I enjoy baking bread

Ed went to a coin auction so I was at home alone with the dogs, enjoying the cooking channel’s celebration of Christmas.  I like most things about that channel — the voices are familiar, the commercials aren’t upsetting — well, usually they aren’t — and I’m fascinated enough to actually pay attention to it when I’m not actually asleep in my warm nest on the sofa.

I paid attention so well today that I longed to actually make bread, so, why not give it a try!  So try I did, and here’s the result.

At first it was going to be a very simple single grain garlic bread.  But oops! Ed had left most of the bread flour out of reach.  I had enough to make bread (about 3 cups is enough to form a good gluten sheath) but that’s not enough to make a big loaf.  So my bread had to be multi-grain.  Which grain?  Of the flours within reach I chose oatmeal. I’m in the mood for multiple textures — a slightly crispy crust, a very soft yet slightly chewy crumb, moist, tender.  I added a couple of handfuls of whole grain quick cooking oats.  Obviously I need more moisture.  Toss in an egg for richness, and about half of a cup of warm milk.  I really appreciate the feeling of kneading dough, so I add a tiny bit at a time until the bread feels ready to rise for the first time.

There’s already a good pesto sauce in the refrigerator so I put 3 garlic small garlic cloves through my garlic press, combined the pesto with the now minced fresh garlic,  cut the only cheese we had in the refrigerator (Colby and Monterey Jack), and dozed on the sofa until Ed came home.  He put the bread in the oven at 400°F,  lowered it to 350 25 minutes later, and, in an hour we had a lovely (if plain) loaf of bread.  We let that cool long enough so the bread was comfortable to handle, then sliced the same way one would slice a “Blooming Onion” in a tic-tac-toe pattern.  The softened butter and pesto we spread between the cuts, cheese was more or less stuffed into the slices, the of the cheese went on top — then back into the oven until the cheese was nice and gooey.  At which point we did what we usually do with fresh bread and ate!


It’s been a very rough year… So the tone of the blog is probably changing.

On December 21, 2016, a colonoscopy was done. They didn’t find anything important, but they did manage to trigger “Bile Reflux.” In some ways this is similar to “acid reflux” or “GERT” — but it’s very different in that acid reflux is, well, acidic, while bile reflux is very alkaline. When one vomits or burps, it’s like vomiting or burping lye. And that’s a huge difference. Bile, like lye, eats through the mucous lining one’s throat. In the mouth, it destroys gum tissue and, beneath the tissue, the bone. One’s mouth becomes such a bloody mess that it’s impossible to eat.

I was trying (and, I think, succeeding) to get it under control until I suddenly started vomiting fresh blood, brillant red and full of bubbles. Since I have a positive tuberculin skin test — which only means I’ve developed the antibodies that destroy the tuberculin bacilli — the government decreed I be placed in a hospital’s isolation unit. (Hazmat suits, plastic or cardboard everything. (Including plastic stethoscopes that aren’t cold on the skin, but also don’t work very well, plastic IV stands, food served on plastic plates with plastic utensils, etc.) All this care — yet no one paid attention to the regime I was following to keep the bile reflux away! I’m very mildly diabetic, but I didn’t even get the diabetic diet. They did give me the Metformin I take for diabetes. They didn’t look inside my mouth to see why I couldn’t chew. — instead I got lectured for refusing to use my false teeth! (Not just once, but daily!)  They wanted to try some extremely invasive tests to find the problem.  I kept refusing, since my TB skin test had changed when I was only 12 years old, and I’ve never come down with tuberculosis.  (My skin test was the result of living with my father for 12 years, and my father had an “arrested” case of TB.)  After a week of this, the head of the infectious unit showed up in my room.  Finally!   A doctor old enough to remember the days of “arrested” cases of the old type of TB, tuberculosis before it mutated!  I rather coldly pointed out, that, if they worried about TB, they should give my husband a skin test, since I’ve been living with him for over 40 years, taking none of the precautions my family of origin took around my father.

His argument became, “Well, if it wasn’t caused by TB, what did cause it?”  I neither knew, nor cared.  The bleeding had clearly stopped, and, the hospital no longer had a right to arrest me and drag me back to isolation; if they wouldn’t release me, I’d sue.  “Oh but, until we get clearance from the government run CDC, we aren’t permitted to release you.”  He was old enough to understand, but his judgment wasn’t enough.  The government now had more control over what happened in a hospital than the doctors.  Not only that — he couldn’t even change my diet!  That was Michelle Obama’s “eating healthy” campaign’s contribution to my misery.  I pointed out that I couldn’t eat 90% of what they served.  I either couldn’t chew it or had already proved to my own satisfaction that any type of fruit triggered the bile reflux.  He did telephone the CDC — at least that’s what he said — and I think he did since it did trigger a long, long delay in getting my “official” tuberculin test back from the government CDC.   So there I sat.  Catch-22.  I’ll never know what went on behind the scenes, but eventually I got out of the hospital.  (Obamacare/Medicare did not cover the expense BTW.)  Several weeks after I got out of the hospital that time, the CDC tuberculin report came back as a “false positive.”  I wouldn’t even have known that much if I didn’t check MyChart online.

