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The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. I read this while I was in England just a week or two ago (as I write this) so could so identify with the characters, the homes, the life. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, on March 2nd, 2014.


I nearly forgot to post this one – my 2nd venture back into sourdough after a hiatus of about 20 years. Can’t you just about smell the hint of yeast bread? It was divine.

There are plenty of recipes out there on the ‘net for sourdough bread. And mine likely isn’t all that unusual.  But it’s the one I made most often – way back in the 1960s and 70s when I baked bread regularly. With a new sourdough starter at hand, I wasn’t about to venture into new territory, but wanted to make this first loaf with the trusted recipe.

Probably the most difficult thing about sourdough – once you have a starter going – is to remember  to take it out a day before you want to use it (to bake something), and refresh the batch with fresh flour and warm water and allow it to regenerate. I don’t know about you, but even though I have a calendar that I keep (on my iPhone and on my computer) I never know from one day to the next whether I’ll really be home on any set morning or afternoon – even if there’s nothing on my calendar. I may get an invitation to meet a girlfriend for lunch. My DH may ask me to meet him somewhere for lunch. I have regular things I do every week or two. I have meetings now and then. But anyway, you do need to make sure you’ll be home for most of the time required in this recipe. There’s time to go run an errand to the grocery store, but not time to go sit in a doctor’s office or to the car wash. The dough has to rise twice, and it’s a good thing to be hanging around watching it now and then. Especially the 2nd rising, as it takes less time. The amount of time you’re actually working with the dough is small, but in the rising processes it just needs to be watched (and maybe talked to nicely, maybe setting it in a warmer place).

sourdough_white_breadSo, here’s the method. This assumes you’ve already let the sourdough sit overnight (to GET the fresh starter you’ll need for the bread), and you begin with just ONE CUP of it. You can use more if you’d prefer, but it might make more batter than you’ll be able to deal with. You could make biscuits with the remainder, but that’s a story for another day.

YEAST: In a small glass measuring cup you want to get the yeast started. Now this part is something I’ve almost always done – ever since I learned how to bake bread. I mix the package of dry yeast in the warm/hot water with 1/4 tsp of ground ginger and 1/4 tsp of granulated sugar. Back in the 60’s I did a lot of reading about yeast and bread – everything I could get my hands on at the library (and there wasn’t a whole lot) and some book I read talked about adding ground ginger to the yeast mixture along with a tiny bit of sugar. What this does is allow the dissolving yeast something to feed on – the little molecules of yeast actually like to climb, as I recall reading, and if it’s got something there to climb on – like the ginger and sugar, it will climb. It’s a little thing, and you don’t have to do it if you’d rather not, but I’m of the opinion that it helps – it allows all the yeast to work. You want to use a glass, plastic or ceramic bowl (a Pyrex measuring cup is what I always used but now I use a plastic one). You do NOT want to use a metal bowl or measuring cup – yeast doesn’t particularly like metal at this stage.

FLOUR: Many yeast breads can be made with all-purpose flour, but over the years I learned that there’s a reason you use bread flour (which allows for the development of more gluten, which in turns gives the rise and a better texture). I use King Arthur’s if I can, but regular grocery-store bread flour will be fine. You’ll use less King Arthur bread flour than you will regular bread flour, fyi.

DOUGH: So, you’ve got one very gooey cup of sourdough starter in a large bowl. (In my recipe below I’ve also given you one word of advice – if you wear rings – take them off to knead sourdough.) Now you’ll start adding in the stuff. To it you add the yeast mixture, sugar, salt and flour. That’s it. You can do this first step in a stand mixer with the dough hook (I did, although I didn’t have  a stand mixer years ago and kneaded all my bread by hand). Using the dough hook makes the kneading SO much easier.

CONSISTENCY: If there’s one thing I have learned over the years about bread baking and particularly sourdough it’s to NOT add any more flour than you absolutely need to handle the dough. The more flour, the drier and more crumbly the bread will be. Having made bread in the new no-knead Sullivan Street Bakery method,  the European Peasant Bread (which is an extremely wet dough) you come to realize bread doesn’t need as much flour as you might think. That style allows for lots of bubbles and a very open crumb.

KNEADING: Here, with a sandwich bread you must add enough flour so you can knead it – in this kind of fine-crumb bread, you do need to knead it well to remove all the bubbles. With the no-knead, you want lots of bubbles to make a hole-y bread, while with sandwich bread, bubbles are your enemy. You almost can’t over-knead a yeast (sandwich) bread dough. But you can do it with the dough hook during both kneading steps. The 2nd time you’ll find the dough is much more malleable, supple and smooth. I prefer to knead it with the dough hook the 1st time and do it by hand the 2nd time. During the first mixing, it’s important to knead it well (which is why I use the stand mixer and dough hook) because you want to develop and push and pull the yeast and its interaction with the flour. If you don’t do that, the bread won’t rise correctly. The rising action just won’t happen the way you want it to. During the 2nd mixing, all you really are trying to do is punch/push out most of the bubbles.

