Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Is this white font on a dark blue background difficult to read? Should I change it? Does anyone actually read this but me?


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sourdough and yay 2009!

I celebrated this new year by baking bread, a whole lot of it. Last year for new years, one of my goals was to learn to bake bread, specifically sourdough. Toward that end, I began researching sourdough on January 1st, 2008 and mixed up my first sourdough starter on January 4th, 2008. It took a couple of weeks for it to get going and do its yeasty thing, but by mid January I was baking my first loaves of sourdough bread. A year of mostly frequent (but often infrequent) regular feedings later, along with the help of roommates while I was away in June, my sourdough is still alive and kicking and one year old!

I have mostly fed my sourdough with AP flour, usually King Arthur, because that's what I have on hand. I occasionally fed it with whole wheat flour, particularly when I wanted to give it a boost before baking or if I wanted to incorporate some whole wheat into a bread that didn't call for it in the recipe. I have also used rye flour recently, but more on that later.

I usually keep one jar or container of starter in the fridge as a reserve, that consists of just flour and water (and natural yeast of course). In addition, I'll often have another container of starter in the kitchen at room temperature that I'm building up for whatever kind of bread I'm next making. I'll also have separate containers for any other kind of stuff that I might want to add to the starter beyond just flour and water.

On the non-wheat front, I've added a few other things to the starter at various points to see how they would alter the resulting loaves. I have added potatoes (sliced thin) and potato water, I have added whey (leftover from making cheese), milk, sugar (never in a starter that I've kept), malted barley, and I think I'm going to try adding beer to one this week.

I sometimes try to let the water I use to feed the starter sit out so that the chlorine can evaporate and it can come to room temperature etc, but mostly I just use lukewarm tap water from the kitchen faucet. I know that there are sourdough purists out there who use only filtered spring water and stone ground organic wheat to feed their starters, but I don't really have the time, energy or money for that and my starter doesn't seem to be any worse for the wear because of it.

I also don't really regulate the water to flour proportions I use when feeding my starter. Many of the "authoritative" websites and books I've read obsessively monitor the different water to flour ratios they use to feed their starters and any effects each has on the bread. I honestly don't often measure when feeding my starter. There, I said it. I usually shoot for roughly equal parts flour and water (for a 100% hydrated starter), but that varies give or take a quarter cup in either direction.

The new reformed 2009 joe however, is trying to be much more scientific (read: anal) about his sourdough starter. I have been keeping track of the performance of my starter (how much it rises in a given time and at what temperature etc) as well as its hydration level. I started to do this for two reasons, the first being that the past year has had a great deal of ups and downs as far as my sourdough breads have been concerned and now that I've had my fun getting to know sourdough and playing with different things, I'd like to move toward establishing more control and regularity, so that I can consistently turn out good loaves of bread. The second reason is that I decided to celebrate the new year by attacking a set of recipes that specify certain hydration levels for starters as well as particular methods for activating and building up one's starter prior to actually using it in the recipe. They were all sourdough rye recipes, but I'm going to use a separate post to talk about those.

All in all, 2008 was a great year in which I baked dozens and dozens of loaves of bread, many of which were sourdough, a few of which turned out really well, and several of which were complete disasters. I was thinking of declaring 2009 the year in which I tackled some other baked good, both scones and muffins were in the running, but I haven't decided yet. For now, January has been a month of pushing my bread skills to the next level and actually taking the time to research and plan before baking and then learn something from the results of each loaf I make, as opposed to my the hell with it I never really measure baking is just for fun approach in 2008. So far, so good!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

12 Beers of Christmas Wrap-Up

Okay so I dropped the ball and didn't keep updating with reviews of the rest of the beers I tried over the holidays. I took notes on some of them if I was at home and bored, which I'll copy down here for the few I've missed, hopefully wrapping up the beer-themed posts.

Also, in beer news, Marge got our house a keg for Christmas! She's so thoughtful. So we now have the Berkshire Brewing Company's Coffeehouse Porter on tap. It's one of my all-time favorite beers and we had a pony keg of it last winter that went quickly. Having it on tap again is truly the gift that keeps on giving, for at least the next two weeks :D

12 Beers of Christmas

1. Thirsty Dog Brewing Company's Old Leghumper

2. Founders Breakfast Stout

3. Bell's Special Double Cream Stout

4. Columbus Brewing Company 1859 Porter

5. Moylan's Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale

6. Murphy’s Draught Style Stout

  • In a can with a widget for $1.80. I don’t know the official way to pour canned stouts with widgets, but I upended the whole thing into a pint glass and lifted it slowly out. It had a thick, cream tan head that stayed until I finished the beer. It had a very strong yeasty aroma and I could really smell the alcohol. The taste was surprisingly sweet and honeyed given the smell with sort of an oily mouthfeel that kind of coated and lingered on my tongue. Not entirely pleasant. It has a smooth, yeasty/bready taste and no hint of hops. A decent enough beer but probably wouldn’t get it again.

7. Bell’s Amber Ale

  • In a bottle ~$2. Poured a golden honey color with a thin head that left white lacing. It had a sweet, malty aroma with a hint of floral hops. Light mouthfeel, medium to high carbonation with a slightly bready aftertaste. It was a good, refreshing beer with a slight bitterniss of hops on the tip of the tongue balanced by an overall sweetness and lingering grainy taste. Very drinkable. I’m a definite fan of Bell’s.

8. Shiner Boch

  • Ew. I tried it because my dad brought it home. He had tried it because a coworker ordered it while they were on a business trip in Texas. It wasn’t any good.

9. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

  • I had this beer several times while I was home. My dad bought me a six pack and I had it on tap at the Vegiterranean, a vegan restaurant Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders opened in Akron, Ohio. (I should update about this lunch/place sometime). I’ve had a few of the GLB Co’s beers in the past couple of years and this is by far my favorite. I never took formal tasting notes, but this beer was consistently good.

aaaand! then i never finished this post. the holidays happened and then there was some traveling, and now i'm back in northampton and have moved on to other things, namely bread. so, the beer reviews will give way to some bread reviews for a while. hopefully completed posts.