Yogurt!

There’s always a lot of fermentation going on around here. Yeast is doing plenty of that work, but bacteria also get in on the action. Sourdough cultures contain — along with wild yeast — one or more strains of Lactobacillus, which produce the acids responsible for the “sour.” But lactobacilli like to ferment other things in addition to flour; they help turn cabbage into sauerkraut, cacao into chocolate, and apples into cider.

Then of course there’s milk, for which the bacteria were named in the first place. Lactobacilli love lactose (the sugar in milk), and the resulting yogurt loves us! Medical research suggests that regular consumption of yogurt, like other fermented foods, has beneficial effects on cholesterol, immune function, and digestive tract health (some references for these claims are listed below). Yogurt is also rich source of calcium and protein, and can often be enjoyed even by people who are lactose-intolerant.  Or you could forget all that and eat it just because it’s tangy and creamy and delicious.

In any case, the good news is that it’s simple to make your own. Heat the milk, add a little “starter” (store-bought yogurt or some of your own from the last batch), keep it warm for a few hours, and you’re done. No really, it’s that simple.

 I love my Brod and Taylor proofer for making yogurt. It maintains a constant and easily adjustable temperature, and you don’t need special containers like you do for a specialized  yogurt maker; any glass or ceramic jars will work, as long as they fit inside the roomy box. The yogurt-making method on Brod and Taylor’s website is easy, relatively fast, and yields a smooth, mild-flavored yogurt that has earned wonderful reviews from everyone I’ve fed it to. In fact, while I can’t tolerate the very sour flavor of plain store-bought yogurt, I can eat this without any accompaniment at all — although a sprinkling of muesli and a few raspberries certainly don’t hurt!

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National Doughnut Day!

Some people keep lists and calendars to remind themselves of food holidays: National Raisin Bran Cereal Day, International Nacho Day, Lobster Thermidor Day, and so on. I prefer to keep track of these things the way nature intended: by taking a morning peek at Facebook and noticing doughnuts everywhere. Doh! It’s national Doughnut Day! I was caught off-guard, but it was early in the day so I had time to recover.

I made baked yeasted doughnuts that you can really sink your teeth into. If you like those soft, lighter-than-air Krispy Kreme things, don’t make these. These are to those what Guinness Stout is to cotton candy (it’s also National Mixed Metaphor Day, by the way).

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Blueberry Sourdough Scones

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In baking school I learned that freezing scones prior to baking makes the dough easier to cut and helps them retain their shape during baking. At home I learned that it’s also a great way to have freshly-baked scones for Sunday morning breakfast.

I baked these in my minimalist sometime-weekend-kitchen. By minimalist I mean a kitchen in a town whose one market doesn’t carry parchment paper… a kitchen whose oven temperature I can only guess at… where you make do with the ingredients you have… where fingers substitute for a pastry brush… where the ellipsis has free rein…. But I still have the best 25-year-old Robot Coupe food processor in the world. A food processor is not absolutely necessary, but it makes short work of cutting the butter into the dry ingredients.

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Sesame Sourdough Bagels

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If you think these don’t look like the sesame bagels you’re used to seeing, you’re right. We love sesame bagels, but seed loss was putting us at risk for sprouting a sesame plantation right on the dining room rug.

Sesame Field 20020400 2 Although it is a unique and lovely look, we decided this wasn’t quite the decorating direction we wanted to be taking. The solution turned out to be simple: sesame seeds in the dough rather than on top of it. If you want to make a generic dough for several different toppings, this isn’t the way to go (try these bagels instead). But if you’re willing to commit to your sesame seeds, it works well.

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For maximally chewy bagels, remember to use high-gluten flour (or add extra gluten to your regular bread flour) and mix the dough until it’s very strong! Add the toasted, cooled sesame seeds to the dough once it’s fully mixed.

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Lazy Baking — Oat Bran Sourdough Muffins

It’s Tuesday night and I can’t make bagels. I want to make bagels, I have all the ingredients for bagels, and I love making bagels. But after putting in a full day of work, my energy is sapped and I can’t face rolling 18 bagels and then staying up for another three or four hours waiting to put them into the fridge overnight. What I need is to mix, bake, and go to bed. (Well, OK, I might sneak an episode of Breaking Bad in there somewhere.)

Mix, bake, sleep… sounds like muffins to me. Sourdough, of course. And using some of that big bag of oat bran that stares me in the face every time I look at the pantry shelf seems like a good idea, too. Sourdough oat bran muffins are not in my repertoire, but what the hell, I’ll just try something. At worst, I’ll have lost 30 minutes and 63 cents’ worth of oat bran, and I can go to bed saying I tried.

Believe me when I say a new recipe almost never works for me on the first attempt, but these are actually pretty good! They have the texture I appreciate in a muffin — coarse and chewy and nothing like a cupcake. The 15-muffin batch size is a bit unconventional, but I can live with that. And they’re rather plain looking, aren’t they?

But they really do taste very good, although I can imagine all sorts of ways they could be spruced up with the addition of nuts, fruits, spices, gumball machine rings, etc. What are your ideas? Share them in the comments, or better yet, bake up your own take on these very easy muffins and send me a photo and a link to your recipe (must include sourdough starter and oat bran!). If I have any takers, I’ll post them in a roundup in a couple of weeks.

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Cinnamon-Raisin Sourdough Bagels

There’s been a lot of bagel-making going on around here. More about that in a later post. These cinnamon-raisin bagels are a lot like the blueberry bagels, only with raisins. And cinnamon. Go figure.

And speaking of figures — at 85 grams, these bagels a little smaller than the 100-gram ones I’ve been doing recently. The missing 15 grams doesn’t seem to make the bagel appreciably smaller, but if I’m eating one every day (and I might be), those eliminated grams should eliminate more than three pounds from my waistline over the course of a year.

I guessed at how much cinnamon to add to the dough. It wasn’t a bad guess, but if you like your bagels really cinnamon-y, I think you could double the amount and still be in the ballpark. The bagelpark? Whatever.

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