Something New

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I’ve gotten a head start on a “new” year.

Here is the first loaf of sourdough bread, baked from a newly made starter, in a brand new Dutch oven given to me for Christmas.


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The entire house is perfumed by this wonderful bread.

I’ve been reading two new books about baking bread  this week.

9781607742746_p0_v2_s114x1669781452100289_p0_v1_s260x420Both of these speak of time as an essential ingredient to baking good bread.  They introduce some new techniques and ways of making dough I have only just begun to learn.

I love beginning a new year with learning something new!

The bread I’ve baked today began a week ago when I mixed some rye flour (a gift from a friend who chose to shift to a gluten free diet) with some bottled spring water, and set it aside to come alive.

Rye flour harbors some specific yeasts and bacteria which when activated, will grow into a “sourdough” culture or “levain.”

After two days, I began feeding my new culture with bread flour and more bottled spring water.


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On the third day I divided my culture in half, giving half to another baking friend, and continued to feed the culture with flour and water.

By Friday the culture was ready to leaven a batch of bread dough.  When I divided the culture to feed it, half went into the bowl to serve as the basis for bread.

I also finally purchased Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast,  and set about reading beyond the “sample” to dig into his techniques and recipes.

I didn’t follow his recipes for this bread, but I followed many of his principles.  I made a well hydrated, loose, dough; “folded” it several times during the rise, and allowed it plenty of time to rise slowly.

Translated:  The dough was much softer and wetter than I normally make it.  I let it rise for about four hours on the counter, and then put the dough into the refrigerator, in a covered bowl, for an additional 36 hours before forming the loaf early this morning.

Once formed, with plenty of extra flour used in making the loaf, I let it rise an additional four hours before beginning to bake the bread.

This bread is leavened only with the “sourdough” levain.  There is no additional yeast. 


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And the ingredients list includes only flour, water, honey, olive oil, and salt in addition to flour and the levain starter. I brushed the loaf with melted butter and sprinkled sesame seeds and sea salt on the top crust before baking.


Bread board by Michael Laico.

Bread board by Michael Laico.

It is the soul of simplicity:  bread made as our grandmothers made it in the centuries before we could purchase yeast at the grocery store!

What was old is new again….


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Woodland Gnome 2014

English Muffin Loaf

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 We watched an unusually interesting bread preparation on Cook’s Country  last night on PBS.  Unusual enough that I searched out the recipe online later in the evening, and tried a batch of my own first thing this morning.

Do you like English muffins?  We do.  We love the open airy texture which gets crunchy when toasted, and then holds little pools of butter as you bite into the muffin.  I love them with most any jam from orange marmalade to apple butter.  My partner is a purist, and wants them just as they are, covered in melted butter.  They are so good and comforting with a mug of coffee in the morning.

But I don’t like buying factory made bread.  And I really don’t like pitching all of that packaging for a purchase of only 6 muffins!

And since this recipe for English Muffin Loaf  is quick and simple to prepare, easier than mixing up a cake, really, I decided to try it out.


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Now, if you’re a baker, you know all about the difference between making quick breads, like corn muffins, and yeasted loaf breads.

This recipe from Cook’s Country is a hybrid, which is what makes it so interesting.

You mix the batter as you would a quick bread.  Both yeast and baking soda go into the batter to give this bread its texture.   There is absolutely no kneading to this preparation.  Then you give the batter 30 minutes to proof (rise) before pouring it into loaf pans.  Yes, pouring.  This is a very moist, loose batter.

The bread gets another 30 minutes to rise before you bake it for an additional 30 minutes.  Once the loaves are cooled, you slice the bread and toast each slice before slathering on the butter and jam and enjoying the decadent luxury of your own home made better than anything store bought English muffin toast.

You can go from empty bowl to finished loaves in under two hours.  Make these the night before, and you can have your morning English muffin toast as quickly as you can brew your coffee.

If you watch Cook’s Country, then you know that it is essentially a test kitchen of very dedicated, precise chefs who demonstrate some pretty unusual recipes for junky amateur cooks like me.

And so of course you know I’m going to give you the recipe exactly as they presented it, right??  Wrong!

I’m going to give you my “tweaked and improved” version.  A few seconds with your favorite search engine will give you their original if you want to compare.


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You need only 6 pieces of equipment in addition to your oven.  And this preparation goes so fast I suggest you assemble it all before you start mixing.  You’ll need a large mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a large measuring cup, a spatula, and either 2 loaf pans or one tube or Bundt pan.  You’ll also need plastic cling wrap and vegetable oil cooking spray.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl:  3 cups BREAD flour (higher gluten than all purpose flour), 2 cups white whole wheat flour (I use Gold Medal), 1 TB Vital Wheat Gluten (Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one), 4 1/2 tsp. rapid rise yeast, 1 TB white table sugar, 2 tsp. table salt, and 1 tsp. baking soda

Mix these thoroughly with a whisk or spatula so no “pockets” remain of any of the ingredients.  You may substitute 5 cups of BREAD flour and leave out the white whole wheat flour and Vital Wheat Gluten if you would prefer.

