The Bluebells of Scotland

Today, we did a first for Amy. She drove the rental car onto the ferry to the Isle of Arran, off Scotland’s west coast . It’s tricker than it seems, especially when the guys guiding you on get impatient and you’re driving on the wrong side of everything! But she did great. It was raining, so the pictures aren’t that great, but I have a funny video.

When we landed on Arran at Brodick, where we’re staying, we had a little time to kill, so we went shopping on the high street. Yes, we bought things. I’m coming home with a Scottish Gardens 2020 calendar and a new purse backpack, a gift from Amy, Amy bought some lovely sweaters, and DeAnna found several things, including a cute blouse. Oh, and I had to buy a pair of gloves, because I forgot mine.

It was good that I had the gloves because they kept my hands warm even when they got wet. We’d planned to go see Brodick Castle this afternoon, but by the time our self-catering flat was ready, we’d unloaded and shopped and had lunch, it was getting late, and the castle was only going to be open another half hour. It was a bit pricey for so little time, as the kind woman at the gate warned us, so we decided to skip the castle and try to find a spot we’d heard about and seen pictures of, Glen Rosa Falls.

After some U-turns and a little cursing at SatNav, we found the cart track to the parking area. It was raining steadily, but we had rain jackets and good boots and shoes. We thought we’d be fine. There were lots of other hikers returning from their hikes up the river or up on Goatfell, and we asked some knowledgeable-looking men about tge falls. They didn’t have a clue. But we were sure, so we set off on the muddy track in the only direction we could go. We’d gone about a half-mile when we met another couple of returning hikers who told us we were on the right path, and we were about a mile away. We’d been enjoying a lovely meander up to that point, photographing wild bluebells, foxglove, flowering trees, shrubs, berries, moss, ferns, lichen, rocks, the river, the mountain, pretty much everything in sight, and getting soaked. I mean WET.

So, a mile farther. DeAnna said, “Hey, we’ve come this far, and we’re already wet. We might as well go on.” And we were so glad we did, although we were thoroughly soggy, actually dripping, when we made it back to the car, and the flat is draped with half-dried jackets, jeans, hats, gloves, and boots. We hope they’re dried by morning, because we plan another hike to Machrie Moor stone circles. It’ll be about the same length, maybe a bit shorter than the one today. I had my walking sticks, and they helped me do three miles today, which is really good for me. My knee is telling me about it, and my neck aches from the pull of my  sodden backpack, but my back is no worse than usual.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow.  But we are getting a real taste of Scotland, and we love it. The destination of our hike in the rain today, Glen Rosa Falls, was worth the drenching

I still haven’t figured out how to post photos from my phone here, so there will be some on my Jean L. French Facebook page in the comments of the link to the blog post.


Glasgow and Ardrossan

As usual when I travel, it’s the people of a place as much as the place itself that captures my heart. My special assistant at the Glasgow airport, George, was so sweet and kind, we almost brought him with us to Ardrossan. It was a beautiful day when we landed, and when I commented on the weather, he said. “Scotland has 10 months of bad weather every year. And then it’s winter.” He made me laugh, and he enjoyed my laughter. He told me that Jeanie is a very Scottish name! Yep, I fell for George.

Amy got us safely to Ardrossan, about a 45 minute drive from the airport. We have a diesel Volvo with SatNav for our rental car. We weren’t supposed to have SatNav, but the Lord provided, and we didn’t pay extra! The Hertz rental car people were very nice and helped Amy get comfortable in the car.

I couldn’t get any good pictures from the moving car, but it was beautiful on our drive west to the coast.

Our hosts at Burnfoot House B & B in Ardrossan are wonderful, so kind and helpful. We definitely landed in a good spot!

On our way to dinner, a sign caught my eye. I still haven’t figured out how to post pictures here from my phone, so I’ll post them in comments when the blog posts on my Jean L French Facebook page.

We have a big adventure planned for tomorrow! For now, it’s time to sleep .



Recipes, sourdough

Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

I call this recipe and my sourdough discard cinnamon roll recipe “cheater” because I add yeast to my sourdough starter discard so that I can make a quick yeast bread, use up my discard, and get that sourdough flavor without the wait for the 12 hour bulk rise.  For the cinnamon roll recipe, click on Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls.

I love raisin bread for breakfast toast.  It was a childhood treat, not indulged in very often, because there wasn’t enough money in the grocery budget for many treats.  Now that I have sourdough discard to use up, I’ve been experimenting with ways to use the discard in things I make anyway, Sourdough Pancakes and Waffles (which I just realized I’ve never posted a recipe for!) Sourdough Rolls, and Sourdough Snickerdoodles, Sourdough Pasta Noodles, and Sourdough Battered Onion rings.  The recipes for these three appeared some time ago in a post called Sourdough Fun. And I’ve finally posted the recipe and technique I use for getting a good loaf of Stand Mixer Sourdough Bread for sandwiches and toast, without having to use a bunch of expensive equipment like fancy Dutch ovens, bannetons for raising the bread, or a baking stone.  Feeding the starter for 10-12 hours for the bread is what leads to the discard, and the need to use the discard is what leads to all these other fun baked goods, including the recipe below.

Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

2 cups of sourdough starter discard (it doesn’t have to be freshly fed)

2 teaspoons of instant yeast

½ cup milk (I use milk kefir because I’m lactose-intolerant)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup softened butter or butter substitute OR 1/4 cup of good quality cooking oil

1 teaspoon salt

Beat all these ingredients together in a mixing bowl until well combined. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook.)

Additional ingredients:

Bread flour (can be all white or mix of white and whole wheat, or all whole grains)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ cup raisins

To the batter in the bowl, add the cinnamon and approximately 3 ½ cups flour, ½ cup at a time.  It works best if you stir the cinnamon into the first half cup of flour, so it disperses without clumping. Use your stand mixer with the dough hook to work enough of the flour in until you have a dough that just cleans the bowl as the hook rotates the dough ball.  Add the raisins and mix to combine.

Use the stand mixer and dough hook to knead the dough on a low-medium speed for about 5 minutes.  After that, hand-knead on a lightly-floured board, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about another 5 minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl or lidded container with a bit of mild-flavored oil, and place dough ball inside, turning to coat the top with the oil. (Too much oil in the container and on the dough will retard the rise.) Cover the dough with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap or shower cap and place in a warm spot to double. With instant yeast, the dough will double in size in about 1 ½  – 2hours.  With whole wheat flour, doubling might take as much as 3 hours, and your finished loaf will be a little heavier than an all white flour bread.

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If you don’t have a stand mixer, all the mixing can be done by hand.  You’ll be mixing and kneading for about 10 minutes, or until dough is elastic and a knuckle dimple pressed into the kneaded dough springs back.

Prepare your bread pan, standard size for bread (or two smaller pans, if you wish), by greasing them with a solid fat like butter, butter substitute, or shortening.  Oiling the pan tends to make the bread stick, unless you are using an oil with a smoke point of 490 or 500 F. (Avocado oil and avocado blends are okay.) To shape, turn the dough out onto a floured board and press down gently to get the air out of the dough.  Shape the dough by pressing it into a rectangle just slightly longer than your pan.  Fold one third of the rectangle over to the middle, then fold the other third back over the first.  Pinch the seam together, and poke the ends of the loaf inside the folds or underneath them and pinch to seal.  Your loaf should be the same size or slightly shorter than the length of your pan.  You can brush the top of the dough with a very small amount of oil to keep it moist, if you wish.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise.

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The dough should double within 30-60 minutes. (Again, whole wheat takes a little longer, but I was surprised by the rise I got on the loaf in all these pictures.  It was nearly all stone-ground whole wheat, with just about 1/4 cup of white bread flour added.)

When the dough has risen, place an oven rack on the next to lowest support, and heat the oven to 425 F. (A knuckle or fingertip pressed into the dough should leave a dimple that doesn’t spring back.) Remove the plastic and cut a slash lengthwise down the top of the loaf. This allows steam to escape and encourages oven spring.

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Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then check to see if it’s done.  It will be pretty brown because of the sugar content, and you have to watch carefully to keep it from burning.  You can lower the heat to 375 after 20 minutes if your loaf is browning too quickly but you don’t think it’s done. It should not take more than 30 minutes total baking time.

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Turn the loaf immediately out of the pan and onto a cooling rack.  Do not cut the loaf until it has cooled at least an hour.  Because this is a sweet bread, I recommend storing it in a plastic bag in the fridge if it isn’t gone in a few days! It might mold on the counter sooner than ordinary sourdough bread does.

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I like this bread best toasted for breakfast, although a slightly warm heel slathered in butter is a good thing with a cup of milky tea in the afternoon.

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Stand Mixer Sourdough Bread

I’ve been putting off writing this post, hoping I’d get good enough at making sourdough bread that I could show off some beautiful, fancy-looking loaves.  I’ve made some decent-looking bread (it all tastes delicious), but I’ve not achieved that bakery-standard look I so admire in the pictures on the sourdough group I belong to on Facebook.  However, my loaves are certainly serviceable, and I’ve decided to write down my recipe and my method now, because my sister is going to need it.

If you read my recent sourdough posts, you’ll know that my sister, Goldie, gave me a dehydrated heirloom starter she’d had in her kitchen drawer for about 5 years.  This was Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter, which you can obtain for yourself by searching online for his name.  I activated the starter, fed it up, and started baking with it.  I finally got it strong enough again to bake bread with, so at that point, I passed a jar of Carl 1847 back to my sister, so she could begin her own sourdough adventures.