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve had decent health care.  I’ve become very bitter about it.  I can’t live without it, but my old GP retired almost 40 years ago.  there simply hasn’t been a doctor that actually stayed in this area for more than a year or two, and I’m not easily transported the 300+ miles it would take to get me to a decent clinic every time I need to see a doctor.  So I went to the local clinic….

Immediately after my stroke in 2006, I had major problems with my endocrine system.  The last time I saw my Primary Care Physician at the local clinic, she mentioned it was time to have my kidneys checked out again, and she scheduled the appointments, which I grudgingly went to, and, as usual, those appointments led to more appointments, more tests. and so it went for a couple of months, until, very suddenly, I got a phone call from the local clinic.  My husband had telephoned them to get a prescription refill for a drug (Valium, which I officially take for my PTSD, but actually take as a muscle relaxant.)  The phone call came in on October 18, 2017.  I remember the exact date and time, only because I wanted to be completely undisturbed that day, and had my cell phone on (usually I just keep it turned off) and the clinic called my cell phone!  I’d given them my cell phone number (cell phones are now essential you know, and if you don’t have one, the government provides you with one) under protest, emphasizing that it was never to be used.  Some nurse I’d never heard of, informed me my valium couldn’t be refilled unless I came in and signed a a drug agreement, and, BTW, my thyroid needed changing.  I said, “There’s no way I’m letting you change my meds!”  My thyroid is a touchy subject, and it had just been changed by the “endocrinologist” who was actually a DO, and thus knew absolutely nothing about anything other than diabetes…  The American Medical Association only let DO’s call themselves endocrinologists when too many people needed help with diabetes, and all the actual endocrinologists (with nine years more training, and two more residency’s).

That started a huge change in my life.  My endocrine system has never been “normal” — and I’m not going to let myself argue about what “normal” means.   Changing my thyroid according to the “normal” tables doctors use makes me extremely hyperthyroid — last time someone tried changing my thyroid following “normal” procedures I lost 40 pounds during an incredibly uncomfortable month, yet going without thyroid hasn’t been an option in the past.  I won’t put myself through that again.  I really loath pain.  Pain frightens me.  So I’ve been trying learn the way through current procedural healthcare as I rapidly become sicker with whatever is causing the bile reflux.

Finding a new primary care physician is essential to obtaining and paying for any type of medical care.   My husband and I are old, retired, living on a fixed income just like every other senior.  We’re better off than most, since we own land and our home.  I’m unwilling to sell our land to obtain really good health care — though I’ve known people that have chosen to sell their home to go to some of the better clinics.  They die in nursing homes eventually.  Or they live without a home.  Or they, like everyone else, live with the consequences of any choice one is still permitted to make.

I’m not going to let myself go into a long, complex political rant.

As Americans are discovering that there are too many people and not enough basic resources — a situation which has existed forever — the seething mass of humanity has struggled to find solutions to that particular problem.  Having too many people who feel “entitled” to such basic human needs as security and American values leads to squabbles in politics, multiple violent outbreaks, and a tremendous anger.  I made my personal choices long, long ago.  I choose what I call “freedom.”  That means I live or die making my own choices.  Literally.

At the moment I’m as close to death as I’ve ever known.   An unknown autoimmune disease (ie, my body immune system is attacking rather than defending my body.)  My body repulses me.  I’m surrounded by a new smell that’s coming from my own body,  my hands hurt so much that typing is hard to bear.  It’s very difficult to think clearly.  The kidney specialist’s tests show extremely high protien in my blood and/ or urine.  The amount of pain in not acceptable.  I might be able to help control the pain by limiting stress.  How does one eliminate stress when one could be dead within the next week?

My current solution to simplify my life, to do what I still enjoy doing.  To fully appreciate the beauty that exists outside my window.  To celebrate the fact that God is essentially good.  To enjoy moments with the people I love.  No longer a teacher or a student, I try to maintain my own level of joy.  That’s all.  Nothing more.

Still Sick…

And it looks like I’m not going to be baking bread for a long, long time, if ever.    I have what’s called “bile reflux.”  Which means I have massive amounts of bile leaking into my stomach.  Bile is extremely alkaline.  Gastric juices are extremely acidic.  This creates the usual reaction when alkaline and acid are mixed.

