Category: bread

When your oven is on the fritz

As previously mentioned, my brand-spanking new oven isn’t working. It hasn’t since we got it over a MONTH ago.

At first I thought maybe it was me. Maybe we had to become better acquainted with each other. After a few called to customer service, I was persuaded to try troubleshooting the problem before the company sent out a repair person. Well, after tinkering with the oven for a week and told the company it just wasn’t working.

The repairman who came turned out to be the most misogynistic piece of garbage I have ever met. I can’t recall a time in recent memory when a man was so overtly demeaning to me. I was so upset and called the company to complain. My oven was still broken, requiring a new part. I made it clear that repair man was not allowed anywhere near the premises. The new part was ordered and sent. A new repair company was retained and they have yet to show up to fix the oven. I am non-plussed. Actually, I am more than non-plussed. I am angry, disappointed, frustrated and I also feel helpless. I don’t like feeling like I am at the mercy of a company that took my money and delivered a substandard product and beyond crappy customer service.

To make myself feel better, I went on a road trip today with a friend of mine. We were on a mission. If I couldn’t bake in my own kitchen, I was going to live vicariously through the small country bake shops in farm country. We drove north to Sonoma County.

Our first stop was Mom’s Apple Pie in Sebastopol. It’s been around since 1984. In my head I was thinking, “oh! that’s not so long ago. I was just a kid then.” But then I remembered I’m getting old. That means the pie shop has been around for 35 years! THIRTY FIVE YEARS!!! We ordered ahead of time because it happens to be the week of Thanksgiving and we would have been sorely disappointed with the selection of pies if we had simply shown up. I got two kinds; strawberry rhubarb and apricot.

I did not get their namesake pie because I intend to bake an apple pie of my own. I also tried a mixed berry turnover while I was there, which was delicious. It was especially yummy because my stomach was growling after the two hour drive.

That’s Apricot on the left and Strawberry Rhubarb on the right. But who can tell?

After leaving Mom’s we headed to Hale’s Orchard and picked up a bunch of blemished apples, which they refer to as “seconds.” I call them C-grade apples, which aren’t nice enough to sell in a grocery store, but certainly tasty enough and useful enough to turn into apple sauce or pies. So I bought 25 pounds. Normally I would get one variety, but since I don’t know anything about the varieties that are grown out here, I heeded the advice of the nice woman at the fruit stand and bought a variety. She said the best sauces and pies come from a mixture of apples.

A variety of C grade apples from Sonoma County

From Hale’s we made a pit stop at Andy’s market, an independent grocery store that has wonderful produce, a great selection of meats and cheeses and lots of great bulk food.

But we saved the best for last! We went to Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone. The *main* street, if you could call it that, is a small unassuming road off the main highway that you would miss altogether if you blinked. There are a few shops clustered together, but that’s it.

We went just days before US Thanksgiving so it was busier than normal, according to my travel companion, Elizabeth, who frequents this bakery quite regularly. The breads and bakes are outstanding!!! I got three loaves–a Fougasse that was stuffed with cheese, herbs and tomato. I got another flat bread, also stuffed with cheese and herbs, as well as a garlic loaf.

Beautiful breads from Wild Flour Bakery

I also got two scones; one sweet, the other savoury. Both were delicious, especially the chocolate walnut. Yum!

If you are in the area, these places are definitely worth checking out.

My first attempt at sourdough bread

After watching Cooked on Netflix, I was inspired to make my own sourdough bread. After all, Michael Pollan swore it was the easiest thing in the world. All it takes is flour, water, and some wild yeast encouraged by the bacteria floating through the air in your house. Easy!

Not so.

My first attempt to make sourdough starter was an abysmal failure. The flour and water looked–and smelled–like glue, which I guess it was.

Then I showed up at work with a homemade sour cherry pie (that’s another post!) and started talking about baking with a colleague. Little did I know that she, too, had been inspired to attempt sourdough bread after watching Michael Pollan and she had met with some success. She offered to share some of her sourdough starter with me, pointed me to a website that had easy to follow instructions and then I was off to the races!

I had my doubts about the starter. It failed once again and I ended up with a loaf of glue. See specimen here:

Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread
Glue bread masquerading as sourdough bread

So I decided to persevere. For those who know me–and I mean, really know me, I am a relatively impatient person. So waiting for a sourdough starter to be ready, or waiting for bread to proof, are exercises in patience for me. And you can’t rush a good loaf of bread. I fed my starter again and decided to just watch it for about 24 hours. Sure enough it came back to life and started bubbling away, and almost “breathing”. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s literally alive! When it had filled up the bowl, I decided it was show time.

I mixed the starter with flour and water and mixed it with the dough hook. I added a spoonful of kosher salt too. Some recipes tell you to knead the bread a lot and to do some of the kneading by hand to encourage the glutens to bind with each other. Other recipes say to be careful not to overdo it with the kneading because you don’t want to destroy the wild yeast in the starter that will give the bread that lovely bubbled centre. It’s really hard to know which recipe to follow and what measurements to use when you’re a beginner. This is when the internet is not your friend, but seems to be deliberately working against you to leave you second guessing which is the best recipe to follow.

In the end I found a pretty straightforward recipe at Cultures for Health. There’s even a nifty video that walks you through the recipe, but I decided to try it without watching the video. I think I might watch the video next time.

So here are the results:

In the end the bread was quite tasty–crispy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside with some air bubbles that are indicative of sourdough bread. There is a nice tang to the flavour and the kids seemed to like it, which is a good thing. It didn’t puff up as much as it probably should have after proofing, which could mean one of two things: the sourdough starter wasn’t as mature as it should have been to help the bread rise, or else I didn’t leave it to proof long enough (12-ish hours???).

I can see why making bread is addictive. It’s not an exact science, and yet the success of your bread making depends entirely on science.

The sourdough starter is once again percolating away in the glass bowl on the counter and I look forward to my next attempt at making a loaf of sourdough. Let me know what the secret of your success is when making sourdough. I could use all the help I can get!