My heart has ached this week, at the approach of today’s one-year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The people of that nation have stunned the world with their incredible resilience and dedication to their country. Many brave men, women and families have refused to leave in the wake of hostile invasion and are living under constant threat amid air raid sirens, bombings and widespread power outages. They are truly an inspiration.
The older I get, the more grateful I am to have never experienced true hardship or food insecurity, and when stories like the ones emerging from Ukraine are presented, I want to do something, anything, to help. It isn’t possible, of course, for me to make a huge meal to help people on the other side of the world, but I am proud to support an organization that puts itself on the front line to do exactly that.
In a few days, my husband and I will be in attendance for a lecture by Chef José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization that has spent the last year bringing much needed food and comfort to war-torn Ukraine, as well as other regions stricken by climate disaster and other catastrophic situations— usually, it even juggles multiple relief efforts at once (see a sampling of their current work here). That’s how strong they are!
The decision to support a relief organization is personal, and if you’re like me, you do some homework to be sure your money is being used responsibly. I am extremely impressed by the integrity of World Central Kitchen, which has earned an A+ rating from charitywatch.org, and meets or exceeds all its requirements for governance and transparency. The organization is powered by thousands of volunteers, professional and amateur, and they are able to activate and mobilize very quickly when a crisis occurs. Yesterday, I also registered to be a volunteer; if a crisis occurs near me, I’m already signed up and ready to go. Giving and volunteering is easy to do on the WCK website.
I cannot make enough bread in my kitchen to feed the people of Ukraine, but I have great confidence in knowing that my tax-deductible contributions to World Central Kitchen are used wisely and effectively to care for the people whose hardships weigh heavily on me. If you also wish you could do something to help, I hope you’ll consider partnering with this exceptional effort.
If I could make enough bread to make a difference, I’d make a million loaves of this one, mostly because it’s a hearty and nutritious whole grain loaf, but also because it is sweetened with honey and embellished inside and out with sunflower seeds. The beautiful sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, and also happens to be a favorite of honeybees. To me, a bread like this is a reminder that we are all connected on this big blue ball we call home.
Rather than repeat all the instruction I’ve already given for my basic bread, I’ll point to what I did differently for this one, and trust you’ll find your way back to my earlier post if you need more visual information. This bread, like the other, depends on a portion of fed, ripe sourdough starter. It uses a special technique of pre-cooking a portion of the flour in milk, then cooling it before adding to the recipe.
I swapped in a generous amount of white whole wheat flour as well as a portion of an ancient grains blend flour from King Arthur, called Super 10. This super-nutritious flour includes quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and millet, among others. It gives my bread a flavor and texture boost without making it dense or heavy. I nearly doubled the amount of honey from my base recipe, and used the stretch-and-fold phase of the fermentation to fold in about a half cup of toasted sunflower seeds. This dough is very sticky, thanks to the ancient grains and high hydration, so use wet hands to complete the stretches. This is a gentle but effective way to knead the dough and incorporate the extra ingredient of seeds.
When the dough was ready for shaping, I used wet hands again to form a loaf, and then moistened the underside and rolled it lightly in additional sunflower seeds before placing it in my baking pan. Then, I baked the loaf as directed in my original post. Use a steam pan for the first 20 minutes, and a tent foil for the remainder of the baking time.
We love a good sandwich bread at our house. My husband filled two slices of this one with tuna salad for lunch, and I’ve already enjoyed it toasted with breakfast. Without a doubt, this bread will become a regular item in our rotation, and with every loaf I pull from the oven, I’ll hold the mighty people of Ukraine in my heart. 💙💛
The countdown to Easter will begin next week, and for many people who follow religious tradition, that means giving things up for Lent. I don’t participate in the observance of Lent myself, but I always know that it’s coming because all the fast-food chains start advertising their fish sandwich options again. When Ash Wednesday arrives, those who do observe will “fast” until Easter from any number of things— whether food, habit or activity— to mirror the fasting and spiritual introspection that the Bible says Jesus modeled during the 40 days he wandered in the wilderness before his trial and crucifixion.
But before that period of fasting and self-restraint, we eat and we party!
According to this article on Food52, the old-time religious faithful observing Lent would spend the day ahead (which they called Shrove Tuesday) ridding their homes of luxury ingredients such as eggs, sugar, butter and milk, so they wouldn’t give in to temptation during those 40 days of self-deprivation. It just so happens that pancakes are an easy way to use up all of those tempting ingredients, and the tradition of eating pancakes the night before Lent was born.
This tradition of indulging the day before Ash Wednesday is also evident with the festivities of Mardi Gras, which translates literally from French to “Fat Tuesday.” Is there a better way to observe a day called Fat Tuesday than chowing down on thick, fluffy pancakes, drenched in butter and sweet syrup? Possibly. If you want to shake things up this year, either for Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, ditch the plain old pancakes and whip up a batch of bacon and bourbon waffles instead.
My waffles have crispy bacon and smoky, maple-infused bourbon— on the inside and the outside. This meal feels perfectly appropriate for Mardi Gras, in the spirit of indulgence and with a whisper of New Orleans— bourbon whiskey, after all, was likely named after the same French ruling family that gave Bourbon Street its name. I put a tablespoon of my smoked maple bourbon right into the batter of my waffles, and kissed the syrup with a splash of it as well. If you can’t get your hands on this bourbon, any quality bourbon will work fine. But for the syrup, you owe it to yourself to use real maple. For waffles this indulgent, supermarket syrup just won’t do.
The waffles make use of my sourdough discard, and the batter includes a bit of cornmeal, for texture but also as a friendly nod to the corn in the mash bill of the bourbon. Start building the batter overnight if you’ll be enjoying the waffles for breakfast (hey, if you’re down with a splash of bourbon at breakfast, you are definitely my kinda people), or in the morning if you want them for Fat Tuesday dinner. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, buttermilk and sourdough starter, then cover it and leave it on the counter til you’re ready to waffle.
When it’s time to eat, cook up some bacon pieces until they’re crispy, and add the drippings to the melted butter that will be mixed into the batter. We use uncured bacon at our house, and I love the natural flavor. The smoky bacon emphasizes the smoked maple flavors in the bourbon as well, and it’s a nice offset to all the sweetness that hits you in the syrup.