In the two or three years since I started baking sourdough bread, I’ve tried a bunch of different recipes and techniques.  I want to discuss some of these before I give you the recipe and my technique, in the interests of passing along more information.  More information is always better, so you can pick and choose what you want to try.  I have settled on the Breadtopia no-knead sourdough bread recipe as the most consistent for me, although I’ve had to experiment with it using different flours. The recipe that follows is the Breadtopia recipe, with my own personal tweaks.  I do weigh my flour, but if you look up the recipe on the Breadtopia website, you’ll see the approximate flour measurement in cups. In a way, I think measuring in cups and adding the flour slowly as you work it to get a dough that feels right is probably better than measuring and adding it all in at one time.  The main thing is to get dough of good consistency, but it’s hard to determine that with sourdough.  Sourdough tends to be sticky and loose, and you don’t knead it in the traditional way of yeast breads.  Instead, you use a stretch and fold technique.  There are lots of videos of this on You Tube and also on the Breadtopia website. ( I do recommend this website for tips and recipes.) Because of my arthritic hands, and because I tend to be working my dough late at night after mixing, I devised my own method of stretch-and-fold, using my stand mixer.

Most recipes for no-knead sourdough, including Breadtopia’s, call for putting the dough in a lidded bowl or container for a bulk rise in a warmish place for 10-12 hours (or you can do it for 48 hours or longer in the fridge if you want or need to slow down the bulk rise and get a tangier, more sour flavor).  I’ve learned that the first rise needs to double the dough, but for me, it works best to not let the dough rise past the point of doubling the first time.  In my house, by the heating stove in the winter (but not so close that the container of dough gets too warm and over-ferments), this takes about 10 hours.  It’s about 72-74 degrees in that spot. I think 68 to 74 degrees is ideal, and the cooler end of that range is actually better, although it might take a little longer.  Better to take a little longer than to over-ferment the dough, which leads to a stickier dough that becomes nearly impossible to work and won’t rise properly when baked.  In the summer, I put the container of dough in the laundry room, where it’s about 70 degrees, and it takes about 12 hours.  The colder the temperature in the room, the longer it will take to double the dough in the first rise (or first proof, as some bakers say, or bulk rise or ferment; you’ll see these terms used interchangeably in the videos, blogs, and websites about sourdough and bread-baking in general).

The other thing about the no-knead method is that because the dough is loose, and it will be looser after the first/bulk rise, when the flour has had 10-12 hours to absorb the liquid, it can be hard to shape.  Or rather, once it is shaped, it tends to spread rather than rise up in the second proof.  Traditional methods for dealing with this are the use of a proofing basket, or banneton, in which the dough would rise after shaping; then, it would be turned into a hot Dutch oven and placed in a hot oven to bake.  I bought two Dutch ovens, porcelain over cast iron, one large, one small, hoping to improve somehow the look and rise of my loaves.  I got a few decent loaves out of this method, but usually, when I would turn the banneton over to dislodge the risen boule into the Dutch oven, it would deflate, and I’d end up with a flat, heavy loaf. So disappointing!  In short, I spent over $100 in equipment for making sourdough which I no longer use because I have worked out other methods which require no special equipment and which produce better results for me.

I have also baked sourdough in bread pans.  I don’t like the result as much as I do using my method below.  I find the dough doesn’t rise as well for me.  I have a hunch I might have been oiling my pans too heavily, so the dough had no way to climb as it tried to rise.  So if I try bread pans again, I’ll use a solid fat, like shortening, to grease the pans.  Also, I think I was baking in pans at too low a temperature, about 375 F, and I think 425 F might work out better, baking on the next to lowest rack in the oven, but I have not yet tested these theories. Below is a picture of a sourdough loaf baked in a bread pan at 375 F (surrounded by sourdough discard biscuits, which I covered in another post.”

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The recipe and technique that follows is what I’ve developed that works most of the time for me. (I haven’t found any method or recipe that isn’t sometimes adversely affected by temperature, humidity, and differences in flour.) I don’t guarantee this method will work for you.  But if you’re interested in making sourdough without buying a bunch of stuff, you might want to try this method.  By the way, I call this stand mixer sourdough bread because I use my stand mixer for the bulk of the work, but you can do this by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer.  Again, watch the videos on Breadtopia for the hand mixing and folding and stretching and shaping.

