Mmmm Pie

Pie. Double crust chicken pot pie. Greg Atkinson’s Excellent Apple Pie. Pumpkin pie for morning-after breakfasts. Hand Pie. I love pie. My mom has always been a pie-maker. The patina on her rolling-pin is a testament to pie. Her pie dough was, and is, oil-based, rolled between layers of waxed paper to prevent sticking. The beauty of the thin dough, clinging for life to a single piece of waxed paper, hovering over the waiting pie dish, only to be lowered and released from its paper captor, soon to be filled with apples or berries or peaches, still lives in my memory.

The pie I love now owes its greatness to butter. France’s Pate Brisee sounds much more elegant than its English relation, Pie Dough. Pronouncing bree-zay is like speaking of the breeze, fresh air, being at the coast; all life and joy and light. Pie Dough sounds pedantic, plodding, heavy. Done right, however, pie dough is anything but heavy, regardless of what pronunciation you choose.

The pie I chose to make this day were little apple hand pies. The dough was a standard butter pastry. I will show you the filling first, then walk through the recipe for the dough. The filling consists of 2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a small dice, tossed with 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Here’s the method:

Peeling the apples in September!
I diced apples from the freezer which I peeled & cored in September!
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I tossed the apple with a little coconut palm sugar and cinnamon,
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cooked until apples softened, which if using fresh apples might take 7-8 minutes,
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and let the excess juice drain off.

Next came rolling and cutting the dough. For the hand pies, roll out one disc of dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut circles using anything with a 4 1/2- to 5-inch diameter. I used a mini tart pan.

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Gather scraps re-roll/cut. I cut 9 circles using a 4 1/2-inch cutter.

Each circle received 1 generous tablespoon of apple filling. Then one side folded over the other and the edges crimped with a fork. You can use some egg wash around the edge to make sure the crimped edge stays closed.

Pies in transition.
Pies in transition.

At this stage, the pies should be chilled for another 30 minutes while the oven heats to 425F. Ziploc’d, the pies can be frozen now for baking at a later date. When you are ready to bake, the pies should be pricked with a fork or sharp knife and then brushed with an egg wash.

Ready for the oven.
Ready for the oven.

The oven should start at 425F for 5-7 minutes. This high heat helps to set the bottom crust, avoiding any sogginess. For the remaining bake, reduce heat to 375F, checking on the pies after 15 minutes. Total baking time depends on the thickness of the dough. Bake the pies until golden brown and sort of cracked-looking on the surface.

These little pies were quick and easy, and oh so very tasty!

Yum!
Yum!

Pie Dough

enough for 1 double crust pie/16 or more hand pies

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups flour (1 used ½ white unbleached, ¼ emmer, ¼ whole wheat)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter

5 to 6 tablespoons very cold water

How to:

1. Cut the butter into small pieces. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

2. Place the flour and salt into the food processor. Whiz to mix.

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3. Place cold butter into processor. Pulse the machine 5 times for 1 ½ seconds each time, until the butter is the size of green peas. Don’t over process!

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4. Add most of the water while quickly pulsing the machine so that the water can mix throughout the flour.

5. Turn off the machine. Remove the lid and test the dough by pinching some between your fingers. If it sticks together really well you are done. If it still wants to fall apart, add the rest of the water while quickly pulsing again. Don’t over mix or the dough will be tough.

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6. Dump contents onto work surface. Quickly push the bits together into a mound. Cut mound in half. Quickly form each part into a flat but thick disc, about 1-inch thick.

7. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

8. Remove one disc from the fridge, unwrap on a lightly-floured work surface.

The dough is cold so may need to sit out for a few minutes before rolling.
The dough is cold so may need to sit out for a few minutes before rolling.

9. Start rolling from the center of the disc moving away from yourself. Pick up the dough, rotate a quarter turn, roll again from the center away from you. Repeat this until you reach the desired thickness.

If the dough the cracks or becomes grossly misshapen, take bits of dough from other areas and patch where needed. Roll the dough to press it together.

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10. Place the dough onto pie plate, ready to fill or use cutter to make hand pies.

11. Repeat process with the additional disc of dough.

Bartlett

For as long as I can remember, I have loved pears. Growing up, Pear only meant Bartlett. Green when picked, left to ripen in box or on counter, the bright yellow skin giving way easily to knife, juice on fingers and chin, my early childhood introduction to decadence and wealth. Our neighbors had grandparents with an eastern Washington fruit farm, so each late summer-early fall brought boxes of free-stone peaches, all kinds of apples, and Bartlett pears to our house. I could not appreciate the scope of such good fortune.