DOUGH HOOK: Start the mixer on low until the batter has started to come together. In a regular sized Kitchen Aid stand mixer, this 2-loaf sized batter/dough will nearly fill the bowl – it doesn’t to begin with, but once the gluten begins developing the dough wants to climb the dough hook. You may need to stop it and pull it off. Don’t run the motor so fast that the mixer moves on the countertop. Kneading bread dough is the hardest thing a stand mixer can do, just about, so just go slow and increase the speed gradually. Let it run/knead for longer than you might think. It mixes up soon enough, but just let it go – probably for 4-6 minutes at least.

RISING WHERE?: In my present kitchen I don’t have an ideal place for dough or bread pans to rise, but I’ve finally found a location on top of my toaster oven, which puts a bowl or the pans within about 2-3 inches of our under-cabinet fluorescent lights. They don’t give off a lot of heat, but it’s better than sitting on our granite countertops, which are cold even in 90° weather. Lots of people create make-shift places to proof bread – like turning on your oven to its lowest temp for a few minutes, then turning it off and adding the bowl or pans. That works for awhile, but not for anything like 90 minutes. Some people put a pan of boiling water in the oven, and that will take about an hour to cool off, then you can repeat the process. You can create a cardboard box with a light bulb to heat up the space – just don’t over heat. Also know that in the winter, it’ll take longer for the dough to rise if the kitchen is cool. Some people just add more yeast (which works). If you add enough yeast bread dough will rise even if it’s in the refrigerator. That’s the genesis of refrigerator yeast rolls – you’ll find lots of recipes for those on the ‘net.

SHAPE: After the 1st rise, you punch down the dough, knead it for several minutes, until it does get that smooth texture. Cut the dough in half using a serrated knife and shape each half. You can do these in bread pans or on a flat sheet . . .

PANS: You might be able to put this dough on a flat baking sheet, but my experience with these kinds of wetter doughs is that as it rises it spreads out and not much up. So you’ll have a loaf that looks more like a ciabatta rather than a sandwich loaf. There’s a fine line between a wet dough that spreads and a more firm dough that will rise UP. You’ll need to test your own to see if it works. When in doubt, use bread pans or a ceramic bowl – an oval with sides. Or a Le Creuset  will work too. There are 2 sizes of bread pans – 8” and 9”. If you use 8” these loaves will be quite high. The 9” probably works better, but both will work. Don’t go out and buy 9” pans if you don’t have them.

THE FINGER TEST: Most experts tell you that to tell if the dough has risen enough you poke two fingers into the dough and if it doesn’t push back, it’s risen enough. The other test is the “double in bulk.” I try to eyeball the mound of dough and know when it’s about reached the double size. In most recipes this will take about 2 hours. During that time you don’t touch it or do a thing to it. If it’s warmer on one side than the other, rotate the bowl half way through.

PUNCHING DOWN: A few recipes (but not this one) tell you to punch down the dough while it’s still in the bowl – this is a method that uses 3 rising times. It merely means using your fist (without rings on any fingers) and punching the dough in as far as it will go then kind of gathering it up and turning it over and letting it rise again.

2nd RISING: My experience is that the 2nd rise takes less time – usually about 45 minutes to an hour. I also have learned over the years that you want the dough to have risen ALMOST to the point you’d like it to look once it’s fully baked. In other words, the bread isn’t going to rise much at all, if any, once  you put it in the oven. I like the bread to have a nice mound above the bread-pan-edge, so I allow it to proof (rise) until it reaches that point. Be careful with the pans – don’t bang them or you could deflate the dough. I made a slash on the top of both loaves when I made mine, but you probably don’t have to. I cut into it only about 1/2 inch. Don’t slash very far down the side of the loaf or it might almost spill out sideways. That you don’t want. Just slash it on the top, 2 cuts about 3 inches or so long. They make special utensils for this, but any good sharp knife will work fine.

BAKING: Be sure to preheat the oven so it’s nice and hot. If you want to, turn the loaves around once during the baking. But don’t bang the oven door. When you remove the loaves, tap on the top with your fingernail or knuckle – you’ll hear a hollow sound – you’ll know they’re done. Some bread is so tender and soft you can’t possibly place the loaves on the top of the bread pan edges to cool, but sourdough makes a hearty crust and you can with this one. When in doubt, remove the bread from the pans immediately and let them cool on a wire rack. If you leave the bread in the pans, they’ll begin to steam from all the trapped heat – it will make the crust soft – not what you want here.

Yeast Bread Internal Temps:

According to several websites, yeast bread made with a combo of bread flour and regular all-purpose flour is done once it reaches 175° F; if bread flour only is used, bake to 185°F. Many yeast bread recipes also say 190-200°F. A baguette needs to be baked to 210°F.

SLICING: Don’t slice the bread too soon. This is an oft-made mistake – if you cut the bread before it’s cooled you’ll tear the tender bread. If that suits your meal to have irregular torn parts, then do go ahead, but if you want nice sandwich slices, wait for the bread to cool. I’ve become, over the years, very adept at slicing even slices of bread. How? I don’t know for sure – I watch the far side of the knife carefully as I begin the slicing with a serrated knife. Don’t push the knife down too far with each back and forward stroke. A gentle pressure works better – that way you can re-angle the knife if needed to make an even slice.

