Friday, October 20, 2017

Fig, Walnut and Crystallized Ginger Sourdough Bread

I love fall and all of the beautiful changes that it brings...golden and red leaves, the smell of the leaves drying on the ground, watching the squirrels hiding nuts for winter, and the cooler days perfect for a long walk or working in yard.  I love the changes that fall brings in the kitchen too, warm soups, stews and chili, slowly braised meats, harvest vegetables, and....baking!  

I understand that I may be speaking to a very small minority who have sourdough starters or who may be interesting in starting one.  It was always something I had wanted to try and it has been very rewarding for me.  Don't think you must use a sourdough starter to make a dried fruit and nut bread either.  You could make this bread with any of the 'No Knead' bread recipes out there, such as Jim Lahey's, or use a Cheater's Sourdough recipe that uses Greek Yogurt instead of sourdough.  You can do a web search and find lots of ideas using the key words "No Knead Bread" or "Cheaters Sourdough". 

I am happy to report that the sourdough starter than I began last year (I shared my first sourdough loaf, on the blog here), is still alive and well in my refrigerator.  Sometimes I neglect to 'feed' it for almost two weeks and it always bubbles back to life without a problem.  

I had dried figs, walnuts and some crystallized ginger on hand and thought the three would make a delicious, fall combination for bread.  And, it was!

The thing to remember about baking bread with a sourdough starter is that you need to start the process the day before you want to bake the bread - that's the hardest part.  But the taste is unbeatable and the satisfaction of pulling a beautiful loaf of bread out of the oven is very satisfying.

The dough is allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator in a container about the size you would like for your loaf or loaves, lined with a well-floured tea towel.  I used two rectangular loaf pans. This recipe made two, nice-sized loaves. Don't worry if they don't look too puffy after you take them out of the refrigerator, they rise beautifully in the oven.

After the loaves have had their overnight rise, I like to place them on the back side of a cookie sheet on top of a large piece of parchment paper.  This way,  I can slide the loaves, parchment and all, onto my baking stone.  No worries if you don't have a baking stone, you can always use the preheated dutch oven method used in many other recipes, such as this one.

Slathered in good, fresh butter or jam, or toasted the next day it's delicious!

Walnut, Fig and Crystallized Ginger Sourdough Bread

Supplies you will need:

You need to have an active sourdough starter. If you look on Etsy there are lots of sellers - I used World Sourdough. Amazon sells one by Breadtopia that is live and not dried here. King Arthur also sells an already "active" sourdough starter here.

A bread stone for your oven is also preferred but you can also use a cast iron Dutch oven with lid.

Spray bottle filled with water


1-1/4 cups recently fed and active sourdough starter
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (not necessary but helps obtain a good rise)
3/4 cup diced dried figs, dried cherries or cranberries
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces.


In the bowl of a mixer with dough hook, combine the starter, water, and flour. Stir together until smooth. Cover the bowl and let the mixture sit for 1 hour. Then, mix in the salt and yeast and knead the dough with your mixer's dough hook on medium speed for about 6 minutes. Just before the kneading is done, mix in the dried fruit. If you don't have a dough hook you can knead by hand on a lightly floured surface. Add the walnuts and fold them gently into the dough. Cover the bowl and allow the dough rise at room temperature for 40 to 60 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. If you wish to make two smaller loaves instead of one large one, divide the dough in half. With a scraper, scoop up one side of the dough bring it into the center, pressing down. Turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat four more times. Repeat with other loaf, if necessary.

Flour a tea towel or banetton (a bread proofing basket). If using a tea towel, place it inside of a bowl or pan with a shape you find pleasing, bottom side up. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 450°F for 30 minutes with a baking stone placed in the lower third of the oven (or a Dutch oven with Lid). When the oven is preheated, put 1" of water into a small skillet that can go into the oven and bring it to a simmer. Take your breads out of the refrigerator. Don't worry if they have not risen a lot, it's okay.