Get the waffle iron going, and then mix the rest of the ingredients into the batter. Whisk the butter into the beaten egg, then half of the bourbon. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the bubbly overnight batter, then stir in the egg mixture and fold in about half of the crispy bacon bits. Within a couple of minutes, the batter will expand as the soda interacts with the acidic buttermilk. This chemical reaction is what gives the waffles their loft and fluff.
When the waffle iron is hot, add the batter and close the lid. Depending on your model and baking temperature, it may take 5 to 8 minutes for your waffles to be ready. Resist the urge to open the iron before the indicator light comes on, and feel free to give them an extra minute if you prefer your waffles more golden.
If you’re making a large batch of waffles, you can keep the first ones warm by placing them on a rack over a baking sheet, inside a 250 F oven. While mine were baking, I warmed up real maple syrup with the remaining tablespoon of bourbon and a pat of butter. Plate the waffles with a quick scatter of the remaining crispy bacon and the syrup.
Ditch the boring pancakes and shake up Shrove Tuesday with these sourdough waffles, accented with bacon and bourbon from the inside out!
2/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (85g)
1/4 cup medium grind cornmeal (40g)
1 cup cultured buttermilk (227g)
1/3 cup sourdough starter (75g; discard is fine)
2 tsp. maple (or granulated) sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted and cooled (or swap in some of the bacon drippings for extra bacon flavor)
5 slices uncured smoked bacon, cut into pieces and cooked until crispy (use half in the batter and reserve the rest for topping the waffles)
2/3 cup real maple syrup
2 Tbsp. Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon, divided (use half in the batter and half in the syrup for serving)
I made these waffles using a standard, non-stick waffle maker and they were delicious. I expect that a Belgian waffle maker would produce a lighter, crispier waffle. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions regarding oiling the plates, temperature and baking time.
The night before, combine flour, cornmeal, sourdough starter and sugar in a large bowl. Stir it well to ensure no pockets of dry ingredients. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight (about 8 hours).
When you’re ready to make the waffles, prep the bacon and set up the waffle iron to preheat. Set oven to 250 F and place a rack inside a baking sheet for keeping waffles warm. Take the egg out of the fridge to bring to room temperature.
Whisk the melted butter into the egg. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the bourbon.
Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the overnight starter, which should be nice and bubbly. Pour the egg mixture into the batter and stir vigorously but briefly to get the chemical reaction started. Fold in half of the crispy bacon pieces. Let the batter rest until the waffle maker is fully preheated.
Pour batter into waffle iron and close the lid. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid until your waffle iron indicator says it’s time. Keep waffles warm in oven while you prepare the next batch.
Combine maple syrup and remaining bourbon in a small saucepan and heat until warm. If desired, melt a teaspoon or two of salted butter into the syrup.
Scatter remaining crispy bacon over finished waffles and drizzle maple bourbon syrup over for serving.
The Jewish High Holy Days are upon us, and that means it’s time for me to share one of my favorite breads. Regardless of your religious background or practices, you have probably heard of, seen or tasted this classic Jewish bread, which is rich with eggs, oil and honey. Challah is a mainstay of Jewish life, and is served weekly at Shabbat services and especially during holidays—or, at least, the ones in which leavened bread is allowed. Rosh Hashanah is a perfect time to enjoy this round version of challah, and there’s no doubt every last crumb will be gone before the fasting of Yom Kippur begins next Tuesday.
The great thing about challah, besides the fact that it is a sweet, soft and tasty bread, is that you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it or to make it (I’m proof of both points). From the time I became seriously involved with my husband, Les, I have been very interested in learning the foods of his Jewish heritage, and challah has become a favorite in our rotation. My sourdough version is a bit sturdier than a yeasted loaf, thanks to the higher protein bread flour that ensures a good oven rise. But the texture is still airy and it makes excellent toast, French toast and bread pudding.
There are two main challenges I’ve faced in making sourdough challah, but both can be resolved with time and practice. The first is the challenge of getting this dough to rise; any bread dough with a high volume of sugar (or honey, in this case) struggles against the yeast action, and challah is even more so because it contains so much heavy oil. The best way to win this battle is simply to give it more time. From start to finish, this bread takes almost a full day, but most of that time is spent just waiting—for the pre-ferment to be ready, for the dough to double in size (which it hardly ever does), and for it to rise for baking. Make it on a day that you have lots of other things going on at home so you aren’t tempted to stand and watch it, which I have learned the hard way doesn’t make it happen any faster.
The second challenge with making challah (sourdough or otherwise) is creating the beautiful, braided shapes. This is not nearly as complicated as you might think, and I’ll share my own technique for doing this, whether you want to try making a basket-weave round (as in the featured photo) or a simpler straight braid, which is no more difficult than braiding a kid’s hair. For Rosh Hashanah, I like to make challah in a round, as its shape is a symbol for coming full circle into a new spiritual year.
For extra flair and flavor, I use orange- or lemon-infused olive oil in my dough because I love the aroma of the challah in the oven and the intoxicating citrus scent in the finished loaf. Extra virgin olive oil does impart a slightly stronger flavor to the challah, but I find it delicious. Also, I frequently add dried fruit to the dough as it is rolled up for braiding, but the photos I’ll share are mainly without it. If you do choose to add dried fruit, such as raisins or cranberries, don’t concern yourself with rehydrating it first; it bakes up beautifully straight from the package, and for your effort, you’ll be rewarded with beautifully studded slices. Did I mention that it is amazing in French toast? 🙂
This bread requires a ripe sourdough starter, an intermediate overnight feeding, about 3 hours to ferment on baking day, and up to 5 hours for final rise after shaping, so plan accordingly. Don’t let this lengthy process alarm you; if you make the starter the night before, you only need about an hour of hands-on time for making the dough and about half an hour to shape it for proofing. As I said, there’s a lot of waiting. All my measurements are metric, so please depend on a digital scale for getting your ingredients right.
You’ll begin the night before you plan to bake, with creation of a firm starter, which is essentially an in-between feeding that bridges the basic wet starter and the final dough. This type of starter, also called “levain,” uses less water than a wet starter, and it concentrates the rising power of the culture in your final dough. Begin with a slight amount of ripe wet starter, stirring in water to make a slurry and then flour and mixing it together until no dry flour remains. The firm starter must ferment several hours, so it’s easiest to do this the night before and leave the bowl covered at room temperature, then bake the next day. If you wish, you can make the firm starter farther ahead and then refrigerate it for up to one day.
