Archive for May, 2017

A couple of months ago I took a class in making sourdough bread.  Wonderful class, mostly because we were sent home with some sourdough starter of our own!  Sourdough starter is how wild yeast is cultivated to be used in baking. According to the Kitchn, wild yeast already exists in all flour, so you really just need to bring it alive by adding flour and water and waiting a few days. It actually requires a bit more care than this, and many people find the initial raising of the starter to be too much work. If done successfully, however, the process creates a kind of gooey, stretchy, slime that is then added to typical bread ingredients to make sourdough breads.

I was over the moon to skip the difficult part! The instructor gave clear and straightforward instructions on how to care for the sourdough starter once we got home.  He said this was 30 year old starter. Really established starter. You couldn’t kill it if you tried, he said.  You could feed it chlorinated water and bleached flour and it still wouldn’t die.

I killed it.

I followed the instructions.  To. A. T.

I killed the un-killable starter.

I thought about contacting him for a second chance, but after initial attempts to find an email address failed, I gave up.

A friend said she had sourdough starter starter.  Some powdered stuff she had gotten from Alaska (Alaska?).  She’d had it for a while, had never gotten around to trying it, but said it didn’t have an expiry date so I was happy to try it.



I tried.

It started out really well.  I followed the instructions, put it in a warm place.  Things appeared to be progressing exactly as described.


But as the hours passed, something was happening.  The smell that was developing was appalling.  Nauseating. Certainly not the “delicious, sour, yeasty” smell described in the instructions.   One website said starter would be pungent, but this smell was how I imagine the corpse plant to smell.

I waited.  My partner said try it anyway. Lots of foods smell bad but taste good, he said.  I personally have NEVER experienced this.  Blue cheese smells bad AND it tastes bad.

I waited.  I stirred.  And by the end of the first phase of instructions things had gone from bad to worse.  The starter died.  Deflated, separated, and died.  So it would appear the smell actually was the smell of impending death.

Honestly, think this is probably more to do with me and my apparently homicidal tendencies toward sourdough starter than a problem with the product.  It really did start out fine.

I’ve signed up for another class on sourdough in a month.  It will be my last kick at the can and if it doesn’t work then, I will simply have to stick with regular bread.  I just can’t justify the senseless killing of sourdough starter beyond that.

This recipe from King Arthur Flour is by far the most interesting cake recipe I’ve ever made.

This is a layered sponge cake with meringue baked on top of the sponge.  Baked on top of the meringue is shaved almonds dusted with cinnamon sugar. Between the layers is a rich pastry cream and whatever berries you have on hand – I used blueberries and strawberries.

What I love about this cake is the crispy yet chewy meringue and the super tasty sugared almond flavour.  It is amazing.

The cakes didn’t turn out perfectly, but it is likely due to me modifying the sizes.

To maintain a baking hobby like mine, you cannot keep and eat all of the baking, so instead of big cakes, I often try to divide the batter into several small cakes so that I can give some away.  For this, I made two 4″ cakes and a half of an 8″ cake.  Half a cake? Limited number of pans.

I took the small cakes out earlier than the recipe said, and they were fine, but I left the 8″ in for the full time and it was over baked, leaving it a bit hard and dry.



Next time I will definitely cook it for lest time.

Also, the small cakes did not deflate nearly as much as the large one did, so putting filling between the layers didn’t really work.

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While they look quite majestic, they are absurdly tall and impossible to eat.  I did discover that the meringue on the large cake came away from the sponge quite easily, so I think next time I will try to make the small cakes and put the filling between the meringue and the sponge and make that an individual cake.

All or Nothing Thinking

Posted: May 16, 2017 in General Rants

I was just on Facebook, as one is, and was reading about the powerful retaliation against Leonardo DiCaprio’s stance on the environment. The argument goes something like “How can he claim he cares about the environment when he flies a jet which has a big carbon footprint?”.

