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Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips Logo2019-11-24 I shoulda known better!

Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips

An ongoing debate in sourdough circles is how to treat your starter. And when obsessive types like me say things like, "A starter at room temperature should be fed twice a day", some more laid back people say things like, "Nah! I leave my starter out all the time. When I need it, I feed it, and it comes roaring back!"

I was going to bake last Thursday but "things happened", so I just left the starter at room temperature. Things cleared up so I could bake this Thursday. So, I ran the numbers in our starter feedup spreadsheet. It suggested I start feeding it Tuesday and that it would be ready Thursday morning. I took some of the abandoned starter, fed it Tuesday morning. Not much happened. Tuesday evening... same story. Wednesday morning, same-o same-o. Wednesday evening came the big feedup. And Thursday morning, zip, zilch, nothing burger. It was a Norwegian Blue. It was a flat cat (1), no resurrection had occurred.

I won't go so far as to say the "I just feed it when I need it and it takes off like a rocket" crowd are lying. Or even mistaken. Sourdough will, through unnatural selection, adapt to the conditions it is faced with. Some critters no doubt handle periods of starvation better then others. I've read there are fish eggs in the desert which hatch, mature and lay more eggs before the rain puddles from infrequent rain storms evaporate. The eggs can remain viable for years in the dried up puddles.

Still my view remains consistent with my system analyst's mantra, "it takes a consistent process to make a consistent product." Of course, the other side of that mantra is, if you don't like the product, you need to change the process, although it's not always obvious what needs to be changed.

And now, for something completely different. Last night I was snoozing in front of the TV. When I awakened one of the "Chicken and Biscuits " episodes was on. It featured a recipe for "Ultimate Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits". As a child of the South (2) I didn't know if I should be amazed or appalled!

They used a higher gluten flour, didn't cut in the fat, and cut square biscuits! They grated frozen butter and rolled and folded the dough a number of times to get layers. It just looked strange to this child of the south. So, this morning I had to try making the biscuits. They were amazing. The recipe is available here.

The biscuits were light and flaky, the outer layers were crisp, and interior was soft. We loved the layers and layers to them - like a biscuit version of puff pastry! And they get better as they cool. They aren't the light and fluffy buttermilk and soda biscuits I grew up loving in the South, but they have their own charms. If you can set aside your preconceived notions, you'll probably like them. Maybe a lot.

Two pro-tips. America's Test Kitchen is heavily monetized and much is hidden behind pay walls. However, you can sign up at no cost to view the current season's episodes and recipes with little more than your email address. They will try to get you to subscribe to their site to see more great stuff, or to try a free 7 day trial subscription. You can decline both offers.

Next, it is very easy to roll too much flour into the biscuit dough - use a light hand when you flour the dough as you roll it out.

Hey - if you try making these biscuits, let me know how they turned out for you.

Until next time, may your biscuits always rise, whether due to soft flour, buttermilk and soda or layers and layers of butter.
-Mike

(1) Oh, the flat cat story. When I lived in Austin someone ran over a cat on MoPac freeway. And nothing happened. No one removed the poor cat's carcass. Well, I can't say NOTHING happened, more people ran over the poor critter. Days went by. Weeks even. The cat was a flat cat. A local radio station heard about this and checked it out. They began giving morning updates on the state of the flat cat with day counts of how long the cat had been there. The final indignity was when the highway was re-striped and the person striping the road just casually striped over the cat. The day count was, if memory serves, in the 90's.

Austin is the capital of Texas and the headquarters of the Texas Highway Department. The morning when the radio guys commented on the striped flat cat was the morning when the head of the Texas Highway Department happened to tune in. To make a long story short, the head of the agency felt this was an embarrassment and the cat was removed from the highway that day. Alas, poor flat cat.

(2) "Child of the south". OK, I was born in Germany, and northern Germany at that. I lived in Michigan until I was in the 6th grade. And then we moved to Texas, which many would say isn't REALLY "the south". However, I DO love me some biscuits, biscuits and gravy, and all manner of southern food. So, how about "step-child of the south"?
-M

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