The next morning, measure out your flour and get all the other ingredients lined up, including your firm starter, which should be cut into pieces for easy introduction to the final dough. Most of the moisture in this dough comes from oil and eggs, so there is very little water to measure for the final dough. In this picture, my honey is stirred together with the small amount of water, but I usually measure the oil first and then measure the honey in the same cup—it slides right out without sticking. You’ll have an easier time mixing the eggs into the dough if they are closer to room temperature, so give them a few extra minutes on the counter before you begin.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a really large mixing bowl, if you don’t mind mixing by hand), combine the eggs, oil, honey and water and whisk until even. Add the flour all at once. Mix until all flour is completely incorporated, about two minutes in a mixer. Sprinkle the salt over the dough, cover the bowl and let it rest for about 30 minutes. This gives the flour time to absorb the moisture, and kneading is easier at that point.
After the rest time, the salt will have begun to dissolve. Knead on medium speed to fully incorporate the salt, which should take 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the dough to the counter or kneading board and press several pieces of the firm starter all over it. Fold the dough into thirds (like a letter) and press in the remaining pieces of firm starter. Move the dough back into the mixing bowl and knead on medium speed for 6 minutes, long enough to evenly blend the firm starter into the dough and also to get the gluten development going. Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for at least 3 hours to ferment.
When the dough has fermented (you’ll know because it won’t spring back from a good finger poke), turn it out onto the counter and divide it into halves. This recipe makes two loaves; return one half of the dough to the bowl while you shape the first. Depending on how adventurous you want to be with braiding, divide the first dough section into either 3 or 4 equal-sized pieces. A 3-strand challah is made the easy way, as you would braid a child’s hair. To make the basket-weave round challah, you need 4 pieces.
Stretch each section of dough out into an imperfect rectangle shape, and then use a rolling pin to roll it into a long, oval shape. The dough will be very thin on the counter, and that’s good. Use spray oil to keep it from sticking, or dust the counter with a very light amount of flour. Roll up the oval into a long rope shape, keeping it tight as you roll and pinching the seam to secure it. Roll it out firmly to stretch the rope into an 18″ length, with the ends somewhat tapered from the fuller, center part of the rope. Repeat with the other three pieces and arrange them in a tic-tac-toe shape, with the centers fairly close together (but not tight) and long strands extended in all four directions. Notice the over-under pattern, as this is the important starting position for braiding a round.
One important thing to note is that you do not want the dough strands to be too tightly crossed, either at the start or after braiding. You should be able to wiggle a finger between strands after braiding, and this is important because the dough needs room to expand during proofing; otherwise, it will expand into one large blob and you’ll lose the beautiful pattern.
Shaping the dough is probably best learned through pictures, but I’ll try to describe it here. Take any long strand that is under the piece that crosses it, and sweep it over the piece parallel to it so that its new position is parallel to the cross piece. Repeat with the other four strands. Next, reverse direction but do the same thing, taking the underneath pieces and cross over to make them parallel to the piece next door. Repeat with the other four. Continue this pattern of reverse-crossing until the strands are too small to cross over. At that point, twist and pinch together the ends you would otherwise cross so that the dough doesn’t unravel. Tuck the twisted ends underneath and transfer the bread to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the second batch of dough and lightly spray or brush the loaves with olive oil and secure a couple of layers of plastic wrap over them. Keep the plastic somewhat loose, allowing room for rising, but not so much that air can dry out your loaves.
Proof the loaves at warm room temperature for up to 5 hours, until they have at least doubled in size. They will be quite “poofy” when they are ready. Preheat the oven, brush all over with egg wash (get into every nook and cranny) and bake until they are deep golden brown all over, with internal temperature at 200° F.
Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely before slicing or wrapping.
The braiding technique is the easiest thing about these loaves, which are enriched with eggs, citrus-scented olive oil and sweet honey. The recipe takes time, but the reward is as sweet as my wish for you in the Jewish New Year.
35g recently fed sourdough starter
80g room temperature water
130g bread flour
Mix the firm starter ingredients together, cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. Or, refrigerate after 8 hours fermentation and remove from fridge one hour before proceeding.
65g warm water
3 large eggs, room temperature
55g olive oil
300g bread flour
100g white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
all of the firm starter (above)
1 large egg, mixed with a tablespoon of water (for egg wash)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water, honey, eggs and oil. Whisk together until fully blended. Add flour ingredients and mix with the dough hook until all flour is incorporated.
Remove dough from hook, sprinkle with salt and cover. Rest the dough for about 30 minutes, as this will make kneading easier. Rinse all dough bits from the hook so it’s ready for the next kneading step.
Turn the fermented firm starter out onto a floured countertop. Use a bench scraper to cut the dough into several pieces, toss them in the flour to coat, and then cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel to keep it from drying out.
After resting, the salt on top of the dough will have dissolved a bit. Knead with the dough hook for a few minutes to fully incorporate the salt, then transfer the dough to a lightly floured countertop.
Spread the challah dough out to enlarge it, and then press several pieces of the firm starter into it. Fold it up in thirds, like a letter, and press the remaining pieces of firm starter into it. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and knead with the dough hook for several minutes. You should not see any streaks of starter, and the dough should be dense, smooth and shiny. Transfer it to a large, oiled bowl and cover. Let it ferment at room temperature for about 3 hours. It likely will not double in size, but it will expand somewhat.
Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and use a bench scraper to divide it in half. Return one half to the bowl and cover to prevent drying while you shape the first loaf.
Cut the first dough portion into equal parts for braiding, either 3 or 4 pieces. Flatten into rough rectangle/oval shapes and roll up tightly into ropes, pinching to seal the edges. Roll out with the flat part of your palms to stretch the ropes to 18″, with ends that are tapered a bit.
8, Arrange the dough ropes for braiding, following visual instructions in this post. Place braided loaves on parchment-lined baking sheets and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Proofing time will be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen, humidity and moon cycle. Just kidding on that last one, but honestly, the time needed for proof can vary broadly, so my best advice is to begin checking after 3 hours. Dough will double or nearly triple in size, and it is ready to egg wash and bake when it refuses to bounce back after a finger poke.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Gently brush egg wash all over every visible surface of the challah loaves. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until bread is deep golden brown all over. Internal temperature should be about 200° F. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing or wrapping.