In my now, I have the beautiful fortune of being involved with a group of people who want to support small farms and local farms. This all-volunteer, list-serve organized group finds farmers and produce, creates spreadsheets, organizes pick-up points, giving farmers & consumers access to each other that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Vince's pears
Vince’s pears

For three years running, my pears have been from Vince at Valley View Farm. These pears arrive without labels to remove, picked, sorted, and packed by people I have met, grown with respect for the planet and the workers who aid, part of a dream to provide good food for a family and anyone else who connects. The 35 pounds of pears ripening in my basement took their time, teasing with some yellow, but still too crunchy for eating, until BAM-they were all ready for the kitchen.

This year we ate pears daily, I canned 7 quarts of what Junior calls “Jar Pears”, I dehydrated a load into   sweet, tender deliciousness, and I used some in baking. One of my favorite uses for fresh pear is to combine with cardamom and bake into scones.

My scone recipe originates from Baking With Julia. These scones are light, not too sweet, are tasty with lemon zest only, and hold up well when adding blueberries, raspberries, apples, or pears. I use a food processor to mix the dry ingredients and cold butter, which is then poured into a mixing bowl. I next add the fruit, followed by the liquid. Scones, like biscuits, don’t want to be over-handled, preferring to be kneaded with a “light hand” just until the dough comes together. The dough is then divided into two circles, brushed with melted butter or heavy cream, cut into pieces, and baked in a hot oven.

I think to take pictures well after a project has begun
I think to take pictures well after a project has begun
Almost ready for oven
Almost ready for oven

Care taken by keeping the butter cold, pieces processed just to the size of peas, will give the scones lightness and lift as the hot oven melts the fat, leaving precious tiny pockets of air in the finished product. This recipe calls for buttermilk which I never have on hand, so I substitute sour milk: 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar poured into a 1 cup measure, add milk to fill; let sit for 5 minutes.

Delicious!
Delicious!

Try other fruits, fresh or dried, and different spices to combine with. Add a tablespoon of grated lemon or orange zest. Try out with your preferred gluten-free flour mix or vegan fat of choice, as long as the fat is solid at room temperature. In the recipe below, I used a combination of Einka and whole wheat flours, a total of 3 cups, but a useless measure when using alternative flours. I use a standard of 1 cup flour = 4.9 ounces to make conversions.  Cheers!

Pear-Cardamon Scones
Preheat oven to 425F

Ingredients
8 oz Einka
6.7 oz just-ground whole wheat
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground cardamom
6 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup diced pears
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1-2 tbsp melted butter or heavy cream
Combine the dry ingredients in bowl of food processor.
Pulse to combine.
Add the bits of butter and pulse carefully until it becomes the size of peas.
Place flour mixture into large mixing bowl.
Stir in diced pears, coating well with flour.
Pour in milk, stirring gently to avoid crushing the fruit.
Gather  dough into a ball, turn onto lightly floured work surface.
Knead gently & briefly, 10-12 turns at the most.
Divide dough into two equal parts, form into disks, brush with melted butter or heavy cream.
Cut each disk into 6 wedges.
Sprinkle with coarse sugar for an added sweet and sparkly finish.

Bake 10-12 minutes.

Einka Meets Waffles

Known in Germany as Einkorn, and in Italy as Farro Piccolo, Einka comes from Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop Washington. I had tried a bit of einkorn grown by Lentz Spelt Farms, available in Seattle at Big John’s PFI, but the price tag of $6.75/lb kept my quantity low. It was enough, however, to see, feel, use, and taste the difference. After receiving my order from Bluebird less than 24 hours ago, I have been on a bit of an einka bender: pasta, chocolate chip cookies, and now waffles.

My waffles originated with Joy of Cooking, with separated eggs, whipped egg whites, and melted butter. Trying the recipe this morning with the einka flour was, again, successful. Waffles start with these ingredients,

Mise en place
Mise en place

plus baking powder and salt. I melt the butter on my stove top rather than in a microwave, seasoning my tiny cast iron pan every time I do. The batter turned out nice,

Ready to bake
Ready to bake

with the same consistency that I have come to expect. One 4-ounce ladle is just enough to fill our thrift store waffle iron. For me, the most difficult part of waffle-making is the waiting for the iron to thoroughly do its job; an undercooked waffle tastes eggy and not in a good way. Given enough time, the waffles did not disappoint:

Yum
Yum

If you are unable to consume all the waffles in a batch, let them cool on racks, wrap in parchment, and place in a freezer bag. They thaw and re-crisp under an oven broiler. Adding a scrambled egg and some fresh fruit, gives Junior a break from our usual breakfast routines. Oh, and just so you know, waffles do NOT need any added sugar in the batter. Enjoy the baked waffles with Grade B Maple Syrup!