Stand-Mixer Sourdough Bread

¼ cup bubbly, active sourdough starter (which should have been fed between 3-4 hours previously) *See note

1½ cups unchlorinated water

1 ¼ teaspoons of kosher or sea salt

16 ounces of bread flour *See note

In the bowl of the stand mixer, stir together the starter and water until completely mixed. Using the dough hook, mix in the flour and salt until a thick, sticky dough forms and the flour looks mixed in. This dough will not look like traditional yeasted dough, which cleans the bowl of the stand mixer with the dough ball as it rotates.  This dough will stick to the sides of the bowl.  Scrape the dough from the hook attachment back into the bowl. (If you are mixing by hand, and as most great bakers will tell you, mixing by hand is a good idea because that’s how you learn the feel of the dough, just work the dough in the bowl until all the flour is mixed in.)  Cover the bowl with a plastic shower cap, or a sheet of plastic wrap secured by a big rubber band, and leave it to rest for 20 minutes.  (This is called the autolyze period, when the flour is allowed to absorb the liquid.)  Then, with the dough hook on the stand mixer, mix for about 8 seconds on the lowest setting. Scrape the dough from the dough hook back into the bowl, and cover again.  Set the timer for 20 minutes, and then repeat the 8 second mix on the lowest speed.  Do this twice more, so that you have mixed three times in an hour.  After the third mix, you will notice that that sticky, almost battery dough has thickened up considerably and become much more dough-like and stretchy. The stretchiness indicates that gluten has built up in the dough.  Gluten is a protein that gives the dough enough strength to hold a shape as it rises and bakes.  This whole stand mixer process takes the place of the by-hand stretch-and-fold process you can learn about on You Tube and Breadtopia.  I have no doubt that doing it by hand is actually a better way, but I had to find a way to minimize stress on my hands, and this stand mixer method works. Here are pictures of two different doughs with different flours, made exactly the same way.  You can see how much difference the flour makes.  These are ready for their bulk ferment, after I snap lids on.

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Now it’s time for the first or bulk rise.  Transfer the dough to a container with an airtight lid.  I typically don’t like to store any ferment in plastic, but I found that using these square containers that once had frozen mini-cream puffs and eclairs in them is perfect.  The lids snap down tight, pushing out the air, and there’s plenty of room for the dough to rise.  If you don’t have a container like this, you can use the bowl of the stand mixer covered in plastic wrap with a rubber band to keep it air tight.  Or you can use a clean shower cap with a tight elastic band.  Or any sort of Tupperware-type container with an airtight lid.  Just make sure that the dough has plenty of room to double.  Put the lidded container in a warmish, not hot, place to rise for 10-12 hours. (I do my starter feedings during the day, 3 at 3-4 hour intervals, then mix my dough at night and let it bulk rise all night, so I can shape, rise, and bake in the morning.) This is a picture of a seven-grain starter dough and a heritage whole grain wheat dough after their overnight bulk rise.

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After the dough has doubled in the first/bulk rise, it’s time to shape.  This is where I depart a little from most of the websites.  Because I don’t use a banneton any more for the second rise, I work my dough a bit more than most expert bakers advise.  I dump and scrape the dough out of the proofing container onto a fairly heavily floured board.  I stretch and fold (stretch-knead) the dough until it begins to hold a shape, adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to the board.  When it holds a mound shape when I take my hands off it, then I can do the final shaping.  I”ve come to prefer a long loaf shape to a round boule shape (I think the loaf shape works better for sandwiches, and it fits in the toaster), so I stretch and flatten my dough into a rectangle, then fold it into thirds, one third to the middle, the second third folded over the first.  Pinch the seam to seal the loaf, roll it over onto the seam, and push the ends of the loaf inside or under the folds and pinch to seal.  Then let the loaf sit and rest while you prepare the pan.  Make sure there’s a little flour under the loaf on the board, or you might have to use a bench scraper to pick it up.

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While your loaf is resting, prepare your baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, I brush on a little oil with a high smoke point; that is, it won’t burn or turn sticky in the oven at a high baking temperature.  I use a baking oil or avocado oil (I get them both cheap at Grocery Outlet) with smoke points above 450 F.  I brush the oil only where the loaf will rest as it rises and doubles, and around that edge, I sprinkle cornmeal, in case the loaf spreads beyond the oiled section.  You can go the no-oil route like Paul Hollywood, and just use cornmeal sprinkled on the pan, but I’ve never been brave enough. I used to sprinkle cornmeal over the oil, but it makes a mess on the bread board when you slice the bread, so now I just use the cornmeal around the oil. At this point, I check my loaf.  If it has lost shape while I was preparing the pan, I know I should probably work a little more flour into it, stretching and folding and gently kneading, and re-shape it into the loaf.  This is why I prepare my pan after shaping, so I can see how the dough is reacting as it rests.