From the CDJ archive, here’s another way you can achieve a “round” challah, if you aren’t feeling the love for the basket-weave design. Divide your dough for one of the loaves into three equal segments and braid them like a hair braid, and then curl it around, tucking and pinching to seal the ends together. It’s more of a wreath than a round, but still has the circle symbolism. This was an experimental sourdough pumpkin challah, filled with Trader Joe’s “golden berry blend” dried fruit, and it was nothing short of fabulous. 🙂
Before we get into it, I’d like to issue my own disclaimer about the inauthenticity of this recipe as a “Black Forest” cake. Any purist would quickly point out that a true, German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte would be more of a spongy chocolate cake, soaked with kirsch (a clear cherry liqueur) and decorated with whipped cream, sour cherries and shavings of chocolate. But when is the last time you remember me sticking to tradition?
My version of this cake is a departure in almost every category, save for the chocolate and cherry flavors. Cake baking is not in my wheelhouse, so I went for a recipe that I knew I could count on—a sourdough chocolate cake from King Arthur Baking that has served me well before—and I adjusted the fillings to match it. My whipped cream filling is enhanced with mascarpone, making it more substantial to support the sturdy cake. The cake itself is not super sweet, so the cherries had to be. And kirsch liqueur (or any cherry liqueur, for that matter) is nowhere to be found in our liquor stores, so I reached straight for what’s plentiful at our house—bourbon, and that was a very good call.
The cake is not difficult to make, but it is fussy enough that it deserves a special occasion. I was going to save this until the week of Valentine’s Day, but my husband heard on his favorite sports talk show this morning that today is National Chocolate Cake Day, so, heck yeah! We might as well get a jump start on swooning over it. 😉
We splurged on this decadent, multi-layer dessert to finish our New Year’s Eve meal of White Clam Pizzaand our newest addition, the Oysters Rockefeller Pizza, and the cake was delicious for the occasion (and, remarkably, just as good later as leftovers straight from the fridge).
Frosting a cake requires patience that I do not have (especially at the holidays), so I went for a more rustic appearance, which also afforded us a glimpse of the yumminess that was to come, in the form of mascarpone cream and cherries hanging out the sides. There was no whipped cream wrapped around the outside of my cake and no shavings of chocolate, as one would find on a true Black Forest Cake. But it was delicious, with a capital D.
So, is it authentic Black Forest Cake? No, but “Sourdough Dark Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Soaked Cherry and Mascarpone Filling with Ganache Topping” is a mouthful. Plus, it didn’t fit in the title box. 😉
8 bourbon cherries or morello cherries, with stems (for decorating cake top)
Bake the cake as instructed on King Arthur website. I followed the instructions with one ingredient adjustment; I replaced half of the natural cocoa with KA’s Double Dark Dutch Cocoa. I am crazy about the deep, dark color and chocolate flavor! Also, I baked it in two buttered and cocoa-dusted 9-inch layer pans rather than the 9 x 13 that was suggested, and the cake was done in 30 minutes. Cool the cake layers completely before removing them from the pans.
Not riding the sourdough train? No problem; use any other dark chocolate cake recipe you like, provided the layers are sturdy.
For the cherry syrup, mascarpone filling and shiny ganache topping, I’ll provide a visual walkthrough, and you can scroll to the bottom of the post for a printable recipe if you want to give it a go in your kitchen. Happy Chocolate Cake Day! 🙂
Anybody who doesn’t get excited about pizza has, well, never had a good one. That’s my philosophy, and it’s one of the many reasons my husband, Les, and I are so darn compatible. Our tenacity in searching out the best foods is another. It is not possible for me to pass on reading an article about food—whether it relates to a trend, a signature dish or a hot new restaurant. Les is the same. So when we found ourselves at Modern Apizza in New Haven, Connecticut, near the end of our summer vacation, it was pretty much heaven for both of us.
Our visit was not by chance; it was intended to be a highlight from the very start of our vacation planning, and we worked other aspects of our trip around it. That’s how seriously we take our pizza. And we had a big inside connection that won me a behind-the-scenes tour of the place, through the kitchen and prep spaces, and all the way down to the basement where they make more sauce and dough than I have ever imagined.
How did I have such an opportunity, you might wonder, to be invited into the heart of this business that is 650 miles from my home? Easy. Les knows the owners! During what seems like a lifetime ago, when he lived in the New Haven area, Les owned a home two doors down from Bill and Mary Pustari, who bought Modern Apizza in 1988 and continued the long tradition of excellence there that had begun in 1934. After a few years owning the place, they expanded the dining room and added a second, oil-fired brick oven to their kitchen to keep pace with the popularity of their amazing pizzas.
When Les reached out to his old friends to inform them of our plans to visit New Haven, they were gracious to offer me a tour of the restaurant, to witness the magic up close and personal. For me, it was as exciting as many of the backstage events I had experienced during my radio years and one of the biggest highlights of our entire trip, and I’m excited to share my experience, and the pizza it inspired me to make at home. But first—lunch!
Our server, Arianna (who also happens to be a daughter of the owners), didn’t hesitate when we asked which pizza is most popular with their customers.
“Hands down, the Italian Bomb,” she said. Well, sure, the one with sausage, bacon, pepperoni, mushroom, onions, peppers and fresh garlic, of course! That sounded like a lot to chew on for lunch, and we decided on a half-and-half pizza (kind of amazing they are willing to do that), with artichoke hearts and eggplant on one side, and Italian sausage with hot cherry peppers on the other. Both combinations were delicious, but what I could not get over was the complex flavor and chewy-but-crisp texture of the crust, and I was about to come face-to-face with the signature ingredient that gives Modern Apizza a culinary edge over its competitors.
When it was time for my “backstage” tour, Bill took me first through the kitchen, and then to the original oven, which they still fire up when business is booming. An oil-fired oven is an incredible sight, and when Bill informed me that the coolest spot in the oven is 700° F, I couldn’t resist asking what the hottest temperature in the oven was. Care to guess?
“The temperature of fire,” Bill answered. Wow!
From there, Bill led me downstairs to the basement of the restaurant and to a very special, very old refrigerator that is home to a very old resident—and the secret to their flavorful dough—a sourdough starter!