Einka Waffles
8 ounces einka flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp melted butter
13 ounces milk
Method:
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl, combine the egg yolks and milk. Whisk together while adding the melted butter in a steady stream. Whisking will keep the eggs from scrambling if the butter is too warm.
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. Don’t overbeat as the whites will become dry and difficult to incorporate.
Add the milk mixture to the flour, mixing until just moistened, but leaving some lumps. Gently fold in the egg whites.
Bake.
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

To Go

Sometimes the best dinners are never eaten at home. For my niece’s birthday, we met at Edmonds Beach and picnicked on oven-fried chicken, green bean/cherry tomato/shallot salad, cold sesame noodles, carrot sticks, just-baked sourdough bread with grass-fed butter, crisp not-too-sweet walnut sandies, and Theo’s 85% cocoa chocolate. The company, the beach, the sunset, ferries and freight trains made it a lovely way to celebrate this beautiful human I’ve known since the minute she took her first breath.

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My niece dining with a dino
The T-Rex is still enjoying the chicken
T-Rex still enjoying the chicken
Cozy
Cozy
Farewell!
Farewell!
Edmonds Beach
Edmonds Beach

Walnut Sandies

2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Annie’s bourbon vanilla extract
9 oz emmer flour
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Beat in the vanilla, then beat in the flour at low speed, scraping the side and bottom of the bowl, until the dough just comes together.
Add the walnuts and beat just until they are incorporated and lightly broken up. Divide the dough in half and form it into two 2-inch-thick logs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Working with 1 log at a time and keeping the other one chilled, cut the dough into scant 1/4-inch-thick slices, arrange them on the baking sheets and sprinkle them with sugar(optional).
Repeat with the second log of dough.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden around the edges and on the bottom, shifting the baking sheets halfway through.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Necessity

Early in my cooking life, I found myself intrigued with gadgets, gizmos, and trendy must-haves for any kitchen, many of which are now stowed away, given away, or garage-saled away.  The few things I love and use regularly are: tongs, whisks, sharp knives, swivel-head peeler, zester, stainless steel bowls, glass stacking bowls, wooden spoons, metal spatulas, immersion blender, Kitchen Aid mixer, and my digital scale. Of these, the one thing from which I’d never want to part is the scale.

Taylor Compact Digital Scale
Taylor Compact Digital Scale

Measuring implements are not created equal. For that matter, vegetables are not created equal either. When recipe calls for: 1 onion, chopped, how much onion is that? If a recipe is developed for cups of white, all-purpose flour, how can I know the type of measuring cups used? Is it possible to substitute other flours using the same measurement? I have an assortment of measuring cups. If I use the one-cup measure from Set A, will using the half-cup measure from Set B give me the correct ratio? All of these dilemmas can be removed by using a scale. A pound is a pound, whether of flour, fruit, or flesh.

When I began making sourdough bread, which requires ingredients to be measured by weight, I gradually switched many of my baking recipes to pounds & ounces. I know the pizza dough requires 12-oz of flour, the cheesecake requires 2-lbs of cream cheese, the ganache requires 13-oz of heavy cream, and the pancakes are happiest with something closer to 11.5-oz of milk. Somethings, like pancakes, don’t always require the weighing of flour as the batter, thick or thin, is a matter of preference, but in a commercial kitchen, consistency and cost control dictate that all recipes be scaled. Thanks to my secret lover Excel, I can know how much made-at-home pizza costs vs Pagliacci delivered.

All that being said, I get lazy. I find new recipes, I make substitutions, the end results seem fine. For a while now, I have used a chocolate chip cookie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated The Best Recipe. This recipe calls for melted butter, lots of sugar (brown & white), all-purpose flour (2 cups + 2 tablespoons, usually a give away that the original recipe formulations used a scale), an egg plus egg yolk, and the other usual baking bits. From the get go, I used only evaporated cane juice for the sugar, and of that I reduced the recipe amount by half. I usually replaced half the flour with whole wheat, and when I was grinding the sprouted flour, I replaced the white flour completely. Eventually, I stopped adding the 2nd yolk,  just using 2 whole eggs instead. Most recently, I’ve switched to using coconut palm sugar, which is very different from sugar sugar or ECJ.

So, last night, after the successful einka pasta, I thought some einka chocolate chip cookies were in order. Knowing that the einka flour was looser than regular whole wheat, and knowing that baking science is more exact than that of cooking, I measured one cup. It weighed 3 ounces. I grabbed a cup of white flour and it came in at 4.6 ounces. I would need to scale recipes when using the einka.

