Category Archives: Bear Face

Sydney and the Blue Mountains

In December 2015, Bearface came to Australia to do some motorcycle touring and spend the holidays with us.  We spend most of Christmas Day at Hyams Beach on Jervis Bay, home of (debatedly) the whitest sand in the world (definitely the whitest I’ve seen), then drove to Sydney.  We stayed in Sydney for a week until New Years to watch the Sydney New Years fireworks, then on New Years Day, we drove to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains for the weekend.  Here are some pictures I took from those adventures.

Every one of my visits to Sydney includes a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  This time, we actually went on one of the free guided tours and learned heaps of stuff and saw heaps of stuff we never would have known about from just walking around unguided.


Green leaves at the Royal Botanic Gardens


Little white flowers growing in the puddle in the middle of a giant flower

We went to Bondi Beach and walked the whole coastal track from Bondi to Coogee.  It was crazy windy and unseasonably cold but beautiful!  Pretty Boy wants to go to Bondi every time we’re in Sydney, and I’d be happy to walk the coastal track again and again.


Bearface, Pretty Boy, and me at Bondi and the start of our walk


This was about half way along the track, looking back at Tamarama Beach and Waverley Cemetery; we started somewhere on the other side of that far point


Sydney’s high end real estate along Gordons Bay

Something we’d never done in Sydney before, Pretty Boy and I took a ferry from North Sydney to Watsons Bay and walked around the South Head entrance to Sydney Harbour.  We also had tasty fish and chips from Doyle’s on the Wharf Take Away.


Downtown Sydney, the Harbour Bridge, and Watsons Bay seen from the top of Gap Bluff


Watsons Bay wharf

Snapped this quick shot of Pretty Boy while we were waiting for a table at bill’s in Surrey Hills.


Aspiring model in the making (not an advertisement for Ray-Bans… promise)

Even after multiple visits, we are still finding new things to do in Sydney and loving it just as much every time.

After Sydney, to get to Blackheath, we drove the long way around, taking the Bell Line of Road.  In Bilpin along the way, we stopped at Pie in the Sky Roadhouse for sweet and savory pie and picked up some local fruit from a fruit seller.  We also stopped at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mount Tomah.  I love all botanic gardens, and this one did not disappoint.  I am so keen to go back and spend more time there.


The botanic garden nestled in the Blue Mountains

When we were staying in Blackheath, Pretty Boy and I went on a major hike recommended in my Lonely Planet Guide.  Here is a map of the route we took.  We started at Perrys Lookdown, north of Blackheath, and hiked straight down the valley wall to the base of the valley, about a 300 m descent.  Along the bottom of the valley was the Grose River, magical Blue Gum Forest, and Acacia Flat camping area.  We passed a few other hikers on the way down and met some people camping at Acacia Flat.  After marveling at the Blue Gum Forest and wading in the creek, we decided to keep hiking in the valley, instead of going back up the way we came down.  We hiked along Govetts Creek to Junction Rock then took the Rodriguez Pass walking track up to Govetts Leap Lookout.  Along the way, we stopped and swam (in our underwear!) in a pool in the creek next to which we were hiking.  Ugh, I still remember how freezing that water was!  But it was refreshing on our tired legs and washed off the sticky sweat so I think it helped us get the rest of the way out of the valley.  We were tuckered after the serious climb up the side of the valley (400 m total ascent, 300 m of which were tackled on staircases at the very end) and had planned on having Bearface pick us up at the lookout, but that didn’t work out, so we walked back to the AirBnB cottage we were staying at via the Barrow Lookout, Braeside walk, and the city streets.


Fern tree un-ferning in front of Pretty Boy on our way down to the Blue Gum Forest


We saw amazing plants and rocks in the valley


Bridal veil or Govetts leap falls being blown away in the wind; this was at the last bit of trail before Govetts Leap Lookout; doesn’t even do the ascent justice


Partway up to Govetts Leap Lookout, looking across the valley that we were hiking in all day

Looking back at the falls while ascending


Gazing out at the ground (and elevation) we covered


Pretty patterns cast by the light in our AirBnB cottage

An exhausting, amazing adventure!  It was one of the most physically demanding hikes Pretty Boy and I have ever done, but I loved it and hope to get back to the Blue Mountains again for more.  And all that hard work made our dinner that night at Vesta Blackheath so, so extra delicious.  I sat with my back to an old iron chiminea that had a fire burning in it the whole night and positively melted with exhaustion in the glorious heat.

