Building the Duck-and-Cover Pantry

Before we crank the blog back up in earnest, let’s start with a quick pep talk. We bakers are hardy folk. I’ve written before that inside every Jacques Torres there’s a Chuck Norris waiting to get out. I still believe that (to one degree or another) and know down deep that as long as we keep our wits about us and take sensible precautions, we’re all going to come through this just fine — and even better, stronger bakers than we were before. Life in the future will not be a Mad Max movie. Too few of us have the groovy leather clothes. So let’s occupy our minds with the really important things, like the height of our biscuits and the volume of our meringues. Can I get an amen?

So now, to first things: ingredients. As mentioned in yesterday’s comment fields, flour has flown off the shelves most everywhere. Still I’m betting that most of us have at least some, which is good for a start. Distribution chains are holding up, which means that as time passes things will only get better in terms of supply, as the hoarders start to relax, the food makers continue to produce and ship, and the supermarkets get more product on the shelves.

Until then, what’s the best use of the flour we’ve got? For my money it’s the bread (sourdough) starter. Bread starters are not only good for raising bread, making use as they do of naturally occurring yeast, they make a great base for griddled breads like pancakes and English muffins, Johnnycakes and waffles. Starter makes a stellar deep-fry batter. And of course bread-wise you’ve got everything from country-style loaves to flatbreads (including pizza crusts), crackers, pretzels, muffins, and cookies. Many of these can be raised with starter alone. Others benefit from the added boost of a little commercial yeast, baking powder or baking soda. But we’ll talk more about that next post.

Meantime I’m going to wake my starter up, which may take a couple of days. Those who are interested can start one of their own. The process will take about 5-7 days start to finish. More soon!

11 thoughts on “Building the Duck-and-Cover Pantry”

  1. Amen from Vermont! And a quick bread-related question: last summer, having made many, many loaves of sourdough, I decided to take a pause and try other things. I spread out my starter on a very thin layer of parchment, let it dry in the summer-warm kitchen (a very quick process) and then put the dried flakes into a jar, which is still sitting in the pantry. Have you, or anyone else out there, tried reconstituting a dried starter? Any tips before I add water and cross my fingers?

    1. Hey Sue!

      I’ve never tried to revive a homemade dry starter, but I’ve done it with commercial dried starter for sure. The main thing to remember is that it’s uncertain how many of your little yeasties and flavorful bacteria have survived the drying and storing process. Perhaps the majority have, perhaps none of them have. So you need to watch the regrowth process fairly closely. And when I say that I mean look for bubbles and use your nose.

      If all goes well your starter could come back in as little as day or so. If not then anywhere up to five days (the time it takes to grow one from scratch). Through the process just be observant. Smell it. Does it smell like bread with a touch of alcohol added? Or does it smell like the trash can after a week in the sun? If it’s the latter — even and especially if you see bubbles — then you’ve likely cultured clostridium perfringens, a bug which will raise bread, but will also make you quite sick of you ingest it raw. Should that vomitous smell occur, just keep feeding the starter until the smell becomes appetizing, indicating the yeast has won the Darwinian struggle for survival, and you’re ready to put it into action.

      Another note: should you see any off colors (blues, greens or reds), by all means throw it out and start again from scratch.

      That’s what I know!

      Joe

    1. And so, Mr. Thames, we meet again! Thanks for checking in!

      Make sure you use fresh blueberries for those, otherwise the batter turns blue!

      – Joe

  2. So glad to see the blog coming back! My daughter introduced you to me through your book _artisan breads_ I’m SOOO ready to get busy!

    1. Hey John!

      I don’t have a book, but I’m happy to play along! Turn to page 78 and let’s begin! 😉

      – Joe

  3. You’re baaaaaack!!!! Yay!! Oh my god, I had a heart attack when the “server error” page popped up a bit ago. I come here often for the history and oh-so useful and blunt instructions.

    1. Hey Anna! I had a brief moment of panic myself! The good news is that Ms. B, my tech super-woman, always has my flour-covered back. She’s also the one who urged me to consider a return in light of the response to the outage. So we have her to thank for all of this!

      Cheers, and many thanks for the note!

      – Joe

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