Even though I did throw in too many chocolate chips (I found a bargain on 42% cocoa rather than my preferred 65%)  which upped the total sugar content and sweetness level, the cookies are delicious.

einka, coconut palm sugar, backyard eggs, grass-fed butter, annie's bourbon vanilla, and fair trade chocolate
einka, coconut palm sugar, backyard eggs, grass-fed butter, annie’s bourbon vanilla, and fair trade chocolate

Chicken Math

Answer the following:

Scotti

1. The small urban farm has some chickens. Scotti and Bernadette lay dark brown eggs daily. Robbi, Dizzy, and Beatrice lay every other day. Robbi’s eggs are creamy tan, Dizzy’s are almost white, and Beatrice lays beautiful greenish blue eggs. How many eggs are in the farmer’s refrigerator?

Beauty

2. If the farmer has 2 eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, how long will it take for her to become tired of eating eggs?

3. If pasta uses 4 eggs, waffles use 3 eggs, and egg salad for one uses 2, how much weight will the farmer gain?

4. If  the farmer found a recipe calling for 9 eggs, how often would she need to make it to keep ahead of the backyard abundance?

Yum!

(answer key: 1. A lot 2. Not very long 3. Badonkadonk 4. As often as folks would come share  it with her)

Cracked Chocolate Earth
(Flourless Chocolate Cake)

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
9 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl, set over, but not touching, about 1 inch of simmering water until melted.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light yellow in color. Whisk a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs – this will keep the eggs from scrambling from the heat of the chocolate; then whisk in the rest of the chocolate mixture.
Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set, the top starts to crack, and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, then unmold.
Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar and serve at room temperature.
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network

Something New

A new year is about new things. I may resolve to change an undesirable behavior, start a new project, learn a new skill. 2012 has found me showing a small group of 6 to 9 year olds how to cook and bake. This group does not meet in my kitchen, but rather at the kitchen of a Seattle neighborhood community center. The foot print of the kitchen is larger than mine, but after moving in a folding table, 6 folding chairs, and the moving-talking-laughing-poking-joking bodies to fill those chairs, the kitchen shrinks to ridiculously tiny proportions. The kitchen is poorly equipped for real cooking/baking, so I carry in most of the tools and equipment we use each week. The small space, the lugging around of equipment might give notion that this new experience is unpleasant. On the contrary! Meeting the kids, discovering their love of food, seeing their desire to make and create stuff has given an energy to this project that I didn’t foresee. I initiated the idea from my desire to share, but the physical circumstances would have quickly extinguished that wish. Working with these young humans, sharing what I know, showing how to use the tools, seeing their delight and frustration when rolling pie pastry, getting the reviews upon tasting the day’s project, getting after them when the exuberance for life turns into a potential kitchen safety hazard-this is where the sustaining energy comes from.

So far we’ve cracked and scrambled eggs, made tiny apple pies, blueberry muffins, pretzels, tomato soup and biscuits, scones which we turned into strawberry shortcakes, and pasta by hand. We’ll continue on with vegetable pot pies, pancakes, crostada, moon pie, and pizza. The kids measure and stir, add liquid to dry, knead, roll, slice, chop, and eat.

The planning for each week, the recipe packets, writing the information pages on pie dough or kinds of apples, the lists of what to bring,  this has kept me from writing anything about my own kitchen or my garden. My brain is busy and happy with this activity. I urge any of you to pick up a new thing and do it: dig up some yard and plant some lettuce seeds, try braising a cut of beef, thread a needle and sew a few pieces of fabric together, gather a few people in your home and show them how to do something. Newness is life-giving. The year is still young, give yourself some new life.

More Sourdough

This book changed my life may be the utterance many an author longs to hear. Knowing that the labor, the sweat, the creative birth in writing a work actually alters another’s existence is heady stuff.  Tartine Bread has done this for me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5kKeKSfyOE

I have made sourdough bread for years. I’ve used the same method from the same book getting, mostly, the same results. The bread has been good but it has never been amazing. Chad Robertson, author of Tartine Bread, has been searching for an old-soul loaf since he left culinary school in the early 1990’s. He apprenticed in the US, worked with bakers in France, then set up his own oven in Northern California, settling, finally, in San Francisco’s Mission District. He decided to document his search and alter his resulting method for use in a home kitchen after taking on his first mentee. The resulting book is beautiful.

Robertson’s method of bread making is very different for me. The dough is more hydrated & soft, it is not kneaded in a conventional way, it requires a more gentle handling than I had previously learned. Attention to time and temperature is acute. I keep a starter but a smaller amount.