On our way back to Canberra, we drove through Katoomba and stopped at Scenic World to see the Three Sisters.  Touristy Scenic World was very different from the rough wilderness of our hike in Blackheath, but the Blue Mountains are beautiful from either setting.


Three Sisters, limestone rock formations on the left of the valley


Water falls around Scenic World


Goofing around on the walking trails at Scenic World

We did so many things on that trip!  But these were the highlights of the pictures I took.  The Blue Mountains are only a 3 hours drive from Canberra so I have no excuses for not getting back there more often.


Summer Pie and Pastry Tour

Regardless of whether or not I have personal time to make pie, I still always have a desire for good pie, and I always love the hunt for good pies out there.  This summer has been a hodge-podge of pies that weren’t exactly planned as a tour and didn’t all happen at the same time.  First, there was the mini strawberry rhubarb pies from Yum! Kitchen and Bakery in St Louis Park, MN.  Then the rhubarb crumb somethings from A Baker’s Wife in Minneapolis, MN.  A 2 Gingers Irish apple pie from Sara’s Tipsy Pies which I ordered online and picked up at the White Bear Lake Friday farmer’s market.  Donuts from Bloedow’s Bakery in Winona, MN.  And lastly, two hand pies from Brick Street Coffee in downtown Mt Carroll, IL.

I heard about the mini strawberry rhubarb pies from an online announcement and thought it was an excellent opportunity to leave school early, have my sweet tooth satisfied, and be judge-y.  After trying one, I decided I wouldn’t actually consider it a true pie and would therefore judge it in a non-pie manner.  The bottom crust was strange and more like a biscuit cookie than pastry, and I felt it didn’t really impart any flavor to the whole dish.  The top was a butter-based (not oat) crumble.  Aside from a bottom crust that I barely noticed, I really liked it.  The filling was set nicely, and tasted sweet and tangy and summery.  I would have liked the crumble with a little more texture, but I still ate it.  I’ve liked a lot of other offerings I’ve had from Yum before too, but I just wouldn’t go there looking to satisfy a pie craving or trust something labeled as pie.

I heard about the strawberry rhubarb things at A Baker’s Wife from Bearface who said they were amazing.  I got there late in the afternoon and snagged the last two off the tray.  They were in mini dishes shaped like pies but without a bottom crust and only a small sprinkle of butter crumble on top and the filling was runnier than a traditional fruit filling.  That’s why I’m not sure what to call them, and again, definitely not what I would consider a true pie, so I’m using an alternate judging criteria.  I’m going to give A Baker’s Wife and Bearface the benefit of the doubt on these because A Baker’s Wife makes really delicious stuff and Bearface only encourages me to eat really delicious stuff.  I think the two strawberry rhubarb things I got were flukes, because for whatever reasons, they seemed off and I didn’t like them.  The crumbles were mushy, the fruit was also cooked to complete mush, but the filling felt almost grainy to me – like the thickening agent hadn’t been full cooked even though the fruit was.  Sweetness level was good; fruity, summery, tangy business was good; I just didn’t like it that much.

The pie from Sara’s Tipsy pies ended up being the only true pie entry on this tour.  I found out about Sara’s from a recent Heavy Table shout out.  I was predisposed to not like the pie because I generally feel like good pies don’t need fancy-ing up with caramel or booze or nuts or the kinds of things people are so interested in adding to pies these days.  But I forced myself to keep an open mind and ordered a whole pie made with 2 Ginger’s Irish whiskey.  Bearface met me and Pretty Boy and we picked up the pie along with two hand pies.  I don’t remember the flavors but I didn’t like them as much as Bearface and Pretty Boy.  The crust was too soft and crumbly and the filling flavor not predominant enough for me.