They call this glorious culture “The Bitch.”
Despite her unbecoming name, The Bitch is a beloved member of the family at Modern Apizza. They feed her every day, and if there is ever a weather emergency or power outage, she goes home with someone for safekeeping. Bill told me that several years ago, he wanted to take Modern’s pizzas to a new level, so he got a bit of a 100-year-old starter from a local French bakery, and that ushered in a whole new chapter in Modern’s history. This revelation thrilled my sourdough-loving heart to pieces and connected the dots on why our lunch pizza reminded me of home.
I got more confirmation about my pizza-at-home techniques when we went back upstairs to the kitchen, where William (also a Pustari) and George worked in harmony with Jesse, the oven guy, preparing pizzas to order for their customers, at an astonishing rate of two pizzas per minute. Honestly, I wanted to throw on an apron and jump in on the action!
From the shaping of the dough, the order of topping ingredients, the high-heat baking and the natural leavening of the pizza dough itself, I left Modern Apizza feeling that I was doing something right—or, really, doing a lot of things right, at home. All my research, trial and error had put me on the right pizza path, and that is a very good feeling. Before I share my home pizza that was inspired by this visit, can you stand just a little more bragging on Modern Apizza?
Despite the extra time it takes his prep crew, Bill is committed to doing right by his community. All those cans for the tomato sauce get recycled. He purchases sausage from a local butcher, serves local Foxon Park soft drinks, and Modern’s mozzarella comes from Liuzzi’s, the same Italian market Les and I had visited earlier in the week. Just before he arrived at the restaurant, Bill had met with a farmer to purchase local tomatoes to be used on the fresh tomato pizza which is, of course, a New Haven classic. All these neighbors supporting each other and finding great success—kinda makes me want to live in New Haven!
Sourdough was the key to the great flavor we experienced at Modern Apizza, and it’s my go-to pizza dough at home. My favorite recipe is linked in the ingredients list, and I recommend using a pizza steel and the hottest temperature your home oven can handle. My dough ferments in the refrigerator, but I bring it to almost-room temperature when I’m ready to shape and bake it.
Use firm, whole milk mozzarella for best results—and yes, you absolutely should shred it yourself rather than using pre-shredded, pre-bagged cheese. Pre-bagged cheese may be convenient but it is coated with a powdery substance that prevents clumping in the bag, which unfortunately for use on pizzas also prevents even melting. So please shred your own; it’s worth it.
Preheat the oven to 550°F, with the oven rack positioned about 8 inches below the top element and a pizza steel in place for a solid hour at temperature.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Crumble up the Italian sausage and brown it until some of the edges are just developing a crust. You want it to hang onto its moisture for the most part, as it will cook again in the oven. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until they are softened. Transfer the meat and onions to a bowl and cool completely.
Drain the cherry peppers and pat them dry on layers of paper towel. Chop them into bite-sized pieces.
When the oven is ready, shape the dough into a 14” round and transfer to a flour- and cornmeal-dusted pizza peel, which will make it easy to slide the pizza into the hot oven.
Swirl pizza sauce over the dough, then scatter parm-romano and mozzarella evenly. Arrange the cooked sausage and onions over the pizza, and follow that with the cherry peppers.
Drizzle olive oil lightly over the toppings and quickly transfer the pizza to the hot oven for about 6 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly and the edges of the crust are browned and blistered.
If I had to guess a number, I’d say conservatively that I have probably made about 280 loaves of sourdough bread since I developed my starter back in the spring of 2016. That’s figuring an average of one loaf per week for 5½ years. Of course, there have been some weeks that I have baked much more than that (especially during holiday seasons) and others that I have not baked at all, either because our schedule didn’t allow it or we didn’t need it or, as has been the case recently, because we didn’t have a kitchen.
What to do with my sourdough starter was a big part of the discussion when my husband, Les, and I sat down to figure out the details of our kitchen renovation, which I am pleased to say is nearly done. Would I just let the starter go to sleep and try to revive it when all was said and done? I supposed that I could at least make my Sourdough English Muffins, which are cooked on a griddle. Or should I keep feeding the yeasty rascal on schedule and just call the discard a total loss? That would be a shame.
A freshly baked loaf of homemade sourdough bread was the last thing I made in our old, time-worn kitchen, and it is the first thing I have made in the shiny new kitchen, even though a few loose ends remain before we can do our big reveal. The bread I made both times was this one—a sourdough-based recipe by Maurizio Leo, a master bread maker whose own blog, The Perfect Loaf, has been on my radar for about a year, thanks to a few contributions he has made to the King Arthur Baking website. Maurizio is a genius when it comes to sourdough, and I can hardly keep up with my desire to bake everything on his blog at least once.
This bread, which Maurizio has named Sourdough Sandwich Bread with Pre-cooked Flour, is a favorite at our house because of its softness, height, chewy crust and versatility for sandwiches, toast and just plain eating with a fat schmear of soft butter. As the recipe name suggests, there is an amount of the flour that is pre-cooked, specifically with whole milk, and this pre-cooking of the flour creates a sticky, roux-like addition that lends a beautiful texture to the finished bread and, as a bonus, prolongs its shelf life. This pre-cooking technique itself is not new; the Japanese have been doing it for a long time, and they call it “tangzhong.” But the combination of that milk-cooked method with sourdough and no added commercial yeast sends it straight over the top for me. Quite simply, I love this bread.
I’m happy to report that I have been able to make bread, even without access to my beloved oven during this remodel, thanks to the generosity of a couple of our neighbors, who offered their own ovens as surrogates. They received their own loaves of this bread as a barter for their oven services (not to mention the benefit of that lingering aroma), so it was a win-win situation.
So, have I put my own spin on this fantastic bread? Kind of, but not much. My method of steam baking is less sophisticated than what Maurizio Leo describes in his original recipe, but it works. I have fiddled with the ratio of flours in favor of greater percentage of whole grain and have even swapped in whole rye for the pre-cooked part several times, and the bread still comes out terrific. I have also subbed out the honey—with brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses and even sorghum—and it wows me every time. Finally, I’ve halved the original recipe because I usually only make one loaf at a time (unless, of course, I’m baking at a neighbor’s).