I think this is a big part of why people deny climate change theory – or parts thereof. The human brain cannot reconcile two seemingly opposing ideas, and most people engage in at least some behaviours that are not environmentally friendly.  For example, I love road trips and driving for the sake of driving. I also know that the carbon emissions from doing so are contributing to the climate problems we are facing.

How can I justify my behaviours if I acknowledge the damage it does to our environment.  This is called cognitive dissonance. Our brains don’t like when our behaviours don’t match our beliefs compelling us to change our behaviours, or change our beliefs.

One of the early psychological experiments on cognitive dissonance is one of my all time favourite psychological experiments.  A group of participants was brought in to the lab and asked to eat a cracker with a tiny fleck of fecal matter on it – yep, that means poo.  In reality it was a tiny crumb of a chocolate brownie, so don’t freak out, but the participants were told it was poo.

Now here’s the important part.  Half of the participants were given $10 for their participation and the other half were not given anything.

After the poo eating, participants rated how disgusting it was.  Those who were paid $10 said it was awful!  Hideous! The worst thing ever!  Those who were paid nothing said it was fine, no big deal, not so bad.

Same poo, different disgustingness?

The researchers argued that the people who were paid had an external way of justifying their behaviour. In other words these participants were able to say they ate this horrible, disgusting poo because they got paid. Their beliefs about the disgustingness of the poo did not conflict with what they did. The people who were paid nothing, had no way to justify engaging in something so disgusting – their behaviour did conflict their beliefs – so they had to change their beliefs to justify their behaviour.

When we love something like driving, or the convenience of something like an electric dryer, it is a struggle to justify these behaviours if we believe we are damaging the environment, and currently the joy of driving/using the dryer/using plastic cutlery with takeaway/quad-ing or snowmobiling/and so on is strong enough that it compels us to change our beliefs.

If we could acknowledge both, accept that we are doing some damage, would it possible to make minor adjustments?  If we don’t acknowledge the problem, we’ll never change our behaviours that are contributing to it. So maybe we have to start saying something like – “I love driving, and it damages the environment so I’m going to hand my clothes to dry and minimize the plastic I consume.”  It’s better than not changing at all.

The other day my partner and I were at a dinner party where one of the guests was extolling the virtues of cutting down on starches and sugars in response to the other guests compliments on his weight loss.  My heart went cold.  My greatest fears were realized when, inevitably, my partner mentioned that perhaps this was something we should consider.

I love bread.  I eat bread, in some form, pretty much every day.  And I love baking bread. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to take bread baking courses.  I’ve taken the same course more than once because I loved hearing all the details and science and professional baker insights!  My dream is to travel the world learning to bake bread in every culture. The fact that every culture has some sort of bread like substance to me says that this is one food worth keeping in the repertoire.  Now I will agree that over processed, sliced, white bread from the grocery store is not healthy, tasty or particularly satisfying, but if that was all that was available, I’d eat it.

There has been a lot of flack about gluten and wheat and how bad it is for you. Suddenly half of my social circle is gluten intolerant. One of the bread class instructors ( argues that it isn’t the wheat that is to be blamed, but the processing of mass produced breads that is causing the dietary distress.  The bakers at Flour Station ( suggest that artisan breads are easier to digest because of the longer fermenting and proofing process where the enzymes have more time to start breaking down the gluten.

I have looked at the empirical research about gluten intolerance and the findings are mixed.  Some suggest that there are very specific biomarkers that may make it difficult for some people to digest, while other articles suggest that it is predominantly in the minds of the sufferers.  One summary article concludes that Non-celiac gluten sensitivity should be considered a subset of irritable bowel syndrome and probably occurs in small number of people (

I, personally, thank my lucky stars every day that I am not gluten intolerant, or have celiac disease, or a wheat allergy.  I bake bread every weekend and sometimes during the week. Kneeding dough is my zen.  And with outcomes like this? Who could resist?