After the hand pies, we stopped into Caribou Coffee for coffee and forks to attack the pie.  And did we ever attack the pie.  We probably ate two thirds of the pie right there, before I even thought to take a picture.  Probably a good sign.  The crust was real pastry and held up well, though like the hand pies, was still on the crumbly side for me.  I was surprise by how strong the whiskey flavor was in the filling.  I liked the consistency of the filling, both the apple juices (good thickness) and the apples themselves (cooked but still with some texture).  Now, a month later, I’m still undecided if I liked the whiskey flavor.  Bearface and Pretty Boy again were fans but it was almost too much whiskey for me.  My personal tastes aside, if you like whiskey, I’d recommend the pie.  Not one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten and a little gimmick-y with the booze, but still a strong offering and actually one of the best available that I’ve found in the Twin Cities metro area.  Next time I’ll have to try one of the ‘sober’ pies.

And then there was Bloedow’s.  Bearface told me about Bloebow’s after WCCO listeners voted it the best donut shop in Minnesota.  I’d never heard of it but was ecstatically excited that they fry their donuts in lard.  Lard!  For all my vegetarian leanings, I do love real lard.  Pretty Boy and I stopped into Bloedow’s just before closing and were happy to find the donut and cookie and other cases full of treats.  We tried a few donuts, the Bloedow’s version of a paczki, and a cookie.  All were spectacular!  We just really loved them.  The donuts were pretty classic in terms of texture, sweetness, crust, and color (i.e. no crazy crunchy crust like maybe I would have liked but isn’t typically found on a classic donut), but in this case, it was a good thing.  My one observation is that the Bloedow’s paczki did not match what I think of as a paczki.  Bloedow’s version was pretty much just a jelly filled Bismark donut.  Tasty, but not what I think of.  I’ve only ever hard paczki around lent and made by Eastern Europeans.  Anyway.  I’d rank Bloedow’s up pretty high, so if you really love a good donut and food adventures, maybe it’s worth the drive.  I probably wouldn’t ever drive all the way to Winona just for the donuts, but if I was in the area, I’d definitely stop.

Pretty Boy and I found the last entry on the tour by accident in Mt Carroll, IL.  We had been at the motocross track in Mt Carroll all day, huddled in the trailer, avoid the heavy, heavy rain.  Damp and rather cold.  When there was a tiny break in the rain, late in the afternoon, we hopped in the truck and headed to Brick Street Coffee to dry off and heat up.  They had an interesting array of baked goods which included a number of flavors of hand pies.  We picked a cherry and an apple.  The crust was plan and crumble-y, texturally similar to something like Perkins but not quite as processed tasting.  The filling seemed like canned filling.  It was rather plebeian but by no means offensive.  We ate them both and warmed up with lovely cuppas until the rain cleared off enough for us to head back to the track, light up the grill, and get in a hot dinner before bed.

With only one true pie offering, I don’t know if this really constitutes a “pie tour,” but it iss what I ate.  I always love donuts and, while I don’t always love the pie that’s out there, I’d serve a pie from Sara’s at a dinner party if I needed to serve pie, so that’s a good find.  We’re heading to a race in Michigan this month which means more potential pie tour stops coming soon.

Savory Apple Onion Tarts

The Kingfield Farmer’s Market apple bake-off was this past Sunday, and I almost didn’t do it.  Last year, my natural entry was apple pie, and I am really happy how that turned out.  This year though, I wasn’t sure about entering because I wasn’t sure what to make.  All I knew as of two weeks ago was that I definitely didn’t want to do apple pie again.  Something about growth and change and taking risks in life.  But that meant I need another inspiring apple recipe.

After research, I found three potentially exciting apple recipes for apple sage cake, huguenot torte, and apple onion tarts and tested each of them.  The apple sage cake was heavy on baking soda which made it seem salty and more like a soda bread than a sweet cake but was good with whipped cream.  The recipe would need some work and glaze or frosting or something to make it really special.  Sage is a hard herb to pair with sweet flavors, but it had potential.  The huguenot torte was delicious.  I made it with apple pieces and toasted pecans and served it with whipped cream.  I wanted to make it for the bake-off but I wasn’t sure about its mass appeal and the torte really needed the whipped cream to make it a standout.  I will definitely make it again and probably add twice as much apples and pecans, possibly try it gluten-free (so much potential!), but the logistics of serving it at the market without whipped cream deterred me.

So that left the apple onion tarts.  Continue reading

Mid Summer Pie Tour

I am pleased to announce that my Mid Summer Pie Tour was substantially more satisfying than my Early Summer Pie Tour. The Mid Summer Pie Tour included the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Maiden Rock, WI; the Stockholm Pie Company, Stockholm, WI; the Homemade Cafe, Pepin, WI; and Rye Deli, Minneapolis, MN.