One of these days, I’ll get around to trying some of Maurizio’s other recipes; I especially want to check out the Jalapeno Cheddar Sourdough Bread (yum!), and for sure, my Thanksgiving table deserves his Super-soft Sourdough Rolls this year. How ridiculous is it, given that I love making fresh bread, that I have never made it at Thanksgiving? I guess I have been too busy with everything else for the table, or else I didn’t plan well to have the oven free, but this will be the year.
In the meantime, I’ll keep making this darn-near perfect bread, my favorite, go-to sourdough. Enjoy!
Before you begin:
This recipe requires use of a mature, ripe starter. Plan to feed your starter eight to 12 hours before making this dough.
All ingredients are listed by weight. I highly recommend use of a digital scale for sourdough baking.
Plan to have a shallow pan available for steam baking. It is also helpful, but not essential, to have a digital thermometer for testing doneness of the bread at the end of baking time.
148 g whole milk
38 g whole wheat flour* (see notes)
175 g room temperature water
18 g honey*
32 g olive oil
106 g sourdough starter, recently refreshed (starter should be 100% hydration)
295 g bread flour
78 g whole wheat flour*
8.5 oz. fine sea salt
I have had great success using whole grain rye flour in the first step of pre-cooking. The resulting dough will be rather sticky, but I find it more manageable to handle it with wet hands.
If you want to increase the nutrition by using more whole wheat flour in this recipe, try swapping about 30 grams for equal amount of the bread flour. Greater adjustment may require that you also increase the volume of water by a small amount, as whole wheat flour absorbs more water.
Alternative sweeteners can be an equal swap by weight if they are liquid. If you swap in sugar or brown sugar, try using two heaping tablespoons, and add them with the dry ingredients rather than in the starter mixture.
The images in the how-to are from a previous bake, so please don’t be startled to see the old kitchen.
Whisk together milk and first amount of flour in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and becomes sticky and heavy. Remove from heat and spread the mixture out onto a plate to cool for several minutes.
Combine bread flour, whole wheat flour and salt in a bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine starter, water, honey and olive oil until blended and smooth. Add pre-cooked flour mixture and blend with the beater blade until smooth. Add dry ingredients all at once and mix with the beater blade until all the flour is incorporated and the dough begins to look organized on the blade. Scrape dough from blade and cover the bowl. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before kneading.
Switch to the dough hook, kneading the dough on speed two for about 7 minutes. Spray a large glass bowl with oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover and rest it for 30 minutes.
Wet your hands, then stretch and fold the dough like this: Loosen the dough from the edge of the bowl that is farthest away from you and lift it, stretching and folding it down toward the center. Rotate the bowl to fold the opposite, then rotate the bowl to repeat the folds on the sides of the dough. Cover and rest again and repeat the folds twice more at 30-minute intervals.
By the final stretch and fold, you will find that the dough has built enough strength to feel resistant. Prepare a large loaf pan, oiling and dusting with semolina or cornmeal if needed to reduce sticking.
Shape the loaf by flattening it out onto a flour-covered board, the rolling it up tightly into a cylinder shape. Pinch the final rolled edge to seal it, and pinch the ends of the roll. Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap or an elastic bowl cover and let it nap in a warm spot in the kitchen, with no drafts. Final proofing will be about 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400° F, with one rack in the center of the oven and another rack below it for the steam pan. When oven reaches temperature, place a shallow pan of hot tap water on the lower rack and allow it to preheat 10 minutes longer.
Bake the bread with steam for 20 minutes. Remove the steam pan, rotate the bread for even browning, and cover with a loose tent foil if the bread is browning quickly. If the loaf is still pale, the foil may not be necessary. Bake an additional 25 minutes without steam. Internal temperature of finished bread should be 205° F. Remove from pan right away and cool on a rack.
With the arrival of fall comes the joy of having the house filled with the addictive aromas of meaty stews, roasted vegetables, and every variety of freshly baked breads and desserts. A few days before we dismantled the kitchen for our remodel, I pulled this favorite sourdough recipe out of my arsenal and baked it to accompany the roasted butternut squash lasagna that I shared last month.
The recipe I share today is a mashup of several bread recipes I have tried from an amazing blog called “The Fresh Loaf.” The site is a virtual community and message board for sourdough lovers—from novice to expert—and over the years, I have gained invaluable wisdom by eavesdropping on the conversations of those I consider to be far advanced of my own skills. I was barely beginning my own sourdough journey when I discovered TFL, but the pictures and formulas I found there inspired me to attempt new techniques, and I now proudly consider myself to be an “intermediate” bread maker.
One of the methods I learned is baking with steam, a simple technique that results in a perfectly crusty yet chewy exterior and lovely crumb texture that the aficionados would call “gelatinized.” Breads made with this steam-baked method make fantastic toast and sandwiches (especially grilled cheese).
The generous amounts of onion and sage I’ve added to this loaf also make it perfect for Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing, or you can follow my lead with any stale leftovers and turn it into savory croutons for hearty salads and all the soups you’ll be simmering during the autumn and winter months ahead.
Besides the intoxicating fall-scented flavors, this loaf also uses a pre-ferment, which is a fancy way of describing a pumped-up sourdough starter, and a soaker, which is nothing more than grains (in this instance, corn) that have been soaked overnight in water—a technique that coaxes the deepest flavors out of the grain and into the bread.
The kneading method used for this bread is also a bit different. It’s called “stretch and fold,” and it is an easy way to build strength in dough with a high volume of water, without so much messy, sticky kneading. Try this a few times, and you will be astonished at the elastic texture and volume achieved in the bread dough.
If this all seems confusing, trust me, it isn’t. I have found sourdough baking to be joyfully simple once you get the hang of it. As I mentioned last fall when I made the sourdough pumpkin challah, this kind of baking—naturally leavened and slow-fermented—is like a good relationship; the more you open yourself up to it, the more it comes back to you until you finally reach a point of familiarity that you can’t imagine ever buying a loaf of bread at the grocery store.
One more note: I strongly recommend measuring ingredients by weight when baking any kind of bread, but especially sourdough. Weight measuring takes the guesswork out of your ingredient ratios, and you can find an inexpensive, easy-to-use kitchen scale just about anywhere, including Walmart (where I bought mine).