Supposedly the “best” diet for this fruits and veggies.  True to form (my digestive system has never been “normal”) fruits and most veggies are precisely what I can’t eat.  And grains, other than cooked oats, aren’t working either.

Yet to keep reading and commenting on what others write, I have to blog about something…

A few weeks ago there was a silly question on the TV game show called “Family Feud.”  The question was, “If dogs could blog, what would they blog about?”  The things my husband and I came up with were as silly as the question!

So what say you?  Shall I start a new blog, written from my dog’s point of view?  Our dogs (we have two) are our children, and are very different from each other.  Both are “found” dogs.  Daisy arrived at our door about 10 years ago.  She’s a devout hunter of rodents, is always alert, and very particular about sleeping under the covers of our bed.  Jack is definitely not a hunter — he likes to chase and be chased (something even the squirrels have figured out.)  It’s not at all unusual to see him being chased by a squirrel — or even a big rabbit.  Jack arrived when a man threw him out of a pickup truck, fortunately he was young enough to survive and not break any bones — Jack is now almost 3 years old, and tries to live within 1 foot of my husband at all times, unless he’s gotten a thorn in his paw, in which case he want me, and only me, to fix it.

So what do you say?  Shall I start another blog as a dog?

The Day After Christmas

Again I’ve been gone a long time. For the same reason: I’m sick. I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy on the 22nd, and, as per usual, they didn’t find anything they expected to find. Instead they discovered my stomach, duodenum and the upper part of my small intestine is full of ulcers caused by bile (AKA gall). Interesting since I had my gallbladder out almost 3 years ago…  So there is more to be done, and, in the meantime, I’m supposed to avoid grains…  Which puts a damper on my bread baking.

Though something else happened this Christmas.  I found myself missing my family of origin, and the way we celebrated Christmas — without being in denial about the hell that was then, and without dreaming that “this time it would  have been different.”  Christmas was both a time of great danger and of great joy in my original family.  It was dangerous because my father and mother could both be quite violent.  The joy came from all the new stuff, and the old traditions.

The old traditions started long, long before the Christmas season began.  I had two much older siblings, and the three of us had a rule that our Christmas presents to each other had to cost less than 10 cents.  That took a lot of planning and imagination.  One year my brother saved Coke bottle caps for a whole year, punched a hole in each one, and threaded it onto a heavy piece of string.  By the next Christmas there was a 8 foot “necklace” of Coke bottle caps for my sister.  Another year he made me a Viking War ship (that I still have) out of a 10 cent sheet of thin balsa wood, with carved sticks for the the dragon front,masts and shields, and braided white thread for the ropes.  (His gifts were always the most creative.)  I made my sister beaded jewelry (that she never wore) except one year when I raided a wild goose nest in Spring and carefully cut the eggs in half, waterproofing the eggshells with melted wax crayons inside and out and made a hanging “garden” mobile out of them.  Unfortunately one of the plants I put in the mobile was poison ivy from the woods, but I also had marsh marigolds in bloom, and several others.  Everyone else in the family was allergic to poison ivy, so my mobile was banished to my room.  But I liked it.  Anyhow, sometimes our Christmas gifts to each other didn’t work out very well, but we all put a lot into making them.

On Christmas Eve, assuming there were no implosions from my parents, we always sat in front of our fireplace, with the Christmas tree behind us, and my father read Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol aloud, all the way through.  We had a rare and wonderfully illustrated copy, though I don’t remember the illustrator.  One year my siblings rebelled and we read The Other Wiseman by  Henry van Dyke.  And that year my mother, rather than my father participated in reading.  (My parents avoided each other as much as possible, even just reading Christmas stories.)

Actually everyone except me, and sometimes my brother,  avoided my father as much as possible.  In many ways we were two separate families living under one roof; Dad and me, and my mother, brother, and sister.  In the half century plus, I learned why this was so.   And yet, thinking of Christmases past this year, it didn’t hurt to remember.  I loved my father, no matter how many times he literally tried to kill me.

And, in a very strange way, that was my Christmas gift this year.  One of my friends who was also severely abused, calls one of her perps, “my favorite perp.”  I’ve finally admitted my father is my favorite perp.  Yes, my body is covered in scars he inflicted, but, contrary to belief, “stick and stones will break my bone, but words…”  Words seem to live on forever and hurt much more…  By some miracle, I’ve learned to truly forgive my father.  Yet, at the moment, I only feel very sorry for my mother and sister.

I’ve always loved my brother, and he’s the only one alive now, thank God!

