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Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips LogoAugust 19, 2018 - Crackers, Ending Starter Waste and MORE!

Or, is Mike going crackers again? Maybe, stay tuned!

A Healthy recipe? Run away! Run away! Lately we've been working on cracker recipes, and we do have another one to link to in today's newsletter. While we were searching for recipes, we ran across a web page that specializes in "healthy recipes" that had a cracker recipe. And the recipe did look healthy - whole wheat and whole rye flour and other goodies. However, the person who put the recipe together had no real idea of what a dough should feel like or how it should work. The dough was a crumbly mess and it smelled bad. We never even baked it. Maybe it would have baked up great if I'd taken the leap of faith, but I just couldn't!

Sadly, the experience reinforced my belief that when someone makes the the number one thing they tell you about a recipe "it's so healthy!", it's time to run away. Have you had any recipe disasters? Care to share?

YES! Mike goes crackers, again. We did find a new to us recipe that worked at The Fresh Loaf. If you haven't been there, you need to go! It's a great bread making community! Rather than retype theOur salted spent grain rye crackers recipe, I'll just share a link in order to get you to go there. All we did to change it was to add 50 grams of spent brewers grains to the recipe which made it even better.... and maybe I was more generous with the sea salt sprinkle. Here's a picture of my humble attempt.

Discarding sourdough? Just say no! Many people hate discarding sourdough starter. After all, it IS food and we abhor waste. But many starter feeding instructions have you discard half of your starter and then feed it. Right now, we're baking twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. And I really want enough starter, but not so much that I'm discarding. So, here's what I am doing....

The process starts with a look at what we're baking and how much starter we need. Then we ask the spreadsheet how to get there. This week I had about 280 grams of starter left over. I used about 275 to make a pizza, and then started feeding the other 5 grams to get up to 500 grams Monday morning. Small feedings will get you there. Here's my feeding schedule for this week:

Feeding Date/Time Starter Flour Water
1 Thursday 8:00 PM 3.9 grams 2 grams 2 grams
2 Friday 8:00 AM 7.8 3.9 3.9
3 Friday 8:00 PM 15.6 7.8 7.8
4 Saturday 8:00 AM 31.3 15.6 15.6
5 Saturday 8:00 PM 63 31.3 31.3
6 Sunday 8:00 AM 125 63 63
7 Sunday 8:00 PM 25 125 125

With this approach, there is very little wastage, and my starter is always at room temperature and being fed. I am convinced that starters prefer this!

What shall we do with all the time we're saving? A digression...We keep hearing about time saving appliances and methods, so I have to ask, what are you doing with all the time you are saving?

A while back Beth, my long suffering wife, gave me a hand crank coffee grinder for Christmas. Despite the fact we already had two electric coffee grinders, one a chopper the other a very nice mill. And also despite the fact that we were using a super automatic coffee maker. It ground beans, tamped the beans and then made an espresso based drink, all at the tap of a button. Somehow, a hand powered coffee mill just didn't appeal to me. "Maybe you could use it to mill other things, like herbs?" she suggested. Nope, the instruction manual was clear, coffee only.

And then, sadness struck. Our super automatic coffee maker died after 10 years of very loyal service. So, we went back to using a French Press and we've been very happy with the resulting coffee. We've also played with using a Melitta filter (pour over) rig, but we seem to like the French Press more.

First we used the chopper to grind our coffee, then we started using the coffee mill. And then, my eyes landed on the hand grinder. Part of my disquiet about it was that my grandmother, or Oma, had one in Germany when we visited her, and she thought the kid (that would be me) should grind the coffee. Since I didn't drink coffee, the task seemed really onerous to me. And I just wasn't ready to want to do that. However, being a good kid, I did that for Oma. And I tried to not grumble too much.

Still the mill Beth had purchased looked so clean and crisp and modern, none of which could be said of Oma's ancient wooden mill. So I had to try it. I spent an hour getting the grind right, and then ground some coffee. (That adjustment is an infrequent thing.) The ground beans smelled SO good! And the coffee tasted great too!

But, what about the time it took? Yes, both electric grinders were faster. But did that turn into any real time savings? The next morning I set some water on to boil and then measured and ground coffee by hand. And... you know what? I was done grinding beans WELL before the water was hot enough to use. It's not like there was enough time saved to actually DO anything. Since then, I've been grinding by hand and enjoying it.

We see the same sort of trade offs again and again. One place I worked a number of the younger women told me when it came to grocery shopping, "if it doesn't go into the microwave, it doesn't go home with me!" Michael Pollan did a informal study of how long it took to cook a meal for four as opposed to microwaving a meal for four. As is so often the case, each person got a different frozen meal. He found there were no time savings. He could only nuke one at a time, and by the time the fourth was done, the first needed a touch up. It was faster to cook a real meal!

Of course, if you aren't having a family meal, each person nuking their own dinner might sound attractive. But I'm old fashioned and value family meals.

Of course, he could have gotten a large multi-serving dish, like a lasagna, so enough for four would cook at once. Still, they take a long time to cook. Of course, you can argue that at least you don't have to spend the time in the kitchen.

I'd take a different look at it. What are you going to do with the time you may have saved? Are you writing a novel? Are you bonding with your family? Helping your kids with their homework? Are you finding a cure for cancer? OK, you get a pass. Or are you just watching some mindless drivel on the TV? In that case, it doesn't matter, you've wasted your time either way.

More to the point, I'd argue that fixing a meal as a family is a wonderful bonding experience. And the value is further increased when you enjoy it together! We just don't have enough bonding moments these days. Even a young child or clumsy spouse can do meaningful food prep tasks in the kitchen. And what they are creating and bringing to the table is love. And there just isn't enough love in the world! (Just don't ask a kid to grind the coffee, a limited sampling suggests they hate that!)

A followup! A newsletter or two back I shared a formula for a hatch green chili bread. I was delighted when Sharon shared a picture of the version she made, as well as telling me what she did. "Tried the recipe from the last Mike’s newsletter and subbed in 1cup of cheddar and 1 cup of a parm, asiago, romano mixture instead of the nutritional yeast. Fantastic bread! Thank you." She baked this in a Romertopf, a terra cotta clay baker.

It's a nice looking loaf, and I'm glad Sharon is enjoying it! It really brings home my long held belief that it isn't your recipe until you change it and make it yours! Good going Sharon, and thanks for sharing your photos!

I think that wraps things up, so until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how much you changed the recipe to make it yours! -Mike

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