Place the simmering water skillet into the bottom of the oven. Place a piece of parchment on a baker's peel or the back (flat) side of a baking sheet. Turn the refrigerated loaves out onto the parchment. Slash the top of the loaves, and slide the bread, paper and all, onto the stone in the oven. Spray the inside of the oven generously with water from a spray bottle. In 5 minutes, spray once more and bake for another 35 minutes, or until the center of the loaf reads 200°F with a digital thermometer.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Note: If using a cast iron Dutch oven, when the oven has preheated for 30 minutes, remove the lid. Slide the slashed loaf into the Dutch oven and bake, with cover on for 20-25 minutes. Remove lid, and bake until bread reaches 200F, about another 15 minutes, watching carefully. Times vary depending on the size of the loaf, and how hot your oven gets.

This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lemon-Zucchini Bread

I can't believe it's been 3 weeks since my last post!  We took a little vacation to the Colorado mountains with friends recently and enjoyed some beautiful, warm weather and lots of fun activities which I'll share at the end of this post.

It seems the warmth followed us home. Are you having the same heat-wave that we are?  The past week has brought unseasonably warm and dry weather to the Midwest.  It's been in the upper 80s to mid 90s Fahrenheit!  Needless to say, my zucchini and tomato plants are loving the heat.

Trying to make good use of my zucchini bounty, I made this recipe that I had seen online recently that combined zucchini with my other love - lemon.  The original recipe calls for glazing the zucchini bread with a drizzle of lemony frosting, but trying to keep it more calorie-friendly, I omitted that step. I will include the glaze in the recipe in case you'd rather it be a little sweeter.

I pulled out my late mom's old Ekco loaf pans which made some lovely golden loaves.

The bread turned great!  It was so moist I was happy I didn't glaze it. I loved seeing all the beautiful flecks of green zucchini and yellow lemon zest inside.  It was pretty hard to keep myself from eating slice after slice while taking these photos ;)

Here's a tip for those of you who do grow zucchini, or have a friend or neighbor that gifts you bags of it. Freeze fresh zucchini for your fall and winter baking projects or for the next time you're craving zucchini fritters!  Simply grate the zucchini on a box grater, or use the grating attachment on your food processor.  Remove as much excess moisture as possible by putting it in a clean tea towel and ringing it, or use a potato ricer, which is my preferred method.  After squeezing out the moisture, you can simply tap out the grated zucchini patty from the potato ricer and freeze it until firm, then place it in plastic zipper bags to use whenever you like.

Back to the little trip we took the second week of September!  We have good friends who have a home in Edwards, Colorado which is just west of Vail.  We had glorious sunny and warm days which were spent golfing, hiking and river rafting.  It was my first time river rafting and it was quite a scary an exhilarating experience! We used an outfit located on the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, which was about an hour drive from Edwards. Driving through Glenwood Canyon is a spectacular ride which I highly recommend.  There are also lots of beautiful hiking trails if you're not into rafting.

Since you do get entirely soaked while going through the rapids I couldn't film the raft ride but if you want to get a little idea of what it was like, take a look at the Rock Garden's website here.  We had an experienced helmsman who was great.

One day, we walked through the Village of Vail and had lunch.  The village is so picturesque and was modeled after European ski towns.  If you look carefully, you can see someone tending the flowers outside the middle floor in the upper-right photo.  Every hotel and business prides itself on its floral displays.

I hope you enjoyed my short Colorado mountain tour and please also enjoy this lovely zucchini bread!

Lemon-Zucchini Bread

Printable Recipe 

Makes two 9×5″ breads

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs 1 cup neutral-flavored oil
1-1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk (or substitute sour cream or Greek Yogurt)
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic so you're not eating pesticides
 2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini with excess moisture pressed out

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease and flour 2, 9×5″ loaf pans and set aside. Blend together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs well and then blend in the canola oil and sugar. Mix in the buttermilk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the zucchini and mix to distribute evenly. Add zucchini mixture to the dry ingredients and gently mix just until blended together. Don’t overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Start checking after 35 minutes as some ovens are hotter than others.

Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

If desired, you can glaze the breads after they are cool:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice, more or less to get desired thickness of glaze
1 teaspoon lemon zest

In small bowl, mix powdered sugar, lemon juice and zest until well blended. Spoon glaze over cooled loaf. Let glaze set, then serve.

Adapted from this recipe.