Leftover Stuffing? Make Sourdough Bread!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  We happened to have some very good, very moist leftover stuffing, but not enough for both of us to have it again today, so I used it to make bread for sandwiches.  Since I’m still curious what makes “milk bread” have it’s unique texture and crust.  It’s not the milk, so perhaps it’s using some precooked flour (in this case the croutons in the stuffing.)  I may be onto something here – this bread does have the soft crust and delightful texture of milk bread.  It’s got the same oven spring.  Yet it tastes completely different.  There are so many herbs and spices in it, that it would never work for dinner rolls and, traditionally all milk bread is made as some type of dinner roll.  But it makes fantastic sandwich bread.

How many loaves this makes depends on how much stuffing you start with.

1 part stuffing (made from store bought croutons)
1 part freshly fed sourdough starter
Mix well (all of the stuffing should be well coated) and let it work overnight. (We always add some minced onion, minced celery, some raisins, and brown sugar to our stuffing, and let the turkey provide all the liquid.)

This is just the sourdough starter mixed with the leftover stuffing.  Those lumps are the croutons, the spices that show are from the stuffing.  The bubbles show the sourdough starter is already working.

Put 2 tablespoons of butter in the freezer to harden.

And this is the same sourdough starter mix, after sitting overnight. It has more than doubled in size, and, once stirred down, is very smooth.  (I haven’t added the water yet.)

The next day add 1 Cup warm water to the starter mix, stir well, and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine:

3 cups bread flour (hard flour)
Read the stuffing packaging to see what herbs and spices to add — add about 1 teaspoon of each herb or spice listed. Instead of salt, add 1 teaspoon Vegeta. Stir the dry ingredients together.

Use a cheese slicer (or potato peeler) to get thin sheets of your frozen butter, and cut (or pinch) it into the dry ingredients until it looks like fine cornmeal.

Add the starter mixture to the flour mixture and stir.  This is where things get a bit tricky since the moisture content of both the stuffing and the sourdough starter can vary greatly.  If your dough is sticky, add more flour, about 1/4 C at a time.  If your dough won’t form a breakable ball, add more water, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  I always mix my dough by hand when I’m not sure of the measurements.  The goal is a dough that’s a tiny bit dry, and not in the least bit sticky – but all the flour is used up.  You should be able to roll the dough into a breakable ball that easily kneads back together.  When you think the dough is ready, let it rest for 15 minutes.

This is a “breakable ball.” You can see I’ve broken it several times and smushed it back together. The brown bits are raisins from the stuffing. It’s time to put it in the power mixer and let it knead. It is not at all sticky.

If, after a 15 minute rest (while you lightly oil the bowl you’ll use to let the dough rise,) the dough still isn’t sticky, it’s time to put it in your stand mixer.  Knead in your stand mixer (or bread machine, or by hand) until your dough can pass the window pane test – about 10 minutes. (If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t make my own videos, it’s because I only have one arm that works, so I do things a tad differently than most people.)  The dough still isn’t sticky.

Roll into a ball, and place it in your lightly oiled bowl, turning it over a few times to coat with the oil.  Cover it tightly and place it in a warm, moist place to rise until doubled in size. (About an hour.)

Well kneaded dough, ready to rise. I love using this bowl to let my bread rise because the lines in the bowl let me know when it has doubled in size.
Unlike “milk bread” I was able to punch the dough down — more or less, but you can see there are still lots of bubble that should be kneaded out.

Punch it down (it’s still not sticky.) and knead lightly on a clean, dry, hard surface. (If you started with a lot of stuffing, you may have to divide the dough in half.) Then make a rectangle, where the small side is slightly less than the width of your bread pan(s), and roll it up tightly, being careful to keep the roll the same width as your bread pan(s.)

Then place the roll, seam side down into a large bread pan and let it rise

Lightly oil your bread pan(s) and place the shaped dough in the pan.  Allow to rise until dough is even with the height of the pan.

Here’s the risen bread — it deflates quite a bit after slashing. (And I really need to practice my slashing skills…)

Slash the dough deeply (my slashing skills need work.) and bake in a 350° F for 30 – 40 minutes or until bread tests done.

For the best texture for sandwiches, allow to cool before cutting.

Anyone in the mood for a really good turkey sandwich? Happy Eating!




Apricot “Milk” Bread made with Sourdough — and no Milk!

Those of you who know me, know I always want to know why.  Why is “milk” bread so different?  Why is it so incredibly soft?  Why does have so much “oven spring”? Why does it “fight back” when I try to shape it? What on earth makes this bread so special!

