On New Year’s Day, we engaged in a grazing fest here at our house, on the pretense of watching the bowl games – but of course, the grazing was the real reason for getting together. We had our good friends, Tina and Rich over to assist us in the effort, and for the most part, I think they were willing participants. I will readily admit to sinning on the side of excess for these occasions, but I do it quite consciously, because I’d rather have the problem of too much than too little. These events are a bit like the experience of being on a cruise ship, and trying to take advantage of each and every opportunity to eat – it doesn’t take too long before you hit the wall, and in fact, you create a scenario where you spend several days devoid of any appetite at all! On a smaller scale, we do the same thing every time we schedule a grazing fest.
Besides the usual, and unusual, chips, dips, cheeses, preserved what-evers, fruits and veggies, we had a required assortment of “specials”. There were bacon wrapped dates – one of my favorites, some tiny savory cheese tarts, and after round one of the wine flight, came the pot stickers. My problem with this kind of grazing is that I never seem tempted to eat the sorts of things which would prolong my ability to continue the grazing experience, like the fruits and veggies – instead I seem drawn to the richest items on the spread – result: early satiation.
The plan was that somehow after consuming three full glasses of wine, and only occasional picking (sure!), we’d all be hungry enough to want some pizza at about 5 PM. At 5, no one wanted to hear about pizza – same at 6 PM – so when 7 PM came, I didn’t ask again – I just went ahead and made the pizzas.
They turned out nicely – one was a goat cheese, with rosemary caramelized onions, and the other was a simple tomato, mozzarella, and sausage – but all three had lux touches – the tomato was from a batch of summer roasted beauties (roasting concentrates sweetness and flavor, and is my current chosen way to preserve them), the mozzarella was a premium full milk variety, and the sausage from the area’s best butcher shop. I considered the tomato job to be superior to the onion/goat cheese – but my only thought at the time was, “Too bad I’m not more hungry so I can really really enjoy this!”
I’ve been paying attention to my two current sourdoughs, Graplestein (made with crushed grapes and a Gravenstein apple from my yard) and Carl (from Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough – check this site), and they’ve been rewarding me with increased health and vigor – been feeding them twice a day – they begin to grown faster and faster! Anyone who’s fooled around with sourdough know that it quickly turns into a mess on your kitchen counter. And since you roughly double the volume of your sourdough each time you feed it, you also need to dispose of the ever increasing mass on a regular basis – like, pouring it down the sink. This bothers a lot of people! It bothers me! But, sly and creative creature that I am, I’ve figured out a way to avoid having to do this. I use it!
Actually, I keep my growing sourdoughs down to about a max size of about a cup each – to avoid wasting flour – and so every other day, I toss almost all and begin the “build” again. That means that I could bake a new loaf of bread every other day. Two things wrong with this idea: one, that’s way too much bread for two people to eat on a steady basis; and two, you’d have to combine the two sourdoughs to have enough (one cup) sourdough to make a loaf – and the purists would tell us that it’s a crime to combine two different sourdoughs, because they both have their own character and culture, and you want to preserve that.
OK, I’ll buy that – and I’ll do all I can to keep my two “pets” separate as they grow. But from a practical perspective, there really is nothing wrong with combining two different sourdoughs every once in while. As we sourdoughists know well, every loaf is a bit different anyway, so what’s the big deal? I choose to think of it as a bold experiment rather than as a crime, and a delicious one at that!
I made what I think were several improvements with this loaf – I’ve been using a very wet dough and letting it spend a good deal of time in the fridge, to allow significant fermentation. But using this “Jim Lahey” approach creates a few problems – you forgo the usual “basket” rise, and the slashing of the top, as you simply plop the wet dough, upside down, into your hot pot, and hope that oven-spring gives it that final rise. You also lose some of your rise in the necessary handling of the dough in this process – I never liked that. So I tried using a mid-sized bowl lined with baker’s parchment for the rise – and then at bake time, to slash the top and to gently lift the nicely risen loaf, and plop it, right side up, into the hot pot. This is a definite improvement to an already superior process.
Baker’s parchment is magic stuff! It can really be used for so many things. I used some under the pizzas we made for our grazing fest – and the beauty of it is that no matter how thick and heavy your pizza gets, you’ll never have the problem of it sticking to your peel on the oven transfer. You can use it in place of oiling or greasing of your baking sheets – or in place of aluminum foil as a pan protector for sugary pies and such. It has the characteristic of waxed paper, but will not ignite, even at 500+ degrees! And if you think that it’ll be difficult to peel away from the loaf in the pic – Nope – it came away quite nicely. It’s amazing stuff.
About 10 years ago, I got tired of paying outrageous prices for small quantities of it, and bought a box of 1000 sheets at my local restaurant supply store (called Pan Liners there) – cost was about $20 (now maybe $30). But the sheets are meant to fit full sized baking pans, and your home oven will only take a half sheet pan. So, I pull out a sheet from its hiding place on top of my kitchen refrigerator (hard to see up there!) and I fold it in half, and slice it down the middle. Now I have a perfect liner for my half size sheet pans, or a single pizza – and 2000 sheets of baker’s parchment – that’s enough to last long after I leave this earth; think I’ll leave it to my youngest in my will.