Move the dough onto the pan in the center of the oiled shape, and use the leftover oil on the brush to oil the top and sides of the loaf. I have also begun to slash the dough down the center at this point to allow the dough to move up, not out, and to release any surface air bubbles.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap.  I make a little tent on top, so the dough has room to expand upwards.  I then use my two wooden rolling pins to block the sides of the loaf, on top of the edges of the plastic, to keep the loaf from spreading and becoming too flat.  Large glasses would also work, or anything large and round that will force the dough up and keep it from spreading out.  This method circumvents the need for a loaf-shaped banneton for the second rise/proof, and prevents what was, for me, the almost-inevitable collapse of my loaf upon transfer from the banneton.

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My bread typically needs at least two hours, often three, to double again.  I like to do this second rise/proof in a cooler environment, because I’ve found that if I proof the shaped loaf in a warm environment, I get more spreading than rising, resulting in a flatter loaf.  When the bread has doubled, however long it takes, it’s time to bake.  One test of whether a loaf is ready to bake is to push your fingertip, or knuckle if you have long nails, lightly into the dough.  If it leaves an indentation and doesn’t spring back, the dough is ready to bake. You can see in this picture that the dough has risen to fill the little tent of plastic wrap I made for it in the picture above.

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Heat the oven to 450 F.  Make sure your baking sheet is rated for that temperature.  If you don’t know or aren’t sure, reduce the temperature to 425 F.  Most cookie sheets will handle 425 F.  I use a stainless steel baking sheet that is good to 450 F, and I like the result of baking the bread at that temperature, but I have baked at 425 F. 425 F will produce a softer, lighter crust.  Here’s a picture of a loaf baked at that temperature, followed by one baked at 450 F.

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Remove the rolling pins or glasses and plastic wrap.  Using a bread lame or razor blade (or extremely sharp knife), score the bread about a quarter-inch deep either lengthwise down the loaf, or in about 5 slashes diagonally across the loaf, whichever you prefer.  This allows the steam in the dough to push the dough up as the bread bakes. It’s called oven spring, and you want it, because that is what gives your bread a light crumb.  If you don’t score the top of your dough, your loaf will likely explode out the side, which makes for an uneven look, although the bread will still be edible, of course.  Don’t score until the loaf is ready to go into the hot oven.  When you get good at scoring, which I am not, you can get fancy with the designs you cut into the top of your loaf, and they will show after baking.

Place your loaf into the middle of the hot oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.  At 450 F, your loaf will be perfectly baked.  At 425 F, you might need to give it another 5 minutes. Immediately remove the loaf from the baking sheet using metal spatula or two, and place on a cooling rack.  Cool at least one hour before cutting.  If you cut the loaf while the bread is too warm, it can become gummy, and it will dry out much faster.  I eat the bread fresh for the first few days until it starts to get a little dry, then I start toasting it.  It makes the best toast!

Some people store the cut loaf with the cut end against a wooden cutting board because they don’t like plastic.  I don’t, because I find the whole loaf (there is no fat in it to keep it moist) dries out too much exposed to our arid air. I put my completely cooled loaves into plastic Ziploc bags.  I buy the two gallon size so the loaf fits entirely inside, and I can leave it on the counter that way for as long as a week with no mold appearing.  After a week, I usually put the bread in the fridge if I haven’t used it up already, or I slice the loaf and freeze the slices for toast.


Feeding your starter:  It’s generally accepted that to get your starter in the best possible shape for rising a loaf of bread, you need to feed it three times in a 12 hour period before you mix the starter into the bread ingredients.  I have cut that down to three times in 10 hours by reducing the time between second and third feedings to 3 hours instead of 4 hours.  I always let my starter feed for 4 hours in the first feeding of the day because I have taken it from the fridge and it’s cold.  It needs to warm up a bit to start eating the carbohydrates in the flour. I always use warm, not hot, water for that first feeding and put the container in a warm place.  After that first feeding, tepid water is fine, and I can shorten the time between second and third feedings if I want to, so that I’m not mixing dough at midnight. Here are two bubbly starters before stirring down to measure for baking.

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Types of flour:

Always use some kind of bread/strong flour, not all purpose flour.  Bread flour is high-gluten flour, and your bread needs gluten to hold its shape.  In the recipe above, I use 8 oz. of organic, strong, unbleached white bread flour, and 8 oz. of an organic whole grain bread flour, sometimes hard white winter wheat, and sometimes a mixture of that and another heritage or ancient grain, like Einkorn or Kamut flour.  You can play with percentages of this flour and that, but be prepared for a few failures along the way.  I’ve found that types of flours and proofing temperature are the two variables that can really affect success or failure, and it’s taken a lot of experimentation for me to figure out what ratios work for me. Expect to experiment yourself to find what works for you.

And remember, experiments are edible.  You can always make bread cubes, bread crumbs, salad croutons, or bread pudding with a loaf that doesn’t live up to your expectations for sliced bread.

