The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee

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Spiced Sourdough Pumpkin Popovers

These spiced pumpkin popovers with a subtle sweetness and tang are delicious served straight out of the oven with butter and maple syrup.

spiced-sourdough-pumpkin-popovers

Ingredients

  • 120g reduced-fat milk
  • 110g cooked pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 130g unfed sourdough starter
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120g all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven (with muffin tin inside) to 450°F.
  2. In the microwave or in a small saucepan, heat the milk and pumpkin puree together until the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin/milk mixture, eggs, sourdough starter, spice, and salt.
  5. Mix in the flour.  Do not over-mix — a few small lumps are OK.
  6. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and spray alternate cups, in a diamond pattern, with non-stick spray (you should end up with six sprayed cups). Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them to the top.
  7. Bake the popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.
  8. Remove the popovers from the oven and serve immediately with softened butter stirred with maple syrup.

Yield: 6 popovers.

(Recipe based on Sourdough Popovers from King Arthur Flour)

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Sourdough Starter: Care, Feeding, and Use

Sourdough starter is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria that requires care and feeding.  Fortunately, both are pretty easy, and you only have to do it once a week.  All you need is a jar and a kitchen scale.

Sourdough starter

A vigorous fed sourdough starter

How to feed your sourdough starter

Once a week (set a reminder!), you will need to give your starter new food so that it won't die out.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in its container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  You will have some unfed starter left over.  Discard the leftover amount; place it into a new container to propagate; or use it in a recipe that calls for "unfed starter".

    sourdough-popovers

    Sourdough Popovers, an example of what you can make with unfed starter
  4. To the measuring cup, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water and stir.
  5. Thoroughly wash your starter container under hot running water, being sure to scrape off all the crusty bits inside.  Don't use detergent.
  6. Pour the fed starter back into the container.
  7. Leave on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, for two hours.
  8. Close the lid and return to the refrigerator.

How to use your sourdough starter

Plan 24 hours ahead from when you want to use your starter.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in the starter container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  This will allow you to continue your starter.  Follow the instructions for feeding your sourdough starter, as above (add flour and water, wash the starter container, return the starter to the container, wait two hours, and return it to the refrigerator).
  4. Pour another 110g of the original starter into a large jar.  Add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.  Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 12 hours.
  5. After 12 hours, add 220g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 220g of lukewarm water.  Stir, set on the counter with the lid slightly ajar, and wait until it has doubled or tripled in volume.  This can take as little as 4 or as much as 12 hours.
  6. Use in your recipe that requires "fed starter".

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread, an example of what you can make with fed starter

How to propagate your sourdough starter

The most fun part of maintaining a sourdough starter is sharing it with friends.

Sharing Sourdough Starter

Propagated sourdough starter, ready for sharing!
  1. When it comes to feeding time, follow the instructions for feeding your own sourdough starter, but also place 110g of starter in a separate, clean container for your friend.
  2. To your friend's container, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.
  3. Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 2 - 4 hours.
  4. Replace the lid and give it to your friend.  If you are not giving it away immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one week without feeding it again.  You might want to add a date to the container to show when it was last fed.

Troubleshooting

  • I went to feed my starter, and it has a thin layer of brown liquid at the top.  Is it ruined?

    • No.  That's alcohol, another fermentation byproduct.  Just pour it off.
  • My starter smells much sharper than when I put it into the fridge.  Is it ruined?

    • No, there's just a lot of vinegar in it.  Without delving too deeply, lactobacillus produces two primary acidic metabolites: lactic acid and acetic acid.  Lactic acid is what gives yogurt its tang, and it's mild.  Acetic acid is vinegar, and it's sharp.  Refrigeration suppresses production of lactic acid, so your starter will have developed more vinegar than it has developed yogurt-acid.  When you feed it and leave it at room temperature for a couple hours, it will dilute the vinegar and give the bacteria some time to produce lactic acid at room temperature.
  • I fed my starter twice to use in my recipe, but it's not bubbly.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably not.  This often happens if it has missed a feeding or if your kitchen is not warm enough.  After the two feedings (waiting 12 hours after each), if it hasn't reactivated, set aside 220g of the mixture, add 220g each of flour and lukewarm water, and return to the cleaned jar until it doubles or triples in volume.  If that doesn't work, repeat after 12 hours.  Sorry if this threw off your baking schedule.
  • I fed my starter four times at room temperature (and waited 48 hours total) like you instructed, and it's not bubbly nor increasing in volume.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • I took my starter out of the refrigerator, and it doesn't smell sharp or boozy — it smells putrid!  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • My refrigerated starter has billowy mold on it.  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.

Did I miss anything?  Anything unclear?  Let me know in the comments!

