Category Specialty Ingredient

Sour Cherry, Toasted Pecan and Buckwheat Levain

My childhood home had a craggy, sprawling cherry tree in our backyard where my brother and I would climb day after day. The heightened frequency of our climbing adventures and the arrival of cherry season was not entirely unrelated. Each trip up, swinging and snaking through the litany of maroon branches, was punctuated with a delectable snack somewhere near the end. Of course the acquisition of said snack didn’t come without its battle with a brash bird or two1 and even the occasional angry ant, but this was the price the tree demanded. Serendipitously stumbling upon that bunch of ripe cherries was reward enough for the surprising sting or feather in the face.

It’s during cherry season that I remember my childhood backyard the most. Probably because of the endless cherries we snacked on but also because the tree seemed to be an integral part of our yard, a friend almost, even if it was just one amongst many other fruit trees. During the hot summer days off school we walked barefoot under its branches only to have the soles of our feet stained red from the fallen fruit discarded by the birds or scattered about by the rough winds.

While it’s not cherry season right now, I just couldn’t quite shake a recent happy accident which was the impetus for this entire recipe: a friend’s cherry preserves spread on my toasted sprouted buckwheat sourdough. The flavors instantly transported me back to childhood and my favorite tree. I knew I wanted to work with cherries right then and a flavor profile for this formula began to take shape in my head: cherries, buckwheat, and roasted pecans for a slight buttery, rich note.

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  1. Seriously, birds have way too big of an advantage when it comes to eating cherries off a tree, something they take FULL advantage of.

Sprouted Buckwheat Sourdough

After a few minutes shy of finishing my typical hand mix, I looked down at the dark dough oozing between my fingers and thought to myself: “Wow, this looks and smells remarkably wonderful.”

When working again and again with bread dough, you come to expect a certain color palette: deep reds, nut-browns, soft tans, milky whites, and every possible shade therein—for the most part, this palette neatly defines your bread baking world. Even when changing to freshly milled flour or a new type of grain you can usually be assured the color will be along that spectrum. Not so with whole grain buckwheat. Just a small percentage of the milled, dark and menacing grain-like seed transformed the entire dough to something more like itself: a stunning dark gray, almost black, hue. The earthy aroma surfaced memories of fresh cut soba noodles I had in a modest but astounding restaurant in Japan.

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Apricot, Lavender, and Walnut Sourdough + 2016 Saveur Awards

As you may have caught on my Instagram feed last week I was totally shocked and honored to find out The Perfect Loaf won both Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Choice for The Food Obsessive award in the 2016 Saveur Blog Awards! In addition, I met some incredibly talented and passionate people at the event in New York City — so passionate I could have probably talked with them for weeks upon weeks about food, cooking and baking. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who nominated, voted and supported this site (and me) — I really can’t convey enough thanks. And congratulations to all the other nominees and winners!

Now back to sourdough! I recently had an opportunity to attend a lavender event at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, a local farm here in the heart of Albuquerque, New Mexico. They offered a small glimpse of their lavender fields, organic farming practices and an introduction to their growing lavender distillation process. The lavender grown on the farm is not culinary lavender, it’s actually only used for cosmetics (essential oils, lotion, etc.), but it was incredibly interesting to see how they follow sustainable growing practices throughout the farm and produce so much local lavender each year. Continue reading

Seeded Sourdough

My three year anniversary for The Perfect Loaf just passed and I felt like it was only fitting for me to (sort of) revisit an old idea, an old recipe of mine for a seeded sourdough I posted a long, long time ago. I make this whole wheat version intermittently and I do enjoy it, but I wanted to explore some new flavors, textures and techniques. I mean, after baking hundreds of loaves since the beginning days of this site my process has changed and evolved quite a bit, perhaps it was time to take a new look at this old favorite.

Of course there are endless combinations of seeds and spices one can bake into a loaf of bread, but finding just the right balance of flavors and textures can prove to be a challenging task. Personally, I find a lot of the seeded sourdough I try to be a little heavy with seeds; conceivably I’m just more sensitive to the deep umami flavors of sesame, the spicy nature of flax or the anise-like flavor of fennel, but I like to keep it light. Of course there is a time and place for hearty bread, but I like my seeded sourdough a little more like a gentle peck and less like a heavy, flapping punch.

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Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough

Growing up I never really liked polenta. My grandmother would frequently cook the gritty yellow mash and I’d just kind of eat it with this muted disdain, asking for something else after I was done. I remember her customarily cooking it in water and then serving a warm bowl fresh from the stove but I’ve had it a number of ways: boiled in water, boiled in chicken stock, cooled and then pan-fried and of course cooled and simply topped with parmesan. Nowadays I’ve somehow developed a deeper appreciation for the yellow stuff and I actually find myself craving that deep, luxurious corn flavor which can readily be summed up as comforting.

Polenta is a typical Northern Italian dish that we’d have in some form or another just about every time we visited family. Maybe this is what slowly developed my admiration for the meal over the years, or maybe it was just my ever-developing palette when growing up (something I know all to well now with my young son — one week he loves chicken the next week he’s moved on to something better), either way you’re sure to find a bag of polenta in my pantry at all times.

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