 minutes over a medium high heat or until softened.  Add remaining ingredients (except tofu bacon).  Check and adjust seasoning.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and rest with lid still on for about 8 to 10 minutes.

*My chickpeas were unsalted when cooked.  You may need less if using tinned chickpeas.

On the Stereo:
Words and Music: Billy Connolly

Friday 16 August 2013

Mini baked doughnuts and fun stuff

In my defense, I never planned to make doughnuts.  I was quite taken with a toffee apple cinnamon scroll on the opposite page of the magazine.  I blame Sylvia and E. Sylvia begged me to make the mini baked jam doughnuts.  She has inherited E's love of doughnuts.  I associate doughnuts with fun occasions so I have included some photos of fun things we have been up to lately.

This is a winter recipe.  It was perfect for a wet day with the heater on to dry the washing hanging around the house.  A day for playdough and reading stories and digging out my old toys.

The dough was lovely and soft.  Enriched by eggs.  Fragrant with citrus zest - mandarin in our batch because we didn't have any oranges.  It rose just fine in the bowl but I was a bit unsure of how much it rose on the second rise when cut into round doughnuts.  They looked worryingly misshapen.  Once in the oven, however, they puffed up into gorgeous round balls with golden tops.

Once out of the oven, Sylvia helped me to dip the hot doughnuts in melted butter and sugar.  Then the messy bit began.  There are no photos because my hands were a sticky mess that weren't going near my camera.  First I tried just using jam but it was a pain to sieve it and then it wouldn't pipe through my rubber icing pen.  I tried a ziplock bag with a corner cut off.  It couldn't push the jam inside the doughnuts.  Finally I gave up and just piped dots of jam on top.

By the time we had finished, it was time for dessert.  These doughnuts were not ideal at a small child's bedtime.  But it would have been too cruel not to taste them.  We were all very impressed.  Maybe there was a bit too much sugar but the texture of the doughnuts was fantastic.  I have often avoided making doughnuts because I hate deep frying.  This has convinced me that deep frying is not essential to make a delicious doughnut.

The day after we made the doughnuts, we went to Sylvia's best friend's birthday party.  I loved the party game the kids played where doughnuts were hung from the hills hoist washing line  Each child had to choose a doughnut to eat without their hands.  It was hilarious to watch.

Dolly also loves a party.  Sylvia has a rainbow fairy dress that numbers among her collection of 'party dresses'.  After making dolly a dress recently, I extended myself and made her a party dress.  (Stretchy sequined ribbon sewn to make the bodice, netting wisps sewn onto a glossy skirt which was then sewn onto the bodice with elastic.)  Not a bad effort given my lack of sewing experience.

Some of the leftover netting was very useful in making some peg doll ballerinas.  I found the second Katie Morag storybook in an op shop recently.  Sylvia noticed that she had some peg doll ballerinas and wanted to make some herself.  I found a tutorial that showed us how to make a dress out of a circle of cloth with a hole to put over the peg doll's head, a rubber band to secure it at the waist and a ribbon for the bodice.  Simple enough for Sylvia to help me.  She wanted glitter too.  It went everywhere.

Sylvia loved the peg ballerinas.  Great for show and tell.  But her main interest over the last week has been minding the kindergarten wombat.  (Yes it is a toy.)  Here is Fluffy inspecting my niece Quin's piano accordion on a trip to Geelong on the weekend.  Fluffy was meant to go back to kinder today but Sylvia has been poorly so we stayed at home.

On the same trip to Geelong, we went to Eastern Beach to admire the bollards (below), play at the park and meet my mum for hot chocolate.  It was such a glorious winter day that I was loathe to leave. 

When I baked the doughnuts, 20 seemed a lot for the three of us.  So I put half in the freezer after the second rise (just before baking them).  A couple of weekends ago I promised E and Sylvia that we would have pizza and doughnuts for dinner.  It took a few hours for the doughnuts to come back to room temperature from the freezer.  That was the hardest bit.  No actually piping was the hardest.

This time I chose to pipe in nutella because it was easier than sieving jam.  Fortunately Sylvia was so happy playing dress ups and card games with E that she didn't want to help.  This time I used my icing gun.  It was much better but so much nutella got left behind.  I preferred the jam filling to the nutella but both were good.

I am sending the doughnuts to Susan for YeastSpotting and the clothes peg ballerinas to Maggy of Red Ted Art blog for the Kids Get Crafty linky party.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: In my kitchen and craft August 2012
Two years ago: Melbourne to Orange Roadtrip - a long long way
Three years ago: Florentines, salads and what's in a name
Four years ago: Chocolate Caramel Slice
Five years ago: Lemony Dressing for a Quinoa Salad
Six years ago: Rumbledethumps: death to the red hag!

Mini baked jam (or nutella) doughnuts
From Australian BBC Good Food magazine (also here)
Makes about 20
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 2 and 2/3 cups unbleached flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange zest (I used mandarin)
  • *2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
  • 75g unsalted butter, melted (I used margarine)
  • 4-5 tbsp strawberry jam (or nutella)
Sugar coating:
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted (I used margarine)
  • 6 tbsp caster sugar (not regular sugar)
Mix lukewarm milk, 1 tsp sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes to start foaming slightly.  Add remaining sugar, flour, salt and orange zest.  Mix eggs and melted butter (I melt mine in the microwave so it is not that hot but should be cooled slightly if melted on the stove).  Stir to make a soft dough.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead for 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.  It is slightly sticky but should come away from your hands rather than stick to them in lumps of dough.  Return to mixing bowl (I just scrap it out but you can clean it out and oil it) and cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and knead for a minute or two.  Roll out to 1cm thick and cut into 5cm diameter circles (my dough seemed slightly thicker than 1cm and my scone cutter was 4.5cm diameter).  Place on 2 lined oven trays about 5cm apart because they will rise.  Cover with clingwrap and set aside to rise for about 40 minutes or until doubled.  (I wasn't sure if mine were doubled but they were risen enough I thought.)  While they rise, preheat oven to 180 C.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (I did 12 minutes) until golden brown on top.  While the doughnuts are baking, prepare the sugar and melted butter in small bowls.

When the doughnuts come out of the oven, brush with butter and toss in flour.  Now poke holes in the doughnuts.  The recipe said to use a skewer but I found that this gave very small holes so I used a chopstick instead.  I found it easier to make holes on top rather than in the side so they were easier to handle while piping.  Use jam without bits or sieve jam or just use nutella.  I found the icing gun the best way to pipe the jam in but would love to try a squeezy bottle.

Best eaten fresh and warm but still quite nice if eaten a few hours later.

*Update September 2013: I have posted a vegan baked doughnut recipe if that is more your sort of thing.

On the Stereo:
Don't Try This at Home: Billy Bragg