Sep 042011

DSC_1067 sourdough pancakes

Sometimes, when I’m stirring a sourdough batter, I think of my great-grandmother Rose.

Like thousands of Jewish women in the 1800s, she stayed in Russia and waited for her husband to send money for tickets to America.   She arrived at Ellis Island around 1898  with three children, no English and no kosher food. Her husband, working in Chicago and expecting to fetch her and the kids, didn’t know she’d arrived.

The story goes that she wandered in New York, bewildered and hungry, for three days. A kindly Jew rescued the family and put them on the right train. Who this angel was, no one knows today, but we do know that Rose went on to raise a good family on American soil.

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Feb 232011

It happens when I pick up a slice of my own bread. I turn it around, inspect the crumb and color. Bite, and judge the yield of the crust to my teeth. The age-old smell of fermented flour. The mysterious workings of yeast upon sugars and starches. Bread, a miraculous thing. Gratitude and wonder fill my mind.

How wise and beautiful is the blessing over bread: Blessed be You, G-d, our Lord and King of the universe,Who brings forth bread from the earth. It amazes me that people ever learned to harvest, thresh, and winnow wheat, grind it into flour, and ferment that flour with water to bake into loaves. How did it happen, so long ago – how did people have the wisdom to go from  step to laborious step and in the end, produce bread to eat? In wonder, I can only believe that the wisdom was a divine gift.

Bread must have been the first product of human technology. When you think of it, the first convenience food too, as it’s edible for days after production, unlike vegetables and meat. But not easy to get, even if the wheat field extends right up to your doorstep.

In ancient societies, people grew and processed their own bread, but it was arduous work. In this article, I read that the ancient Israelite woman might have spent three hours on her knees every day, bent over a stone quern, grinding wheat into flour. To feed your curiosity, this article by Jane Howard describes bread in ancient Egypt, and this Wikipedia article talks about the history of bread (with an awesome photo of a petrified round loaf retrieved from the ruins of Pompeii).

In medieval Europe, getting bread was not only back-breaking but expensive.  Landowners demanded two-thirds of villagers’ wheat production and set overseers to make sure the tax was met. The physical work of milling was taken out of the people’s hands, but not with kindly intention. Grinding flour and baking at home became illegal, so that the humble were forced to carry their wheat to the miller and then carry the flour to the communal baker – and pay for the work. In kind, because they had no money.

No, bread wasn’t taken for granted. Many lived and died without ever having eaten their fill of bread at one time.

Bread will always be a moving force in history. To learn more about it, I recommend H.E. Jacob’s Six Thousand Years of Bread. Much in this book can be taken, like bread itself, with a grain of salt, but the author gives you a panoramic view of bread’s historic role, from neolithic times to modern days. It ends on a poignant reflection of what bread was to Jacobs as he struggled to keep his humanity in Hell:

“In the Buchenwald concentration camp we had no real bread at all; what was called bread was a mixture of potato flour, peas, and sawdust. The inside was the color of lead; the crust looked and tasted like iron. The thing sweated water like the brow of a tormented man… Nevertheless, we called it bread, in memoriam of the real bread we had formerly eaten. We loved it and could scarcely wait for it to be distributed among us.”

Bread is holy, Jacobs concludes. And bread is profane.

Yes, and yes. Nourishment to the body and to the soul, derived from G-d’s grace yet requiring bodily toil and sweat to have.

How wonderful, what a miraculous thing.

Bread recipes from Israeli Kitchen:

Basil Bread

Bruschetta (And How To Say It)

Herbed Cheese Swirl Bread

Honeyed Challah

Light, Sweet Challah

Cheese Rolls

Potato Bread

Purim Recipe: Prune & Chocolate Bread

Tomato and Pumpkin Seed Bread

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread with Walnuts


Sourdough Croissants

Plain White Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread with Cornmeal

Sourdough Walnut Herb Bread

Sourdough Onion Bread

Sourdough Oatmeal Bread

image-potato- bread

Dec 132010


Friday night, the Little One and I lit the Shabbat candles and sat down to wait for the rain. It had only sprinkled a few times in our part of town, but the wind was driving yellow dust in front of it, tormenting the trees, knocking planters off balconies. Thunder growling in the distance, and daylight fading quickly.  Tension in the air. The world was waiting for release.

And it came. Finally, real, soaking rain beating down. We smiled and breathed out. How wonderful to be indoors when it’s cold and wet outside. I was glad I’d brought my tender nasturtiums in; they wouldn’t have survived on the porch. On Shabbat day, I served the winter’s first cholent, that comforting, aromatic overnight stew.