Monitoring temp during bulk rise

The first step towards bread is to use a bit of the starter, just a tablespoon added to flour & water, to form a levain. The levain, in turn, mixes with more flour and water to form the dough. The dough remains in a bowl after mixing, resting, mixing again, with kneading accomplished by periodically folding the dough onto itself. The schedule requires folding every 30 minutes during the first two hours, keeping a constant temperature of 78 – 82F; before I begin this process, I must plan my days activities according to my limited freedom.

When the dough has developed, it meets the work surface for the first time. I divide the dough, preshape into boules and leave to rest, again. I shape the dough once more using a series of gentle stretches and folds before placing it in the proofing baskets. The dough can now sit for 3 hours or 10 hours in a cool place. Robertson says to use the refrigerator but an unheated part of my basement provides a constant mid-50’s temp, slowing the fermentation without stopping it. A short final rise works with this bread, but the longer rise develops more flavor.

Beautiful loaves

The last piece of this bread making is the baking. Professional ovens inject steam during the first minutes of baking, keeping the dough moist, enabling oven ‘spring’, while giving the crust color and texture. This is not easy to make happen at home. Enter the cast iron. Cast iron radiates heat like a brick oven and when lidded, traps the moisture escaping the loaf, providing the necessary injection of steam. Robertson instructs to use a 5-qt combo cooker but I use a cast iron skillet, with an inverted cast iron dutch oven as a lid. I preheat the pans to 500F, place the dough in the skillet and score, attach the lid and into the oven it goes. My adaptation is heavy and precarious, but it works. After reducing the heat to 450F and 20 minutes, I remove the lid and the first glimpse of the swollen, scored loaf takes my breath away, every time. An additional 20 minutes finishes the bread.

This is the bread I’ve always wanted to make. The resulting loaves are worth the attention to detail. They seem ancient and alive; they are real, as well as whole, food. They are delicious and I am changed.

Bread.Sourdough

The alchemy of sourdough bread is a wonder. Flour and water joined, exposed to high heat, resulting in a food centuries old. I began making sourdough bread at least 15 years ago. I took a few classes and discovered Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery. The sourdough starter in La Brea begins with organic grapes. Silverton outlines a regimented feeding schedule for a 14-day period, at the end of which the starter is ready for use. I dove in.

Regular feedings are key to the proper development of the starter. This meant feeding the pancake batter-like mixture morning, noon and night, with a prescribed combination of flour and water. Before the morning feed, most of the mixture found its way down the drain. Beginning each day with a small amount of starter ensured natural yeast strength in a manageable quantity.

During this two-week period I was somewhat captive to my kitchen. I could leave home after the morning feed but needed to return at noon, and be home to feed in the evening. Baking begins when the starter is strong.

Bread making is not complicated but does require attention to the details of weight, volume, time and temperature. The healthy starter must continue feedings at least twice per day. The starter is ready for dough-formation 8 hours after the last feeding. Accuracy requires weighing or scaling the room-temperature flour, starter and water. These 3 ingredients mix for 5 minutes then rest for 10 to 20 minutes. Salt mixes in for another 5 minutes. Placed on a work surface, the dough is hand-kneaded; put into a lightly oiled bowl; covered with plastic wrap and left to sit for 3 to 4 hours.

A second kneading activates the yeasts before being formed into loaves. Sourdough needs moisture while rising. Placed into plastic bags to trap humidity, the loaves sit at room temperature for another hour, after which they go into the fridge for 8 to 24 hours. At least 3 hours before baking, the loaves leave the fridge. I remove the plastic and put a kitchen towel over the loaves.

Baking the bread is best with a hot oven, on a preheated baking stone. Score marks on unbaked loaves help release steam and aid in oven rise.

Steam in the oven gives the crust great texture. Using a spray bottle, spray a little water in the oven before the loaves enter, and 3 more times during the first 5 minutes of baking. Rotation of the loaves once during baking helps with even heating. Total baking time is 30 minutes.

As the bread cools, the smell is amazing. Hot bread does not slice easily. Allow the bread a few minutes, at least, to cool before eating.

The only real complication in making this bread is the timing. I have to feed the starter by a certain time in the morning to enable me to start the dough at a certain time in the afternoon to make sure that I go to bed at a reasonable time at night. I have to pull the loaves from the fridge at the right time to allow for baking before bedtime; I, as well as the others in my home, prefer to bake it before dinner.

Bread making: mixing, kneading, forming, baking is an ancestral and therapeutic endeavor. Eating this bread is quintessentially human.