It all started when I agreed to go see Pretty Boy race at his favorite track: Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, MN.  I was ecstatically surprised to realize that I could alter my route to Millville and take the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road (WI-35) and only add 15 more miles to the trip.  Why the Wisconsin section of the Great River Road?  Because some of the best pie comes from that area.  The first three locations I visited on my pie tour are all within 15 miles of each other along WI-35 on the eastern shore of Lake Pepin.  Professor Peaches agreed to accompany me both on my ambitious pie tour and to the motocross track even though she isn’t supposed to eat pie nor is she explicitly a fan of motocross.  But she likes Pretty Boy and food adventures, so graciously agreed to be my driving companion and attempt to be the restraining voice of reason.

My plan was to stop at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop and then Stockholm Pie Company on the way to the track.  On my previous trip to the Stockholm Pie Company, the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop had been closed and I’ve been anxious to go back and try it since.  I was also excited to try someplace new even if they are better know for general baked treats instead of just pie.  We arrived a little before 9 am on a beautiful summer day after a lovely drive out of the cities.  In front of the bakery, there was a little old lady under an umbrella selling canned pickles and preserves on the sidewalk.  Across the street was a cute shop called Culture Cloth, which was cute enough to attract our attention and ambiguous enough in what they actually sold to spark our curiosity.  I put aside hunger and excitement for the bakery to cross the street and check out Culture Cloth.  Turns out they weren’t open yet, but the shop keeper was inside and kindly let us in early to take a look around.  They sold a really cool collection of textiles, jewelry, and housewares made by “indigenous artists” that were mostly out of my price range, but only by a small enough amount to keep them tempting.

At the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, Professor Peaches order a single slice of raspberry sour cream pie to bring home.  I, on the other hand, was ready to really try out the place and do some damage.  I bought a whole 3 berry pie, a slice of blueberry buttermilk pie, a apple cinnamon muffin, a blueberry danish so fresh out of the oven I had to wait for the danishes to cool and be glazed before I could take one, and a loaf of “Bird Seed” bread.  I ate half the danish and a few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie in the car before we even left the bakeshop, and my initial assessment was quite favorable.  The danish pastry was flake-y and crisp but still tender with a strong buttery flavor that stood up well next to the blueberry filling and apricot glaze.  The filling and glaze each were distinct, having an independent flavor, fruity but not too sweet.  I saved the second half for Pretty Boy who didn’t end up eating it until much later that night when the crispiness had started to lean towards toughness and the blueberry filling had thickened substantially, but it was still a solid pastry.  I really liked my initial few bites of the blueberry buttermilk pie and resolved to also put it aside until later when I could really do it justice.

Next stop was the Stockholm Pie Company, bustling with people and an overwhelming number of pie options.  After an embarrassing amount of indecision and deliberation, I settled on a piece of mushroom spinach quiche with sliced apples, as well as a slice of blackberry apple pie and a slice of triple chocolate pecan pie.  The pecan pie was mostly for Pretty Boy and to have a least one custard pie in the tour.  The quiche was heated in the microwave (same as the savory pies I tried there last year and which I continue to disapprove of) and I ate half of it in the car before we pulled out.  The egg custard, mushrooms, and spinach were all perfectly cooked and balanced.  The custard was creamy but firm and not runny, dotted liberally with chew chunks of mushrooms and ribbons of spinach.  The crust was undercooked for my preference which was exasperated by the reheating making it a little insubstantial, but the flavor was still top notch.

Back on the road, I was ready to continue on to the track when we came upon the next cute little town of Pepin, WI and the Homemade Cafe.  The Homemade Cafe has received a lot of press for their good food as well as their pie, a fair amount of which I’ve read.  And I exclaimed as much as we drove by.  All it took was Professor Peaches asking, “Do you want to stop?” and I was turning around and pulling into the Homemade Cafe parking lot.  They were busy and it took a bit of waiting at the counter to get pie and then pay but I was so happy we stopped.  I got a slice of peach black cap pie and a slice of rhubarb custard.