I love making my own bread.  It’s time-consuming, but the results are worth it, to me.  I can eat my own bread without gaining weight.  Store bought bread always produced a weight gain, but since I have been making sourdough, my weight has stabilized.  I can’t say I’ve lost weight, but when I am sensible and don’t eat more than a couple of pieces of sourdough a day, I don’t gain weight.  This is simple bread, just flour, water, and salt.  The starter is just flour and water in which natural yeasts have developed.  If you use organic flours, as I do, there is no cleaner bread in the world. No sugar, no fats, no dough conditioners.  You can make it more complicated if you want to, and you can spend money on bannetons and Dutch ovens, but if you don’t have to, why would you want to?



Desserts, Fermenting, Leftovers, Recipes

Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

I call these rolls “cheater” because I use yeast in them.  They’re made with my sourdough discard, left from feeding my starters three times in a 12 hour period before I use the starter to make bread.  Each time you feed a starter, you’re supposed to discard half of the mixture from the previous feeding, so your starter can consume the flour easily and get happy and strong and bubbly.

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That’s how starter needs to be before making bread, but for these rolls, you can put your discard in a covered bowl and leave it overnight without feeding, if you wish, before you start the cinnamon roll dough.  That’s because of the addition of instant yeast, and that’s the cheat. I dump my white, whole wheat, and seven grain starter discard together, and that’s what I use to make my cinnamon rolls and other discard goodies.

Instant yeast is great.  I buy it in bulk at Winco.  For those like me who grew up with the little red-and-yellow packets of regular yeast that you were supposed to activate in warm water or milk with a little sugar, to make sure it was bubbly before you started making dough with it, instant yeast is like magic.  You don’t have to add it to warm liquid.  You don’t even have to add it to liquid first.  So this recipe is easy, fast, and still has the sourdough taste from the starter without the wait. (Sourdough typically takes 8-12 hours to double.)

The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can play not only fast with it, but loose.  I have used 3 cups of sourdough discard, pretty much the same amount of the other ingredients, and have just added enough flour to get a workable, kneadable dough, however much flour that turns out to be.  I ended up with about 30 cinnamon rolls that time.  But usually, I have about 2 cups of starter discard left, so these are the approximate amounts I use.  I’ve been winging it for several batches now, but the last two times, I thought I’d measure so I could write up a recipe. They always turn out tasty no matter what I do.

Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups of sourdough starter discard (it doesn’t have to be freshly fed)

2 teaspoons of instant yeast

½ cup milk (I use milk kefir because I’m lactose-intolerant)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup softened butter or butter substitute (I use MELT because I’m lactose intolerant)

1 teaspoon salt

Beat all these ingredients together in a mixing bowl until well combined. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook.)

Add approximately 3 to 3 ½ cups flour, ½ cup at a time.  When you can’t use a hand mixer any more, use your hands to work in the flour, or use your stand mixer with the dough hook to work the flour in until you have a dough that just cleans the bowl.  I then use my stand mixer to knead the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes.  After that, I hand-knead on a lightly-floured board, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about another 5 minutes. If you’re doing it all by hand, you’ll be mixing and kneading for about 10 minutes.  (This is too much for my arthritic hands, so my stand mixer has been a Godsend.) Shape the dough into a round ball.

Now, just a little dough lesson here.  Press your fingertip into the dough ball.  (Use your knuckle if you have long fingernails.) Your finger should leave an indentation for a moment, but the dough should spring back and the dent should disappear.  That’s the quality of elasticity you want, and it tells you your dough has been kneaded sufficiently to develop the gluten that holds breads together. Take note of this for later, because you’ll want to see just the reverse after the first proof.

Lightly oil a bowl or lidded container with a bit of mild-flavored oil, and place dough ball inside, turning to coat the top with the oil. (I use a square, plastic container with an airtight lid.  I like the shape because when I turn the dough out to roll it, it’s closer to the rectangular shape I want.)

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Cover the dough with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap or shower cap and place in a warm spot to double. With instant yeast, the dough will double in size in about 1 ½ hours.

(See, cheater!  Regular sourdough would take at least 8 hours, maybe longer.  I’m willing to wait for bread, but I want the cinnamon rolls done before the grandkids get home from school!)

While the dough is rising, prepare ingredients for filling; prepare your pan/s.

Ingredients for filling:

Soften ¼-1/3 cup butter or butter substitute (how much butter you use is up to you, and also depends on how much dough you have.)

Mix approximately ½ cup sugar with 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (again, it depends on personal taste and how much dough you have.  You might need more cinnamon sugar if you have a big batch of dough.)

Grease a 9×13 inch pan with butter, shortening, or cooking spray.  (I use the paper that was wrapped around my MELT butter substitute and a little baking oil if necessary.)