Since it’s called “Milk Bread” I assumed it was the cooked gruel made with milk and flour.  So I went back to the original recipes.  None of those called for Barley Malt, so I eliminated that.  Only some called for an egg, so I eliminated that.  I’ve always known that bread can be made with almost any liquid, as long as the proportions remain about 5 parts flour to 3 parts liquid, one ends up with bread — a little salt, some kind of yeast, and some type of fat or oil as preservative and the rest is just technique…

The other night I had a craving for my favorite dessert: Serbian Plum Dumplings, though I make mine with apricots, since plums often bother my bowel.  At this time of year I can’t get fresh apricots, so I used apricots canned in light syrup.  I had two apricots left over (actually 4 half apricots, since my husband hadn’t found any whole ones,) along with some of the syrup in which they came.  I like apricots…  Even light syrup has some sugar in it.  Fruit has some sugar in it.  Sugar “feeds” yeast so, being the thrifty sort (mostly out of necessity) I decided to make some “milk bread” using my leftover apricots instead of milk.  To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work, so I didn’t take pictures.  I expected to end up with bread — just bread that didn’t have the feel or the texture of “milk bread.”  I also expected my bread would have a slight taste of apricots.   I was wrong on all counts.  This is definitely “milk bread” – the crust and texture are unmistakable.  The only difference I noticed was how fast the bread dough rose (I would guess due to the sugar in the fruit and syrup.)  The dough “fought back” just as hard, making it difficult to push, pull, and pat it into an oblong.  The dough was just as dry, not in the least bit sticky.  So it’s not the milk that makes “Milk Bread” unique…

Apricot “Milk” Bread (makes 1 large loaf)

In a small saucepan, combine:

2 small canned apricots with syrup well pureed,enough water so you have a total of 110 grams liquid and 45 grams bread flour. (Hard flour if you’re European)

Stir this until it is very smooth – no lumps allowed!  Then heat it over very low heat until it’s the consistency halfway between soup and very light gravy.  (It will thicken a bit as it cools.)  This time I didn’t overcook it!  It was definitely the color of apricots and only slightly thicker than the apricot puree.  When you can comfortably put your finger into the mixture without thinking “ouch!” add:

135 grams of very active sourdough starter and again, stir until smooth and completely combined.  (It was barely orange colored after adding the sourdough)  Set this mixture aside while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or bread maker, measure 300 grams of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt into your mixing bowl, then cut in 2 Tablespoons of butter – just as you would if you were making pie dough.  If your butter is cold enough you can also “pinch” it to combine the butter with the flour to make a mixture that looks like cornmeal.  It should not stick to your hands, or feel sticky. (If it does, put it into the refrigerator and let it cool., then lightly pinch it with your fingers until it’s not sticky.)

Combine the liquid yeast mixture with the dry ingredients until you can form a breakable ball.   At first this seems like an utterly impossible task.  There seems to be far too much flour.  The dough gets too flakey, even once you start using your fingers instead of a spoon, but do not use your power mixer yet!   Knead it, press it, rub the sides of the bowl until every speck of flour is attached to the ball of dough.  (Remember, technique is everything when making bread!)  If you can pick up the ball of dough yet a flake or two of dough still falls off, add 1 tablespoon of water and mix well.  This dough is not sticky.  It’s dry.  Nothing should be sticking to the sides of the bowl, nothing sticks to your hands, yet you should be able to break the ball of dough in half, and knead it back together if you use a lot of pressure.

Now but the bowl into the power mixer with a bread hook, or your bread machine.  Start at the lowest speed for 5 minutes.  Let it rest for 5 minutes. (Or you’ll probably overheat your power mixer, but it also gives the dough a “rest.”)  Then let the machine knead the dough at least another 5 minutes, or until a small amount of the kneaded dough stretches easily without breaking.  Meanwhile, very lightly oil a bowl large enough for the dough to almost double in size.

Form a ball of the kneaded dough.  It still isn’t at all sticky, and there should be no trace of loose flour anywhere.  Put it in your lightly oiled bowl, in a warm place, and allow it to rise for at least two hours.  I was very surprised that this time it did almost double in size, though it’s still a very compact ball of dough, impossible to “punch down” the way I usually literally punch my fist into the middle of the risen dough.  Instead I pressed it down into the bowl, then took it out of the bowl and, holding one end, slammed it down as hard as I could on the counter.  This dough is not sticky at all!  I couldn’t even get it to stick to the dry, unfloured, unoiled countertop!  Eventually I was able to pound it, press it, and stretch it into an oblong shape, where the short end was the same length as my bread pan.   I kept stretch, pressing, pounding, and pulling until I had an oblong about 5 cm thick, in an oblong that was three or four times as long as it was wide.  (The original recipes all said to use a rolling pin to roll it into this shape – but that would have required my husband’s help, and he wasn’t available.)  Then, starting at one of the short ends, one rolls it up pressing it together as tightly as possible.  This is easier said than done, since this dough doesn’t even stick to itself!  Plus one has to keep pressing in the edge so it stays as wide as the bread pan…

Lightly oil the bread pan, and place the roll, seam side down, in the pan.  Cover it tightly, and let it rise until the dough is marginally higher than the bread pan.  Preheat the oven to 350°F .  Slash the top deeply with a sharp knife, and bake for 25- 35 minutes or until the bread tests done.  I didn’t use any egg wash on top this time, which made the crust a lot lighter.