After that, I was satisfied I had bought enough pie and we made it to the track.  It was a super fun day of being with Pretty Boy, teaching Professor Peaches about the world of motocross, and watching Pretty Boy get his first “hole shots” at Spring Creek in both the 250A class motos.  I returned home long before Pretty Boy and unloaded my car-full of baked goods and proceeded to hover over the kitchen table rather impatiently, waiting for Pretty Boy to get home so we could try the rest of the pies together.

When he got home, we started with the Smiling Pelican offerings.  The blueberry buttermilk lemon pie had a bottom crust, lemon buttermilk custard baked on top, a layer of blueberry jam then a layer of fresh blueberries on top.  The buttermilk lemon filling was delicious, smooth and creamy with a lusciously rich, tangy and lemon-y flavor.  The fresh fruit and jam on top went with the custard well but the custard was really the dominant taste in the pie. The crust was hard to judge, mostly nondescript on the bottom, edge had good crunch but not enough flavor to stand up next to the rest of the flavorful pie.

The 3 berry pie had a streusel top, which I generally think of as the easy way out when it comes to pie crust, but the streusel was quite crunchy which I really liked and is about the only way to redeem streusel topping in the eyes of this crusty-edge lover.  The berry filling was amazing, strong berry flavor, good adhesive but not gloopy texture; the bottom crust was again rather nondescript but the edge was nicely crunchy with a crisp flaky texture though it could have used a stronger pastry flavor.  This was our favorite pie.

Then on to the Stockholm Pie Company pies.  The blackberry apple pie filling was one of the best (and only one of two pies I purchased with both a full top and bottom pastry crust) – good flavor, the fruit was really well showcased, well spiced with a perfect amount of sweetness and nice texture. I had high crust hopes since Stockholm Pie Company has provided me with the best pie I’ve ever bought, but the crust seemed undercooked this time, though that still didn’t stop it from being super flaky.  The flakes were super soft so the crust almost melted in the mouth, and the amount of crust to filling ratio was good resulting in the crust’s pastry flavor actually contributing to the flavor of each bite.

Triple chocolate pecan, also from the Stockholm Pie Company was not my usual choice, but the tour needed a little variety.  Triple chocolate pecan sounded like it was going to be just too complicated a mix of flavors for me but perfect for Pretty Boy.  The complicated sounding flavor mix was even further convoluted by what looked like a layer of slivered almonds on top, but after trying it, I was pleasantly surprised.  The filling was super rich, super satisfying level of dessert sweetness, super chocolate-ly, but did not have any unpleasant tooth stickiness.  The nuts in the filling lead to a nice texture contrast and were well dispersed, top layer of filling even had a little caramelized crunch to it which helped make up for the also slightly underdone crust.  The two pies from Stockholm Pie Company came in a close second for our favorites.

And the Homemade Cafe offerings.  Of the three pies in the case, I decided on the peach black cap pie right away, then had to debate between the rhubarb custard and the cherry rhubarb.  The custard won out because it added to the day’s variety even though I probably would have preferred the cherry rhubarb filling.  The peach black cap (the other double crust pie) had a top crust heavily sprinkled with large granule sugar, which I don’t consider full cheating, but starting down the cheater crust road because it creates artificial crunch and flavor on the top crust which I believe should come from the crust itself.  The filling had a lot of fruit flavor and the texture was a little on the thick side but still good.  For being encrusted with sugar, the crust was probably the second best of the day.  It was dark in color, nicely cooked on the edge, and, I must admit, the sugar was fairly well balanced.  The rhubarb custard pie filling was a little strange, almost like the custard didn’t set right and separated a little, and the rhubarb in it was subtle, maybe even a little lacking, but that edge crust was worth it: flake-y, crunchy, and butter-y, that was the best crust of the day!

We tried the non-pie offerings that night as well:  the bird seed bread was lighter in texture than I anticipated, almost like a white bread with seeds, very airy with interesting crunch from “bird seed” additions.  I heard later from Pretty Boy and the Mojo Monster that it made great sandwich bread.  The apple cinnamon muffin was really good.  I loved the texture – enough gluten/stick to make it hold together but still tender, falling apart in nice, big, moist crumbles.  The apple and cinnamon together were on about the same flavor level as the raisins and sugar topping, all balanced together great.

The bird seed bread and the 3 berry pie were the only things to make it to the next day but not much longer.  I probably could have eaten the whole 3 berry pie that first night, it was that good.  And I was pretty satisfied with my Mid Summer Pie Tour.  I concluded that of the offerings: I like the Stockholm Pie Company filling the best; I liked the Homemade Cafe crust the best; and I like the overall selected offerings from the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop the best.  I know that’s kind of a cop-out assessment, but it’s what I thought.