When the dough looks like it’s doubled, press your fingertip or knuckle lightly into the center of the dough mass.  Unlike the last time, your finger should leave an indentation in the dough.  The dough should not spring back into shape.

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That tells you the dough has risen enough to go on to shaping your rolls.  (If the dough is still springy, leave it to rise longer but check about every 15 minutes.)  If the dough is ready, press the dough back lightly into the container with your knuckles and turn/scrape out onto a floured board.  How much flour you need depends on how sticky your dough is. You’ll be able to tell when you press down the dough if it is sticky or not. Never use more flour on your board than necessary to keep the dough from sticking at this stage. (Sourdough doughs tend to be sticky.  How sticky your dough is depends largely on the qualities of your particular starter. )

Pull and stretch your dough into a roughly rectangular shape, then use a floured rolling pin to roll it smooth and straight.  I usually roll mine out to about ¼ inch thickness.  Spread the softened butter over the dough, keeping it at least ¼ inch away from the edges.  Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter, keeping it away from the edges.  Then it’s time to roll.

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I roll away from me.  Some people like to roll toward them.  Do what feels natural to you. Starting on one lengthwise edge, roll as tightly as you can toward the other edge.  When you get to the end of the roll, pinch the dough together tightly with your fingertips all along the length of the roll to seal it.  Sometimes it helps to moisten the edge of the dough slightly or moisten your fingertips, especially if you’ve put too much flour on your board!  Make sure there is flour on the board where the seam is going to land when you turn the roll onto the seam.  Push the ends of the dough into the tube you’ve made, and pinch them to seal, again with moistened fingers, if necessary. Now you’re ready to slice.

I always used to cut my cinnamon rolls with my sharpest knife, but I learned about string cutting on The Great British Baking Show, and it really does work better.  Cut a length of cotton string or dental floss long enough to wrap around the roll a couple of times.  Using a knife or bench scraper, mark your cuts by pressing lightly into the roll about 1 ½ inches apart. Slide the string under the roll to the first mark, bring the two ends up and cross them, and pull on the ends with equal pressure at the same time.

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The string cuts evenly all the way around and through without the distorting pressure of the knife, and your cinnamon rolls will be rounder.  As you cut each roll, place it in the prepared pan with sides just touching.  (You may need an extra pan if you made a lot of dough.  I sometimes use a small bread pan for just two or three extra rolls that won’t fit in the big pan.) Don’t overcrowd the pan.  The rolls won’t rise or bake well if they don’t have room to grow.  I can usually fit 18 at the most in the 13×9 inch cake pan.

Cover your pan of rolls with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to double again.  This should only take about 30 minutes.  When rolls have doubled, preheat your oven to 375 F and bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

Mix vanilla glaze, if desired.  Drizzle over rolls when they are cooled but still slightly warm, so the glaze soaks in a little bit.

Vanilla glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 teaspoons milk

Add the milk one teaspoon at a time to the powdered sugar and vanilla, beating hard with a spoon, until you get a thick, but pourable glaze.  Drizzle with the spoon over the rolls until you’ve got the amount of glaze you like. Now, some people I know make double the glaze and really glop it on!  That’s okay, if you like them that way.  Other people make a cream cheese frosting.  I’m something of a purist.  A cinnamon roll is all about the sweet roll dough and the cinnamon for me, so I like a light, drizzled glaze best.  I want the cinnamon to be the star of the show, and in these rolls, it is.

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Note:  The last time I made these, I was out of powdered sugar, so I made a honey-caramel syrup with about ½ cup of water and ¾ cup of sugar, boiled together until just starting to thicken and take color, and then I added about ¼ cup of honey and a teaspoon of cinnamon.  (The honey keeps the caramel syrup from hardening.) I poured that shiny glaze over the cinnamon rolls, and it kept them really moist during the week it took Dennis to eat them all.  Later, I wished I’d used my vanilla sugar instead of plain sugar in the syrup.  Next time!

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Desserts, Recipes

Coconut Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

March 4, 2019:  An update on this recipe.  I have tried reducing the amount of coconut oil in the original recipe by 2 ounces, and it works fine, with no need to “drain” the cookies on paper toweling overnight.  I also adjusted the amount of buttermilk or kefir in the recipe to account for the change in the amount of coconut oil.  Both changes have been made to the updated recipe below.  I’ve also made a note about about a variation using dark chocolate chips instead of white chocolate chips.  Very good!