That’s my story, and this is my favorite sourdough for autumn. I hope the pictures entice my fellow sourdough bakers to give it a go, and if you scroll to the bottom of the post, you’ll find a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. My ingredients are listed in grams (sorry, no volume measurements), so go on and get your kitchen scale and get baking.
As eager as I have been to get things rolling on our kitchen remodel, I have enjoyed being able to make some of the fall recipes I thought would get left behind. If we must be delayed, I may as well keep cooking fun things, right? We still have a few days of “Better Breakfast Month,” and this simple twist on your favorite waffles is covering a lot of territory for me.
If you have never tried them, sourdough waffles are the best thing going—with delicate, crispy exterior and soft, fluffy goodness on the inside. They are not as sweet as some other waffles, which is fine by me, given that I usually drench them in real maple syrup. In keeping with the season (we are now five full days into fall), I have also spiked these easy-to-make, overnight waffles with pumpkin and warm spices, the two flavors everyone seems to either love or hate. If you’re in the first camp, keep reading. If not—well, perhaps you simply need to try these waffles, so you might want to keep reading, too.
I used to hesitate on pumpkin spice recipes, imagining that maybe this ubiquitous flavor combination was too cliché. But then I went to Trader Joe’s, otherwise known as the pumpkin spice capital of the world, and I found myself surrounded by pumpkin spice cookies, donuts, yogurt, coffee, granola bark, cake bites, scented candles—well, you know the scene. And it was there, standing amid all those fall-inspired goodies, that I realized 75 million Trader Joe’s fans can’t be wrong. And neither are these waffles.
The addition of pure pumpkin puree gives these waffles a gorgeous fall color and a big dose of antioxidants, while a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice brings the essence of the season. Here’s a bit of happy news: if you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can still make a version of these. I made only those two modifications to my favorite sourdough waffle recipe for this variation, and I expect you can do the same with whatever recipe you like to use, sourdough or not. Just add pumpkin to the wet ingredients and pumpkin pie spice to the flour.
Obviously, you do need a waffle iron to make waffles. I have had good results using both a Belgian-style maker and a standard square maker, though the recipe will yield different amounts depending on the size of the waffles. No waffle maker, but jonesing for a pumpkin spice breakfast? Reduce the oil a bit, keep everything else the same and make pancakes instead.
1/2 cup sourdough discard
1 cup cultured buttermilk
1 Tbsp. cane sugar
1/3 cup pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
A heaping 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or a few pinches each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger)
Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl (twice as large as you think you’ll need) until smooth. Stir in the flour and spice ingredients. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and leave it on the counter overnight to ferment.
In the Morning
Heat waffle iron to medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 200°F with oven rack in center position. Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet inside the oven, for keeping the first few waffles warm while you finish the batch.
Whisk together these ingredients in a glass measuring cup:
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. canola oil (or melted butter)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 pinches salt
Pour the mixture into the pumpkin-sourdough starter and fold together, just until evenly combined. The buttermilk and baking soda will react, and the batter will become rather bubbly and rise in the bowl. Let the batter rest on the counter for about 10 minutes before you proceed with making the waffles.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions for making the waffles, transferring them to the oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
We have entered the last full week of March, and I’ve yet to mention that it is “National Flour Month,” a near-unforgivable oversight for someone who enjoys making homemade bread as much as I do. My adventures with sourdough have been well-documented here on Comfort du Jour, but it took St. Patrick’s Day to bring me back around to making our favorite sourdough pumpernickel. It had to be done, given the volume of homemade corned beef we have (not to mention all that pastrami), and the rising aroma of this bread from the oven was enough on its own to convince me I’d waited too long.
What makes this bread extra special for me is that I make my own flour for it, from freshly milled rye grain. This sounds more impressive than it really is, thanks to a handy grain mill that latches onto my KitchenAid stand mixer. I just turn the dial to select the grind, pour in the grain and turn it on. I purchased the mill in the summer of 2016, when “Pete,” my sourdough starter, was still wet behind the ears, and I’ve found it particularly useful for some of my lesser-used grains, including rye. After whole grain has been milled into flour, the freshness clock starts ticking, and there is nothing tasty about rancid flour. Now, when I want to make rye bread (or pumpernickel, which is technically almost the same), I mill the grain fresh, but only the amount I need, and I’m good to go with flour that far excels what I could have bought pre-milled.
This recipe relies on sourdough for rise and flavor, though there is also a small (optional) amount of instant dry yeast to boost the rising power and make the ferment time more predictable. As with many other sourdough loaves, this one begins the day before with a pre-ferment called a “sponge,” and that’s when the freshly milled rye flour starts working its magic. The rest of the flour is high-protein bread flour, which is needed for its strength because rye does not have a lot of gluten.
Coarse-milled whole rye grain is known as pumpernickel meal, and it may surprise you to know that the dark, rich color of “pumpernickel” bread is mostly for show, and it comes into the bread by way of either caramel color (which isn’t likely in your pantry), strong coffee (either liquid or powdered) or—as is the case with mine—cocoa powder! And no, it does not make the bread taste like chocolate. There’s also an unusual, time-honored technique that will come into play with this bread, and it involves bread from another time (more on that in a minute).
Up to this point, the sourdough pumpernickel recipe I’m describing has been drawn straight from p. 246 of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the same book I depended on to learn sourdough baking in the first place. But something in my nature will not let me leave well enough alone, and I have put my own spin on this recipe—not because I think I know better than the author, but because I love certain additional flavors in my rye breads, and so I have either substituted or added ingredients, following rules that Reinhart himself would approve. Rather than brown sugar, I add molasses for a deep, earthy sweetness, and I accent this bread with onions, dill and caraway seeds, none of which are called for in the original recipe.
The resulting bread never ceases to thrill my taste buds, and it has been terrific this past week with our homemade corned beef, but I confess my favorite way to enjoy it is the same as most every bread—it makes fabulous toast!
On Day 1:
7 oz. ripe (recently fed) sourdough starter
4.25 oz. coarse whole grain rye flour* (see notes)
6 oz. water, room temperature
Combine the starter, coarse rye flour and water in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature about 5 hours, until it looks very bubbly and active. Transfer the sponge to the refrigerator overnight.