Even though it’s made with pureed apricots, there’s absolutely no taste of apricot (though I thought I could smell a slight apricot oder, no one else could.)  And one of the nice things about “milk” bread is cutting it right away, and smother it with real butter to eat it hot out of the oven.  So that’s what we did.

Sliced and coated with butter, it has a soft “perfect” crumb, a very soft crust, and tastes wonderful! Happy Eating!

Sourdough “Milk Bread” — very, very soft, almost crustless and sweet.

Very similar to Asian Milk Bread, this isn’t your typical sourdough. Slightly flaky and somewhat sweet, it can be eaten hot from the oven, which is nice, since it goes stale in 24 hours. Use the stale bread to make homemade “Panko” bread crumbs.

When I’m sick, I often use sourdough to make my own living “probiotics.”  Sourdough, being fermented with my own wild yeasts, always has lots of “probiotics” even plain, but I usually follow my grandmother’s “remedy” for the family gut problems and make a very thick milk gruel, toss in enough barley malt syrup to make it taste edible,  stir in some of my sourdough starter, and let that mess bubble on my counter — eating a tablespoon or two every day.  Of course my grandmother had never heard of “probiotics,” but that’s what it is and adding the cooked milk mixture simply increases the lactulose bacilli that’s already in the sourdough starter.   Live barley malt syrup (the type used to make beer) has another type of “probiotic” bacilli in it, also naturally occurring in sourdough starter.  Combining the milk gruel, barley malt, and sourdough just shifts the percentages of the various “probiotics” that already occur in a living colony of wild yeasts.  I don’t usually think about such things.  To me it’s always just been “Grandma’s homemade gut medicine” and in the 1950’s and 1960’s several doctors tried very hard to convince me it was a worthless folk remedy.  So I quit telling them (or anyone else) about it, accepted their steroids, and used Grandma’s home remedy anyway.  I never thought about it in terms of making bread….  (At the time I’d get frozen “ice cubes” of gut remedy directly from Grandma.  Probiotic bacteria can withstand freezing without problem, but it can’t survive the high temperatures of cooking.)

When searching the internet for some bread recipe I could translate into sourdough for this post I was rather shocked when I saw Milk Bread (both Chinese and Japanese) start by making the same “gruel” of flour and milk contained in Grandma’s gut medicine.   And I usually like bread that contains dry milk or barley malt syrup.  I use both ingredients regularly.

I was deep in the organic chemistry book, checking things out, when my husband asked why I wanted him to use Panko bread crumbs on the skinned chicken breasts he planned to fry for dinner.  What makes Panko bread crumbs different?  So I looked them up.  They’re made from Japanese milk bread minus the crusts!

So that settled the question of what type of bread I’m making.  It’s

Sourdough Milk Bread (makes one small loaf)

Combine in a small saucepan:

45 grams bread flour (hard flour)
110 grams whole milk

Stir until all the lumps are worked out, then heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken. (It will become much thicker as it cools, so don’t overcook.) Immediately add 1 Tablespoon Barley Malt syrup and keep stirring until mixture is a thick paste and barely warm,

After stirring in the barley malt, and before adding the sourdough it’s a very thick paste.  Keep stirring until smooth.

then add 135 grams of very active sourdough starter. Stir until smooth. Add 1 very large egg, and stir until smooth.  It should now be about the consistency of thick cake batter. Set saucepan of liquids aside for at least 30 minutes.

Measure 300 grams of flour and 1 teaspoon of salt into your mixing bowl, then cut in 2 Tablespoons of butter – just as you would if you were making pie dough.

After cutting in (or pinching in) the 2 tablespoons of flour, there are a few small dry lumps.

Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and mix until fully combined.   This is much easier said than done, but, yes, all of the flour mixture can, eventually be worked in if you use your fingers.  It’s a flaky broken mess at first, but eventually you can make a dry, breakable ball and all the flour is gone.  This dough is not sticky at all.

Knead very well.  (It took more than 10 minutes in my stand mixer (after it finally formed the breakable ball) to become smooth and silky.  It’s still not sticky.