There’s something about cold weather that makes me want to bake. Probably because turning the oven on heats the apartment up – but the tantalizing smell of freshly baked goods may have something to do with it.  I’ve been baking sourdough. Having scored half a kilo of butter in the shuk several weeks ago – and “scored” is the word, because there’s been a butter shortage in Israel for weeks –  I made sourdough croissants.  Then an experimental sourdough loaf with a cup of spelt flour in it (it came out rather too moist and heavy for my taste).

From my file of sourdough recipes, I pulled out one for muffins. Hm. I hadn’t made sourdough muffins yet. And they turned out surprisingly easy. I had thought that they would need rising time, but blending acidic sourdough and a little baking soda makes muffin magic – all you need to do is mix everything up and pop the filled tin into a hot oven.

Here are two kinds of sourdough muffins from the same basic recipe.

Sourdough Apple Muffins

Note: these are really not very sweet. If you want to satisfy a sweet tooth, bring the sugar up to 1/2 cup.


1 Granny Smith apple, halved

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup oil

1 cup refreshed starter

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup sugar


Preheat oven to 425° F, 220° C

1. Dice one half of the apple. Grate the other half into a separate small bowl.

2. Mix the cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar into the diced apple. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Add the diced apples and stir well.

4. In a larger bowl, combine the starter, egg, oil, and vanilla. Mix well and add the flour/apples. Mix to just combine everything – don’t overmix or you will get Tough Muffins.

5. Fill your muffin molds to just under the top and scatter the grated apple over the surface of each one.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let the muffins sit in their tin for 5 minutes, then remove them and let them cool down on a rack.


Sourdough Carrot-Cranberry Muffins


1 carrot, grated – 1/2 cup, although if your grated carrot amounts to a little more, use it all.

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup oil

1 cup refreshed starter

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup sugar

1- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 425° F, 220° C

1. Mix the grated carrot and the cranberries. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Add the carrot/cranberries and stir well.

3. In a larger bowl, combine the starter, egg, oil, and vanilla. Mix well and add the flour/carrot-cran mix. Mix to just combine everything – don’t overmix or you will get Tough Muffins.

4. Fill your muffin molds to just under the top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Let the muffins sit in their tin for 5 minutes, then remove them and let them cool down on a rack.

Nov 042010

Full loaf

Even Husband  liked this sourdough loaf. (I have hopes for that man.) A little baking soda in the dough cut some of the sourdough tang, that was the secret. The starter I used was based on whole wheat flour, so although I used ordinary white flour, the bread came out a warm beige color. I should have slashed the top to keep the sides from breaking away, but the pan kept it together and I cut sandwiches from the loaf till it was gone.

The Little One  spread pesto on slices of this bread and sandwiched slices of feta cheese in between. I liked it with chicken salad and lettuce. Husband opened a jar of peanut butter and spread it on, bless him… there’s no accounting for tastes.

Plain White Sourdough Bread


1/2 cup water

1/2 cup newly-refreshed sourdough starter

3 cups white flour

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon sugar

for the following day:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda


Put the water, starter, 3 cups flour, oil and sugar in a large bowl. Mix well.

Cover with plastic wrap and leave to ferment in a cool place overnight.

Next morning, deflate the sponge and to it add 2 cups flour, the salt, and the baking soda. If the dough seems too loose to handle, add the last 1/2 cup of flour, cautiously. For a loaf that’s lighter than the usual sourdough, keep the dough sticky.Oil your hands to knead (or stretch and fold, which is the method I favor).

If kneading, knead 10 minutes. If stretching and folding, do it 6 or 7 times, or until you’re sure that everything is well incorporated. Cover the dough again and leave it in a warm place to rise. This will take 2-3 hours.

Deflate the dough and shape your loaf. Cover the loaf and let it rise somewhere warm till it’s light. It may not rise to double in size, but you should be able to see gas blisters under the surface skin of the dough. This third rising takes anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours, depending on how warm a place the dough’s in.

Slash the top of the loaf to avoid “flying crown.” This is especially important if the loaf is to be free-form, not baked in a pan. Give it about 5 minutes to recover, then bake in a preheated 350°F -180° C oven for 1/2 hour.

When the top has a firm, golden crust, gently remove the loaf from its pan and turn it upside to finish baking – another 15 minutes. It’s always best to test the loaf with a toothpick before assuming its done baking. If it seems underdone, give it another 5 minutes, or turn the oven off and come back in 15 minutes.

cut loaf sideways

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