AH, BUTTER AND EAT!: Well, all that effort and all these instructions – now spread with some  unsalted butter (or salted if you’d prefer) and enjoy it. If you put much other than butter on it you’ll not even taste the sourdough.

STORING & FREEZING: My experience is that bread keeps best in the freezer. Because we’re just a family of 2, we don’t eat much bread at any meal, let alone much in a single day – some days we have none. So I do two different methods:  (1) I slice the bread, stack maybe 2 or at the most 3 pieces and wrap well in foil, then I put that in a Ziploc freezer bag, suck out the air with a straw (you know how to do that, right? – seal the Ziploc closure with only a tiny opening at one end in which you slip a straw. Holding the closure almost closed, just barely holding the straw between both hands, suck on the straw to draw out any air in the bag and quickly slide out the straw as you continue to hold it shut and seal it up). Then that Ziploc goes into the freezer. (2) I do sometimes use my vacuum sealer to prep a chunk of bread ( 2-3 inches long, unsliced) and when it begins the vacuum seal part, I only let it go until the interior bread just begins to shrink in and I stop the vacuum seal. Does that make sense? If you continue to pull air out it will press all the texture out of the inner, tender bread. So that’s why you continue only until it begins to indent the middle of the bread. Then that vacuum-sealed piece goes into the freezer. It usually takes less than half an hour to defrost either type. When I defrost the thick chunk of bread (unsliced) I usually lay the chunk down flat and slice horizontally to get an even slice. It’s much harder to slice bread that doesn’t have an end crust as it gives the chunk integrity to hold itself up.

Whew, that was one very long post. Hope this helps someone . . .

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Sourdough Bread San Francisco Style

Recipe By: An old favorite of mine, from the 1960’s
Serving Size: 28

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger — (I know, it’s odd)
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup sourdough batter
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup bread flour — or maybe 1 1/2 cups used on the kneading board

Notes: The ground ginger and sugar in the yeast mixture adds no flavor – it’s there only to give the yeast a little something to feed on. It’s an old “trick” I learned in the 1960s when I first started baking bread. It gives the yeast a little jump start, supposedly.
1. In a 2-cup measuring glass cup (or something similar, but NOT metal) add the hot tap water (not too hot or it will kill the yeast) and ground ginger and tiny bit of sugar, then sprinkle in the yeast, stirring to dissolve. Set aside for about 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to bloom. If it doesn’t get lumpy and bubbly, it may not be active yeast anymore.
2. Place sourdough batter in a large bowl and add sugar, salt, then add the yeast mixture along with a cup or so of flour. Stir well so all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed before adding more flour. Add about 3 more cups of flour and stir until it’s one big ball of dough, adding a bit more flour if needed to bring it together.
3. [If you wear rings, I recommend you take them off for this step and for Step #5.] Pour the mixture out onto your kitchen counter – sprinkle the board and the dough very lightly with more flour – and knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough is one cohesive ball and has no streaks of flour. It’s better if this dough (at this point) is VERY STICKY. You can also do this step with a dough hook on your stand mixer, or the plastic dough blade in the food processor. Don’t over-work the dough at this point.
4. Roll dough into a lightly greased bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size) and place in a warm environment – about 90°F for 1 1/2-2 hours until the dough has doubled.
5. Punch dough down and pour out onto a flour-sprinkled surface again and knead well for 8-10 minutes (or use the dough hook of stand mixer or dough blade in food processor) and work the dough until it’s a very smooth ball, elastic in texture. Add more flour in very small increments if the dough is too sticky. The aim is to just barely keep the stickiness under control. Adding more flour at this point can make a dry loaf of bread.
6. Using your hands mold the dough into an elongated oval, or a large round, or into 2 loaf shapes for bread pans. Pull the outside edges down and underneath so you have a very smooth surface. NOTE: sometimes sourdough bread just won’t hold its shape on a flat baking sheet surface, but will rise and just spread out rather than up. If that happens, you’ll need to confine it in a bread pan or some other shaped pan or oven-proof casserole dish so it has sides to contain it.
7. Dampen a light weight cotton kitchen towel (not terrycloth because it will snag on the dough) and lay it over the sourdough and place the loaf, again, in a warm place. It will take less time to rise, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a shallow pan of just-under-boiling water on an oven shelf below the shelf for the bread. Brush the outside edges of the bread with water and use a very sharp knife (serrated works) to cut at least 2 slashes (about 3 inches long each) across the dough, near the top, at least an inch or 2 apart. Bake for 35 minutes for bread loaves, about 40 minutes for a French (oval) shaped loaf) and about 55 minutes for one very large round loaf.
Per Serving: 82 Calories; trace Fat (4.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 153mg Sodium.

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  1. Melynda

    said on March 2nd, 2014:

    Your bread looks stunning. A perfect tutorial, with great information. I have read about the ginger before, this is a good reminder, as my starter is begging to be used.

    Thank you, Melynda. I hope some people who are new to yeast bread will learn something from it all . . . carolyn t

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