After kneading, it’s not sticky, nor does it have the “glossy” look most breads have.

Put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly  and let it rise until almost doubled in size.

After rising, it does have a “glossy” look. It doesn’t “punch” down, but it’s very elastic and easy to “press” down. It’s still not at all sticky, and you won’t need any flour on the board to shape it.

To shape the dough:

Press and flatten the dough into a rectangle. The small side should be the width of your bread pan.
Then roll the rectangle into a log, and place this log in your lightly oiled bread pan.

Cover the bread pan with plastic wrap, or put the bread pan in a tightly closed plastic bag.  Put the well wrapped pan in the refrigerator overnight or until the bread has barely  risen to the top of the bread pan. Remove from the refrigerator and let it return to room temperature.  (Don’t worry if it looks a little flat – there’s going to be a lot of oven spring!)

Preheat the oven to 400°F ,  lightly brush the top of the bread with egg wash, put the bread in the oven, and immediately lower the temperature to 375°F.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until bread is golden brown and the bottom, when tapped sounds hollow.  Internal temperature of the bread, as measured by a probe thermometer should be 195°F.

Cut and eat as soon as the bread is cool enough to handle comfortably.


Happy Eating!

Note: To make Panko style bread crumbs, wait for the bread to become stale enough to grate, peel away the crust, and grate onto a large flat pan.  Spread the crumbs out and bake in a 200°F oven until completely dry.  (Don’t let them get brown!) Or don’t bake, and just let them dry out.

A long pause – for a variety of reasons.

It’s been a while since I baked any bread, but I definitely haven’t given up!  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my health isn’t the best, but recently it’s been one thing after the other. First I started coughing blood from my lungs, which instantly means the Center for Disease Control automatically takes over your life. Even if you only cough blood for 6 hours, if you go to the hospital the CDC will force you to live in total isolation, complete with precautionary Hazmat Gear (even plastic, disposable stethoscopes!) until you can prove you aren’t contagious. It’s awfully hard to prove you don’t have a contagious disease. And, it turns out, insurance doesn’t cover most of it…  Thanks to some help from my family we aren’t quite broke, but financially we’re stressed, which leaves me quite depressed.

When I came home from the hospital I was very weak from the testing, and all four of the major veins in my arms had “blown” (broken, popped, or had too many needles pushed through them.)  Which left my hands hurting and numb from lack of blood flow.  It’s happened before.  I have very poor blood flow from a genetically based disease called “peripheral arterial disease.”  Usually the problems caused by a blown vein goes away in just a few weeks after the last IV is removed (at least in my arms…  My legs already have so little blood flow my legs and feet are always extremely painful.)  This time it still hasn’t gone away and both hands are so full of pins and needles it makes typing a problem, still I was coping, more or less – until my Crohn’s disease started acting up, and I need a CAT scan with contrast … contrast that requires a very good vein that I don’t have, so it suddenly became necessary to at least discuss having a permanent shunt installed, but who’s going to install the shunt, how can they put me asleep to do it, and what specific type of shunt to install?  And the problems go on and on…  Various doctors have said they’ll get back to me – but no one has, and I’m in no mood to push anything that will cost us more money that we don’t have.

Which, when I think about it, means I’m the cause of my own misery.  So it’s time to kick myself in the ass and get up and do something!  It’s time to get back to baking, back to living.  And it’s definitely time to quit feeling sorry for myself.  Enough!  Enough!  I intend to live as fully as possible until I die – and I’m not dead yet!

Thank you for permitting me to whine on your shoulder.  I’ll be back!

Keeping it simple.

I recently spent several days in the hospital. I came home weak, exhausted, and very depressed only to discover my sourdough starter was mostly alcohol. Yet sourdough bread is one of the few things I can eat when I’m feeling really bad — as long as I keep it very simple.

Reactivating a colony of sourdough starter in extremely hot humid weather was my first challenge.  The wild yeasts and bacteria that make real sourdough work best in weather that is normal wherever you live.  Remember, wild yeast is very geo-specific, that’s why it is worth the time to attract and maintain your own colony of sourdough; it will always work better than sourdough made somewhere else, and is much easier to digest than any bread made with storebought yeasts.  I like to keep no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch of alcohol on top of my starter to protect it against mold, but when I came home I had at least 3 inches of dark brown alcohol on top of the colony.  I poured off all but a sheen of alcohol, cleaned my crock,  added some bread flour and water as usual.  Fortunately a good colony of  sourdough starter is very hard to kill!  I had to repeat the cleaning three or four times before I had some very active sourdough starter to with which to work.

“Happy,” active, well fed sourdough starter will always be covered in bubbles.