You can also dress this recipe up with a handful of dried cranberries, golden raisins, some grated citrus peel, a teaspoon of cinnamon, or perhaps some finely chopped nuts, if you’d like.

Mix together 3/4 c. of sour cream and 2 cups of very warm water in the large measuring cup.  Stir together until all of the sour cream is dissolved in the water.  Cook’s Country specifies the milk should be 200F, which is right on the edge of being so hot it kills the yeast.  I microwaved the sour cream and water mixture for about 30 seconds until it felt warm to my touch, but not hot.  The temperature of the liquid is important mostly to speed up the rising of the batter.

Stop and turn your oven to “warm.”  We are going to proof the batter in the oven.  Leave the oven on for no more than 2 minutes so it doesn’t get too hot.

While the oven is warming, mix the warm sour cream mixture into your flour mixture.  You want a fairly loose, wet batter which still clings to the sides of the bowl.  Mix until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated, then scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Remember, NO Kneading!  And NO electric  mixers for this step.  (Add up to another 1/4 c. of warm water if the batter looks dry and stiff.  Different flours absorb more or less water.)

Tear off a piece of cling wrap large enough to cover the bowl.  Spray the “down side” with cooking spray, and cover the bowl.  The spray prevents the dough from sticking to the plastic.  (I normally use waxed paper.  Either product works to cover the dough as it proofs.  It seals in the moisture so the top of the dough won’t dry out.)

By now your oven should have been turned OFF, but it is warm.  Place the covered mixing bowl in the oven (I put a hot mat under the bowl so too much heat didn’t transfer from my cooking stone to the dough) and just close the door.  Let the dough proof for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare either 2 loaf pans or a tube pan with cooking spray.  Be generous.   The only problem I experienced with this recipe was the bread sticking to the pans.  Next time, I’ll remember to dust the pans with a little dry cornmeal before adding the batter.

Have you ever heard of “Sally Lunn” bread?  This is popular in rural Virginia, and we had it from time to time growing up.  It is also a yeasted batter bread, always cooked in a tube pan, so it comes out looking like a cake.  You slice it, toast it, and enjoy it.  It is a little bit like this recipe, but has a much finer texture… more like a heavier, richer, regular bread.

I believe this English Muffin Loaf would work great cooked in a tube or Bundt pan, like Sally Lunn bread,  and plan to bake my next batch this way.

The batter will have risen a lot after 30 minutes.  Remove the plastic wrap (scrape off any dough with a good rubber spatula) and pour the dough into your baking pans.  Use the spatula to spread the  dough so it fills all of the corners and is of a fairly even height across the pan.  Scrape down the sides of the pans to neaten things up, and put the pans right back into the warm oven.  Use the same piece of plastic cling wrap to cover the pans again for the second proof.

After 30 minutes of proof time, open the oven and remove the cling wrap covering.  This is a very important step!  This is a good time to make sure you took your hot mat out of the oven, too!

Leaving the bread pans in the oven, on a middle shelf, close the oven door and set it to 375F.  The bread continue to rise as the oven heats.  At some point, the yeast die, and “rising” turns to “baking.”

Allow the loaves to bake, at full temperature,  for 30 minutes.  You know they are done when they are golden brown and fragrant.


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This recipe calls for very lightly baked bread.  You don’t want a heavy dark crust to form.  You bake only until the bread is set and solid all the way through the loaf.

Cool the loaves on wire racks.  Let them set in the pan for 2-3 minutes, loosen the edges with a knife, and then turn the loaves out onto the racks to cool.

Allow the loaves to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing them with a serrated bread knife.

I make toast under the broiler, the way my grandmother did, so the butter melts as the bread toasts.  You may prefer toast made in a toaster.

Do whatever works for you.  Just take time to enjoy this beautiful, fragrant toast with someone you love!



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Woodland Gnome 2014



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A Forest Garden 2015 Calendar… available now


This is the calendar I always wanted to purchase, and couldn’t find.  So I compiled it myself…

You’ll find all of the important gardening dates for Zones 5-9 in this calendar:  first and last frost dates, moons, equinoxes and solstices. You’ll also find gardening tips and reminders to help you stay on track throughout the year.

In addition to all of the normal American holidays, you’ll also find some other interesting observances.  Jewish, Muslim, and traditional Celtic holidays are noted, along with a few Saints’ feast days.  I wanted to remember these special days for all of my circle of friends.

Illustrated with more than 60 of my favorite photos from the past year, you’ll find landscapes, flowers, and lots of wild life as you turn the pages from one month to the next.  All of the photos were taken in our garden or in the greater Williamsburg area. 

This year’s  theme  is “Kindness.”  Each month brings a new, thought provoking quotation.

$15.00 includes the postage anywhere in the United States.  Please contact me at to order.




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