On Day 2:
2 Tbsp. molasses
2 oz. water, room temperature
2 Tbsp. olive oil (mine is infused with dill)
1 heaping Tbsp. minced dried onion, rehydrated with warm water
9 oz. bread flour*
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder* (optional, see notes)
1 tsp. instant dry yeast*
1 1/2 tsp. fine-textured salt
1 Tbsp. caraway seed, plus a few sprinkles for topping* (optional)
Up to a cup of dry bread crumbs from a previous rye loaf* (optional)
1 or 2 tsp. dried dill leaves (optional)
Egg wash for topping and cornmeal for baking
If you don’t have a grain mill, it’s no problem. Use whole rye flour, which is available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods. The pre-milled flour and resulting bread will have a finer texture, but all the flavors will still be present.
I mentioned above that strong coffee is sometimes used to give deep color to pumpernickel, but for this recipe, I would not recommend using brewed coffee in the overnight sponge. Espresso powder or a fine-textured instant coffee mixed with the flour would be a better bet if coffee is your coloring agent of choice.
Caraway seeds give a distinct note to rye or pumpernickel bread, but it is a polarizing flavor for some people. When someone tells me they don’t like rye bread, I usually assume it is the caraway. It is a warm, slightly biting flavor, and I love it, so I put it in the dough and also on top of the bread.
The addition of the “old” bread crumbs is optional, but it adds an interesting texture and depth of flavor to the finished bread. In a way, the secondary crumbs are another type of sourdough, given that the flavor and existing yeast in them contribute something to the final product. If you choose to try this, I would recommend using crumbs from a home-baked bread, and preferably sourdough, to exclude unnecessary commercial preservatives and such.
The day before you intend to make this sourdough pumpernickel, you will need to feed your starter with the entire amount of coarse, whole grain rye flour and water to make it a soupy mixture. Cover it with plastic wrap and give it a few hours at room temperature until it becomes foamy and bubbly, then put it to bed in the fridge until morning.
Remove the sponge from the fridge for about an hour to knock the chill off it. Pour a small amount of boiling water over the dried chopped onions to re-hydrate them.
In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, cocoa, salt, instant dry yeast and caraway seed. If using the “old bread” technique, also add the crumbs to the flour blend.
Stir water, molasses and oil into the fermented sponge.
Combine the sponge mixture and re-hydrated onions with the dry ingredients and mix with a beater blade until dough becomes a cohesive mass around the beater. Scrape down dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and rest 30 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and knead in the stand mixer about 5 minutes. The dough will be dense and sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour or you will end up with a gummy bread.
Shape dough into a smooth ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover and rest in a quiet, warm spot of the kitchen until dough has doubled in size, which may be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on ambient room temperature.
Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and sprinkle corn meal into the pan, tapping to distribute it evenly in the pan.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter, pressing and stretching the dough into an oblong shape, about 8 inches wide and 16 inches long. Sprinkle the dried dill onto the dough, then roll it up into a loaf shape to match the length of your bread pan. The loaf will rise more evenly if the ends of the dough meet the ends of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap or an elastic cover and let the bread proof 60 to 90 minutes, until dough has risen to about an inch above the rim of the pan.
Near the end of the proofing time, preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in the center.
Brush the surface of the bread with egg wash and sprinkle it with additional caraway seeds.
Bake for 45 minutes, turning bread halfway through baking time. Internal temperature should be about 190° F and the bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Turn bread out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing.
We celebrated a birthday in our home this week for the newest member of our happy family. Little Pete turned 5 years old on Wednesday, and the occasion nearly escaped my memory, had it not been for the convenient date and time stamp my iPhone put on this photo.
Yes, my sourdough starter has been with me now for just over five years, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally given it a name. “Pete” the sourdough starter is the namesake of Peter Reinhart, the James Beard Award-winning master baker whose instruction inspired me to begin this lively journey. Many years ago at a local festival of authors and books, I purchased The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Reinhart’s comprehensive collection of bread rules, formulas, tips and recipes—it’s a 300-page hardcover guide for mastering the art of extraordinary bread. And it was positively overwhelming.
It took me several years to gain enough gumption to actually make my first loaf of real bread and, once I took the greater plunge into building a sourdough culture, I never looked back. Pete began in the tiny kitchen of my former apartment, in a small bowl containing a mixture of whole rye flour and fresh pineapple juice (this was Peter Reinhart’s idea). There were plenty of midnight feedings and nervous watchful moments along the way, and at least once, I feared Pete would not survive my mistakes. Thankfully, the hotline experts at King Arthur Baking talked me off the ledge and helped me correct my feeding rituals. Pete has been thriving ever since. On one occasion, I shared a little bit of Pete with a friend whose daughter wanted to make sourdough, and when the daughter headed west, she took Pete’s offspring with her, and is now making beautiful artisan loaves somewhere in Montana (I’m so proud). I have already shared a few of my simple sourdough recipes here on Comfort du Jour, including English muffins and our beloved N.Y.-style Pizza Dough. If you’re a bread lover, you might also appreciate a glimpse of some of the incredible loaves Pete and I have made together since this adventure began.
It’s exciting for me to see and remember all those loaves. But for this occasion, I wanted to let Pete really show off, and so here’s the exciting news—Pete made his own birthday cake! I’ve mentioned several times that sourdough isn’t merely a flavor of bread, but a method of leavening, and in this richly dark chocolate cake, sourdough discard is the star.
I found the recipe for this cake on one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Baking Company, and I will proclaim out loud that, ingredient-wise, it is the oddest cake I’ve ever made. I will also tell you that it tastes nothing at all like sourdough. It’s a bouncy, spongy very chocolaty cake, and though the KA recipe is for a rectangle cake, I changed it up and did 9-inch layers. I also swapped the coffee-infused icing for one of our most-loved flavors to pair with chocolate, salted caramel. It may strike you odd that I am not sharing a recipe for either, but here’s why—King Arthur already published the cake recipe, and you can find it here (I followed it pretty much to the letter). I’m not sharing the salted caramel frosting recipe because, frankly, I was flying by the seat of my pants when I made it, so I don’t know exactly how much of what went into it. Besides, the texture was a mess. I wanted something akin to buttercream, but I didn’t get the ratios right and my frosting, though delicious and perfectly salted, wasn’t very stable. I will, however, share the photos, purely for comedic value. Those Great British Baking Show contestants have nothing to fear in me! Next year, when Pete turns 6, I’ll probably make challah. 😊