I probably should have called it done after amount of high quality pie, but I just can’t resist!  Bettie Beware and Bearface were drawn to Rye Deli, a frequent haunt of ours, by the debut of their collaboration with Sebastian Joe’s: Rye’s Double Rye Ice Cream.  The ice cream was phenomenal.  Rye whiskey, toasted caraway seeds, orange zest, Sebastian Joe’s vanilla ice cream.  Yum!  I’m also a huge fan of most of the food on Rye’s menu, and a huge fan of all of the bartender, Richard, who never fails to elevate an evening at Rye to a great time.  Especially when he sings.  Unfortunately, I was not a huge fan of the blueberry pie on the menu that night.  We at least ate all the filling, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

It was a good tour with appropriate ups and downs.  And after writing this book about it, I’m already working on the list of places to include in my Late Summer Pie Tour.

Rye Bread

I am admitting here and now that I do fail in the kitchen.  It happens.  I grudgingly admit it.  Two things usually result from my kitchen failures: 1) food I have to eat because it’s just not good enough to share with/force on anyone else and I really hate wasting food and 2) experimentation/reinvention with the result of the failure.  I like 2) much better than 1) because repurposing usually results is something more palatable (and sharable) and hopefully doesn’t waste anything.  Occasionally the extent of the failure is so extreme that not even my resistance to wasting food can over come it: I just can’t eat it, so my options are experiment or toss.  And this is what recently happened.

So, I had wanted to make sourdough pancakes since my last successful experience culturing wild yeast.  Following a Joy of Cooking recipe I’d successfully used in the past, I mixed up a batch of pancake batter and left it to get funky.  And maybe I was a little overzealous in my attempt to make extra-sour sourdough pancakes, or maybe I was heavy-handed with an ingredient or two.  Whatever it was, when I added the eggs and fried up a few cakes the next morning, the results was less that desirable.  Much, much less.  Especially by my kitchen standards.  Flavor-wise, they weren’t bad, just ok and decently sour, but the texture, ugh.  The texture!  The cakes were gummy and mushy and no matter how much flour or leavening agent I added to the batter to try and save it,  I just couldn’t get the texture right.  I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the batter so I stuck it in the fridge with the idea of attempting to salvage it into better pancakes at a later date and time.

Leading up to my pancake failure, I was reminded (as I frequently am) by Bearface this time, of my desire to “get into” bread baking.  He shared a link for sourdough rye bread with me, and I watched the videos for the rye bread and looked through the website and other recipes.  I was really impressed by how straightforward the recipes were.  I’ve always wanted to try making a true sourdough starter and then making bread from it, but I was intimidated by the time and labor required.  “You mean I’d have to feed my started regularly?  No, I just don’t think I have the time for that.”  The only reason my cats get fed regularly is they aggressively, aggressively remind me when I don’t feel them.  How would I remember to feed my starter when all it did was sit quietly in the fridge?  And then with the bread kneading and proofing and kneading and proofing.  It seemed like a lot.  Given the extents I’ve gone to in other cooking adventures, bread baking definitely wasn’t too much but it was a lot.  Something I’d try eventually… some day… when I had time.

While my failed sourdough pancake batter sat in the fridge and sourdough bread was on my mind, I had an idea.  I used yeast to start my pancake batter.  Pancake batter is mostly flour.  Sour dough starters are made from yeast and flour.  The Mojo Monster had fortuitously just come home with a ceramic dutch oven that would work perfectly as a bread baking vessel since I lack a baking stone or any such bread baking supplies.  Maybe I could use my failed pancake batter as a sourdough starter!  It had the right consistency and everything!  It just might work!  I took the most basic white sourdough recipe from the Breadtopia website, substituted all-purpose flour for the whole wheat because that’s what I had on hand, threw the ingredients together per the very simple mixing instructions, and hoped for the best.  And my first loaf of bread from a homemade sour dough starter turned out lovely.