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I’m laughing at the title of this post!  These cookies are made with coconut oil instead of butter.  I have become lactose-intolerant, and butter really bothers me.  I wanted to see if I could substitute coconut oil for butter in my favorite cookie recipe.  I did a little research first on baking with coconut oil and making substitutions, and then I tried a batch.  Success!  I made these first for Thanksgiving and posted them on my Facebook timeline.  I had several calls for the recipe, but I wanted to test it one more time before I posted it.  I thought I might make some tweaks.  However, when I took the cookies to my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, everybody said, “Don’t change a thing!  They’re perfect as is!” My son-in-law’s brother couldn’t stop eating them.  He said, “These are the best cookies I have ever tasted.”

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So here they are.  I did make one small tweak. I increased the amount of white chocolate chips slightly.  I only had ½ cup of them when I made the cookies the first time.  I should note that this recipe is just an adaptation of another recipe, my favorite basic cookie recipe which I use for chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, white chocolate and pistachio nut oatmeal cookies, black and white chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, M & M oatmeal cookies, raisin and spice oatmeal cookies, and other variations.  For that basic recipe, see my previous post, Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Variations. The beauty of this recipe is that variations are endless.  It produces a thin cookie with a soft chew when warm that crisps up as it cools.  With coconut oil instead of butter, the crisp is instant.

These directions are for using a stand mixer.  Alter as needed for a hand mixer and wooden spoon. It is also necessary to weigh the coconut oil on a kitchen scale.  If you don’t have one, get yourself one for Christmas!  I love mine.

Coconut-Cranberry-White Chocolate-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies (updated)

(Makes 3-4 dozen cookies)

8 ounces room temperature coconut oil (softened)

3 tablespoons buttermilk or milk kefir (See note)

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups of old-fashioned oats (See note)

1 ½ cups dried cranberries

½ cup flaked coconut

¾ cup white chocolate chips (or vanilla baking chips)

1 cup chopped pecans

In the stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the coconut oil until smooth and creamy.  Beat in the sugars until well mixed.  Beat in the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add 1 cup of flour and beat.  To the other ½ cup of flour, add the salt and baking soda and mix together with a spoon.  Mix well into the cookie mixture.  Add the oats one cup at a time, mixing on low.

With the mixer on low, mix in the cranberries, coconut, baking chips, and nuts.  This will be a pretty stiff mixture, so if you don’t have a stand mixer, you will probably be mixing with a wooden spoon at this point, because a hand mixer won’t do it.  (And that’s why I asked for a stand mixer for Christmas one year!)

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Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a soup spoon (we called these table spoons in my day, which led to some confusion), gather a spoonful of dough and press it against the side of the bowl as you draw it up the side.  This presses the dough together, and you get a more uniform load.  You want a slightly rounded spoonful.

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These cookies don’t bake quite the same as those made with butter, so you don’t want to make big cookies with this recipe.  Scrape the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and press down on the cookie dough with the back of the spoon to flatten the dough ball a little.  Leave about 2 inches of room between cookies.  I have large cookie sheets, and I get a dozen cookies per sheet without them running together.

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Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are browned, the cookies have flattened out, and the centers look set.  (They’ll puff up as they are heating up, but should flatten when done.)  Pull the cookies out and leave them at least a minute on the cookie sheet to cool slightly and set before you remove them with a flat spatula to a cooling rack.  These cookies need to be completely cool before you store them.

Some things to note:  My original cookie recipe uses butter and baking soda.  The baking soda reacts with the butter to give a little rise and a good texture.  Coconut oil is not as acidic as butter, and it doesn’t contain the water that butter does.  I read that when subbing coconut oil for butter, it’s good to use a little milk to add moisture the butter would otherwise provide.  But as I looked at my recipe, I realized that I needed also to replace the acid the butter would provide, to react to the baking soda.  So instead of regular milk, I used milk kefir or buttermilk.  Both are acidic, so they work properly with the baking soda.  I have not tried to figure out a substitution of baking powder for the baking soda, so that regular milk could be used.  I like them as they are, and I always have either buttermilk or milk kefir (a fermented milk similar to buttermilk, just different cultures) in my fridge.

Another thing to note is the use of old-fashioned rolled oats.  This kind of oat gives the best texture in the cookie.  You can use quick oats, I have, but they change the texture, and you get a cookie that’s not as thin, flat, chewy in the middle, and crisp around the edges.  Quick oats make for a stodgier cookie.

As for any of the additions–coconut, cranberries, white chocolate chips, pecans–you can leave out any you don’t like or come up with your own substitutions.  Just remember, when you’re using coconut oil, you’re going to taste coconut, so make sure your additions will match up well with the flavor of the coconut oil.  This particular combo was a big hit.  I can’t wait to try some other combinations.

Update March 4, 2019:  Chocolate chip with or without pecans and added coconut is really good!  Without adding coconut, the cookies still have a slight coconut flavor from the coconut oil. My husband and granddaughter prefer these to my original chocolate chip oatmeal cookies made with butter!