Today has just been one of those days.  The kind that sort of slink by peering at you from out of the corner of their eye.  I just looked up and it was gone.  The weather was beautiful, though, with bright sunshine and fall colored leaves starting to peak out on the mountains.

Not wanting to waste such a stunning sight, I made my way to the public library after work.  And did something very naughty.  I found the cooking section, sat down and went to town.  I would have brought almost 7 of those recipe books back home with me but I had a tiny purse and plans to scour Smith’s baking aisle on the way home to stock up on a few necessary items.  As it is I brought home two baking books, Ratio (one I’ve heard rave reviews on) and Artisan Breads (one with these breathtaking pictures of stunningly crusty and rich loaves), and one other, The Lightness of Being.

I’m stoked about the Artisan Breads book, mainly because I’ve got this crazy need for bread making in my life right now.  A few days ago I completed my first experiment with sourdough bread, and it has only bolstered my need to explore the world of bread even more.  This loaf is soft and tangy on the inside with a chewy crust on the outside.  The boule ( the French term for bowl is merely a round loaf), however, was about the size of a “wagon wheel” (per Texas Joe) so next time I’m definitely going to go for baguettes or rolls.  The bread is also amazing with the spinach, walnut and roasted garlic pesto I made last weekend.

Sourdough Bread

From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

*Note, this first part is the recipe for the starter.  This takes about 2 days to get the “sour” for the sourdough bread, so start it about 48 hours before you really want to get started.  To maintain the starter, take half out (like for the bread loaf) and mix in 3/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water into the remaining starter.  Do this every week and starter will maintain itself “forever.”

1 1/2 cups flour

1/8 teaspoon yeast

1 cup warm water

  1. Mix the flour, yeast  and water together in a bowl. Cover loosely and place in an out of the way place (the recipe suggests the top of the refrigerator).   Stir every 8 to 12 hours; the mixture will eventually bubble and start to smell sour.  If the kitchen is warm this can take as little as 24 hours (mine took the full 48 hours and its about 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

3 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons salt

  1. The night before you plan to bake, put half of the starter in the mixer (the recipe uses the food processor, but I just used my hand mixer) and add the additional flour, salt, and yeast.  As the mixer is going pour in the water and process until a sticky dough is formed.  It will be a little too sticky to knead by hand.
  2. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover and let sit for a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. For a boule: Sprinkle a small amount of flour on the counter and dump dough out of bowl. Start to shape into a ball by “tucking in” the dough towards the bottom center, rotating, and repeating to create a surface tension on the top. (I didn’t use the counter much for this.  I just held it in my hands and worked the dough over the counter.) Pinch the seam that will form on the bottom of the loaf together.
  4. Place dough ball on a well floured clean kitchen towel in a colander or round basket seam side up.  Cover with towel and let rise 2 to 6 hours.
  5. Preheat oven about 30 minutes before baking to 450 degrees F.  Turn dough out onto baking sheet and cut the top of the loaf a few times.  Spray the inside of the oven with water to create steam and then slide baking sheet into oven.
  6. Bake at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes (spray the inside of the oven with water 2 or 3 times in the first 10 minutes) then turn oven down to 350 degrees F and bake 25 more minutes.  Loaf should have a golden brown crust.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Spinach, Walnut and Roasted Garlic Pesto

*Note: These measurements are all estimates considering I just sort of threw this together. Also this is the easiest in the food processor.

4 cups spinach

1/2 to 3/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 head roasted garlic

1/4 cup olive oil (more might be needed)

1/3 cup parmesan

  1. Place walnuts, parmesan, and roasted garlic in food processor.  Process until chunky.  Add spinach in batches, using olive oil when necessary to keep things going smoothly.