The dough rose nicely during both the first and second proofs, proving the yeasties I’d cultured in my pancake batter were up to the task.  And the crust.  Oh, the crust!  It was amazing.  When I took the bread out of the dutch oven after it had finished baking, I could hear the crust crackling.  And as I learned from Colette in Ratatouille, you tell good bread from the sound of the crust.  There was a spot in the center of the loaf that was slightly uncooked and the bread could have used more gluten to enhance the texture, but neither of those facts took away from the success of using failed pancake batter as sourdough starter.  I attribute the low gluten to not mixing the wet batter enough before the first proof and to the ratio of bread to all-purpose flour that I used.

I was ready to get ambitious with my starter and attempt the sourdough rye bread recipe Bearface shared with me but unlike the white sour dough bread, I did not have all the ingredients on hand.  I think I didn’t even have half the ingredients.  Learning of this, Bearface was quick to show up at my door with 5 lbs of fancy Co-op rye flour and an eager bear face.  I got the specialty spices needed and again, threw the ingredients together per the recipe (with extra mixing to increase gluten formation), and waited with high hopes.

I didn’t get the oven spring the first loaf had because I think the second proof was too long.  The crust wasn’t as spectacular as the first loaf, maybe because of bake time or temperature or moisture content, I’m not really sure.  But it was still really good bread.  Another sourdough starter success. 

I’ve since made several more loaves of both the white sourdough and rye sourdough.  I’ve found resting the dough after kneading the ingredients together and then a fair amount kneading a second time is the key to adequate gluten formation, and short second proof times result in nice oven spring.  My sourdough starter had matured quite a bit now in the month since I first tried to make pancakes, and the last loaf I made had great flavor and some spectacular air pockets. 

I’ve modified the original rye recipe from Breadtopia slightly to suit my own tastes.  The spices were a little two overpowering for me so I reduced the spices but added a bit of star anise because I’ve got it on hand and I think it compliments the other spices nicely.  So here’s how I make sourdough rye bread with failed pancake batter:

Sourdough Rye
1 3/4 cup rye flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole fennel seed
3/4 tsp whole caraway rye seed
3/4 tsp whole anise seed
1/2 of a dried star anise pod (optional)
2 tbsp molasses
1/3 cup failed pancake batter/sourdough starter
1 3/4 cup water
zest of 1 orange

1. Grind the fennel, caraway, anise, and star anise in a spice grinder, flour mill, or coffee grinder, etc. 

2. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with dough hook attachment.  Mix until combined.  I have to alternately mix by hand with a spatula and mix with the dough hook until all the dry ingredients are wetted because the dough is quite wet and doesn’t get worked by the dough hook until after its mostly come together.  For more sour flavor, rise for a longer time and a cooler temperature with initally a wetter dough.  Breadtopia says to whisk together wet ingredients and mix together dry ingredients then combine the two, but I have not had a problem evenly incorporating everything together at the same time in the mixer. 

3. Let the dough rest in the mixer for at least 15 minutes (I’ve waited up to 30 while buzzing around the kitchen working on other recipes) and then knead the dough again.  I let the mixer run for about 5 minutes, stopping a few times to run a spatula around the edges to mix everything evenly. 

4. Grease a large clean bowl by wiping olive oil around the bowl with a paper towel and transfer the dough to the bowl.  Let rise overnight or at least 12 hours at room temperature.

5. Turn the risen dough out onto a well floured surface.  And I mean well floured, its sticky stuff!  Gentle pat the dough down into a square.  I follow the instructions from the Breadtopia video and fold the dough into thirds (right edge folded onto the middle, the left edge folded on top of the right edge), rotate 90 degrees, and fold into thirds again.  I really recommend watching the Breadtopia video for this part.  After folding, shape the bread into a round loaf, tucking the fold seams underneath the round.  Let sit for a few minutes for the seams to stick together a bit (though they won’t entirely fuse), then flip the loaf upside down into a bowl lined with a floured cloth for the second proof.

6. Let the dough rise for about an hour or shorter.  Before baking, preheat the oven and a ceramic vessel or baking stone to 500 degrees.  After the second proof, turn the dough into the hot vessel and cover with the lid or onto the baking stone and bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 450 degrees, remove the vessel lid if using one, and bake for another 15-20 minutes.  I usually let my bread bake the full 2o minutes because I love ,LOVE crust. 

7. Remove the bread from the oven and from baking vessel or stone and let cool.  Slice that sucker open, share with everyone you love, and enjoy!