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The best bread in the world (according to my dad)

Rosemary Dutch oven bread with Parmesan and Romano cheeses

When I shared this with my father, another dyed-in-the-wool foodie, he told me that this is the best bread he has ever tasted.  He said "You know, I used to go to Brothers restaurant in Solvang. They had a baker come in every morning and prepare bread for that night's dinner. I loved that bread. And this is the best I've ever had."

rosemary_dutch_oven_bread_with_rosemary_parmesan_and_romano

It's a simple tweak on a traditional Dutch oven bread recipe, with the addition of rosemary and cheese along the way.  All it takes is patience (letting it rise undisturbed for 18 hours); a piece of equipment you may already have in your kitchen (a Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven with a skillet lid); and one little trick (cooking the bread in an inverted Dutch oven).

The basic recipe for crusty Dutch oven bread is as follows.

Ingredients: [1]

  • 405g bread flour [2]
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cup (355ml) warm filtered water

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl.  Stir in warm water until well-combined.  Cover bowl with a lid, or tightly with plastic wrap, and set on the counter for 18 hours to rise on its own.

Preheat oven to 450°F with the Dutch oven inside, with the lid separate from the base.  After your oven has reached 450°, it will take another 30 minutes or so for the Dutch oven to reach 450°.

During this preheating time, remove the sticky dough from the bowl with floured hands and placed on a heavily-floured surface.  Stretch the top into a smooth surface and tuck the edges underneath to form a round loaf.  Let it sit on the surface until the Dutch oven is fully heated.

Carefully remove both pieces of the Dutch oven from your oven and place on the stovetop.  Set the dough ball on the skillet side (the interior of the lid) of the Dutch oven, and carefully place the Dutch oven itself, upside-down, on top as a dome.  (Yes, you are cooking in the interior of an upside-down Dutch oven.)

Carefully replace the Dutch oven into your preheated oven.  I cannot stress the "carefully" bit enough.  For best results, wear silicone cooking gloves in which you are holding cloth potholders.  A heavy piece of 450° cast iron can cause serious injuries.

After 30 minutes, remove the dome, leaving the bread on the skillet surface.  Bake for another 10 minutes to brown and shake onto a cooling rack.

To turn it into rosemary bread with Parmesan and Romano, reduce the salt in the recipe to ½ tsp.  Take 1½ sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Rinse and pat dry.  Remove the leaves and snip the leaves into thirds with a pair of kitchen scissors, discarding the stems.  Add to the dry ingredients, along with unpacked, coarsely-grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses (about ⅓ cup total).  Add the warm water as you would in the basic recipe, and proceed as above.

And voila!  You've just made "the best bread in the world".  According to my dad.

[1] Yes, it's a little weird that I'm switching between imperial/metric and weight/volumetric units like this, but it's how I measure it.  Feel free to convert it.  405g of bread flour is about three cups.

[2] Using bread flour is important.  All-purpose flour does not have the necessary gluten percentage to form the delightful big air pockets.

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Marbled Yam and Acorn Squash Pie

Orange yam batter and molasses-darkened acorn squash batter are marbled in this recipe for a unique presentation and flavor. By Joshua McGee.

Marbled Yam and Acorn Squash Pie

Note:  This is a rather time- and labor-intensive recipe, but the results are worth it.  You can overlap the timing of steps to shorten the prep time (e.g., boil the yam, bake the squash, and chill the dough at the same time, and prepare the pie crusts while the batters chill.)  Still, you will likely need to set aside an entire afternoon for this, which is one of the reasons I wrote up the recipe for two pies.

Pie Crusts

  • 2 cups (260 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 sticks salted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 egg and 1 tsp water (for egg wash)

Place the cubed unsalted butter in a bowl and place in a warm spot to take the chill off.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour and sugar.

Sprinkled the cubes of butter over the flour. Use clean hands to squish the flour and butter together with your thumbs and fingers. Work the butter into the dough until you have what resembles a coarse meal with some chunks of butter.

Add the sour cream to the flour butter mixture. Use a fork to incorporate into the mixture.

Use your hands to gather the pastry dough together into a large ball. Use a knife to cut the ball in half. Form into disks. Sprinkle all over with a little flour. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to a day ahead.  If dough has been in the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, let it sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature to become more malleable before rolling out.

To roll out, sprinkle a clean, flat surface with a little flour. As you roll the dough, check to make sure the bottom is not sticking. If it is, lift it up and sprinkle a little flour underneath. Roll out to 12 to 14 inches wide, to an even thickness.  Gently place each into a pie pan and mold to fill.

(The above is Chef Kathi Riley's recipe)

Yam Batter

  • 1 (1 pound) yam
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until soft throughout. Run cold water over the sweet potato and remove the skin.

Puree sweet potato in a clean food mill.  Add softened butter and mix well with a hand mixer.

Stir eggs, sugar, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla into the sweet potato mixture.  Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Decant to a 4-cup measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to chill.