My mouth hurts so much I didn’t want a crusty bread, but I did want a moist good tasting bread that would be very, very easy to digest.  So no oil (other than to oil the pans,) no egg, no milk, no herbs. To keep it moist it has to be a very soft dough.   The flavor comes from a very, very long rising time — in the refrigerator since it’s so incredibly hot outside.

Simple Bread (makes 1 small sandwich loaf)

Combine in the bowl of your stand mixer or bread machine:

250 grams bread flour (“hard” flour in Europe)
150 grams water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sourdough starter

Mix by hand, or on the lowest setting until all of the flour is dampened.  Then let the machine do the kneading for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is very soft, sticky, and smooth.

Meanwhile, lightly oil a medium sized bowl that will fit in your refrigerator.   Using a scraper, or a lightly oiled hand, transfer the kneaded bread into the bowl, and tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let it rise in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.  It will double in size (or even get a little higher than that!)

Very lightly oil a small sandwich size bread pan.  Flour your counter (or wherever you’ll shape the dough) and your hands.  Use as much flour as necessary to handle the  dough.

Do not “punch down” the dough!  Instead use a scraper, or your lightly floured hand to gently move the dough to the counter.  Keeping as much of the air in the dough as you can, shape the dough to into an oblong that will easily fit in the bread pan.  It will look far too small for the pan.

Since there’s another long rise, put the entire bread pan in a plastic grocery store bag, and seal the bag with a twist tie.  Alternatively, you could cover the whole pan with a huge bowl — anything you can think of that will keep all the moisture inside, yet still fit in your refrigerator.   Let it rise until it has a “dome” on the top — 6 to 8 hours.  (This is where I made my big mistake — I went to bed rather than keeping an eye on the bread.  Yeast will only rise until it’s exhausted, and then it falls flat, leaving the spent yeast and unused flour on top of the bread, turning it pure white.)

Oops! I let it rise too long, and the "dome" collapsed.
The white top surface is because I was too tired to stay up and wait for the dough to form a good “dome.”  I baked it the next morning, and the underside of the bread is the picture on top of this post.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes.  Bread is done when a probe thermometer registers 190-200° F.

Happy Eating!


Sourdough Pumpernickel and … Pickle Juice?

I know I read about it somewhere else — adding pickle juice to rye bread, but I didn’t save it because I couldn’t imagine it’s taste. Then, several weeks ago, my husband brought home the “wrong” Reuben Sandwich. On Pumpernickel, served with a huge dill pickle that wasn’t properly wrapped. Pickle juice saturated the bottom piece of bread. It turned out to be one of the best Reuben Sandwiches I’ve ever had, even though it was too soggy… So, here is Sourdough Pumpernickel with Pickle Juice and Black Pepper.

Makes 1 loaf

Combine in a large bowl:

1/2 Cup mixed rolled grains (If you don’t have mixed grains available, just use old fashioned, slow cooking oatmeal.)

Triticale, /trɪtɪˈkeɪliː/ is a hybrid of wheat and rye first bred in laboratories during the late 19th century in Scotland and Sweden.

2 Cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons butter

Stir this until it’s lukewarm.


1 tablespoon gluten (if you don’t have gluten available, use only 1 Cup of dark rye AKA Pumpernickel and 2 cups of whole wheat)
1/4 cup powdered milk (optional)
1/2 cup sourdough starter
2 tablespoons dill pickle brine (liquid leftover from a jar of dill pickles)

Gluten comes as a powder, and should be sifted in with at least 1 cup of whole wheat flour.

I cup whole wheat flour (unless you did not add gluten, in which case, add 2 cups of whole wheat.)

2 cups (approximately) dark rye flour AKA pumpernickel  (unless you did not add gluten, in which case, add only 1 cup dark rye flour.)

Stir very well, until a soft, smooth dough forms. “Knead” it a few times using the stretch and turn method. Cover tightly and let it sit for at least 2 hours. It will rise, but probably won’t double in size.

This is what mine looked like when it was ready to be kneaded in the stand mixer.

Knead in up to another 1 cup of dark rye flour and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. (It may take a little more or a little less flour, depending on the humidity and the water content of your flour.) You want it to just kiss your hand. (In a stand mixer or bread machine, knead it for no more than 10 minutes total.)

Shape it into a ball and let it rise and spread until double in size. (about 2 hours)

Preheat your oven to 400° F.   Slash , and bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350° F and bake until done — about another 30 minutes.

A fine example of bread that’s been cut too soon… My husband wanted a Reuben Sandwich less than 5 minutes after removing the bread from the oven. By the time I was done eating *my* sandwich, and went back to get a better picture, showing the proper crumb of the bread the entire loaf had been eaten…. Oh well, it tasted good.