Acorn Squash Batter

  • 2 small acorn squashes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Cut acorn squashes in half and remove seeds and strings with an ice cream scoop.  Bake halves at 350°F, cut-side down on a silicone mat in a baking pan, for 60 to 75 minutes until a fork pierces them easily.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan to a warm temperature.

Separate pulp from skin with an ice cream scoop.  Weigh out 15 oz pulp and puree in a clean food mill.  Set aside.

Beat eggs in large bowl until frothy.  Beat in brown sugar until well combined.  Stir in squash, molasses, spice, and salt.  Gradually stir in cream.

Decant to a 4-cup measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to chill.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Pour the fillings side-by-side into two uncooked pie shells.  For each pie, slowly and simultaneously pour the mixtures on opposite sides of the crust so that they meet in the middle.

Carefully swirl with the back of a spoon to form a pattern.  This video shows me making a spiral pattern, but use any pattern you like (the featured image in this post is a more abstract pattern.)

Brush exposed dough edges with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tsp water), if desired.  Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes.  Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil.  Lower temperature to 350°F.  Bake for an additional 50 to 60 minutes.

Cool the pie pan on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.  Note that the pie will emerge puffed up and will deflate as it cools.

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Matcha and Ginger Sugar Cookies

This twist on a traditional sugar cookie melds the richness of matcha green tea with the piquancy of fresh ginger. By Joshua McGee.

Matcha and Ginger Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

  • 6 inches of ginger root, peeled
  • 1 tsp matcha (Japanese green tea) powder
  • 330 grams (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 16 - 20 ginger chew candies, refrigerated

(skip ahead to instructions without photographs)

Instructions with photos

In advance, remove butter from refrigerator, place in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to warm to room temperature (at least four hours or overnight).

Take the peeled ginger root and run through a juicer.

Preparing to juice the ginger root

Let the juice sit under the spout to catch final drips and allow solids to precipitate out.  Here I am using my Juiceman juicer, which makes short work of ginger on low speed.

Here I am using my Juiceman juicer, which makes short work of ginger on low speed.

Whisk together matcha powder, flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

Dry ingredients combined

Add the matcha to the measuring cup first

On low speed with a hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and the sugar in a large bowl.

Tip: The more integrated you can get them, the better the cookies will turn out.

Creamed butter and sugar

Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and 1 tsp (or 2 tsp, if you like a stronger ginger flavor) of the ginger juice.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients until fully combined. 

Your cookie dough

Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap (to prevent drying) and place in the refrigerator to chill for two hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove ginger chews from refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into thirds with a heavy knife.

Cutting the ginger chews

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Measure out a rounded teaspoon of dough into your palm and roll into a sphere.  That is the size of dough ball you are going to be making.  Lay the dough balls onto a cookie sheet covered with ungreased aluminum foil, evenly spaced, fifteen to a half-sheet pan (they will expand considerably while baking).

Dough balls on sheets

Into the center of each dough ball, lightly press one of the ginger chew segments.

Dough balls with ginger chews

Tip:  If you lift each dough ball and set it down again before putting it in the oven, you will reduce the chances of it sticking to the foil.

Tip: The dough will stay easy to work with if you return it to the refrigerator between batches.

Bake each tray for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden.  Remove cookies from the oven, allow to cool on the trays for three to four minutes.

Allow to cool on trays

Remove to racks with a thin spatula and allow to cool fully.

Finish cooling on racks

And you have your cookies!

Your cookies!

Equipment Pictured

Text Instructions

In advance, remove butter from refrigerator, place in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to warm to room temperature (at least four hours or overnight).

Take the peeled ginger root and run through a juicer.  Let the juice sit under the spout to catch final drips and allow solids to precipitate out.

Whisk together matcha powder, flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

On low speed with a hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and the sugar in a large bowl.

Tip: The more integrated you can get them, the better the cookies will turn out.

Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and 1 tsp of the ginger juice.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients until fully combined. 

Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap (to prevent drying) and place in the refrigerator to chill for two hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove ginger chews from refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into thirds with a heavy knife.

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Measure out a rounded teaspoon of dough into your palm and roll into a sphere.  That is the size of dough ball you are going to be making.  Lay the dough balls onto a cookie sheet covered with ungreased aluminum foil, evenly spaced, fifteen to a half-sheet pan (they will expand considerably while baking).  Into the center of each dough ball, lightly press one of the ginger chew segments.

Tip:  If you lift each dough ball and set it down again before putting it in the oven, you will reduce the chances of it sticking to the foil.

Tip: The dough will stay easy to work with if you return it to the refrigerator between batches.

Bake each tray for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden.  Remove cookies from the oven, allow to cool on the trays for three to four minutes, then remove to racks with a thin spatula and allow to cool fully.

Makes about four dozen.