Category: tutorial

DIY tree stump rustic candle holders.

Yes- this post is ALL about those tree trunk/tree branch candle holders you’ve seen at places like Terrain or on Pinterest or Etsy. It’s really easy to make them yourself, at home, if you have some basic tools.

DIY rustic tree stump/tree branch candle holder.

This idea all started when I asked Jay to make me & my mother some old fashioned Pagan-style Yule logs for Christmas.

The Yule Log started out, we believe, as part of Norse Winter Solstice celebrations. Back then, the longhouse would have a huge fireplace, and the flooring would be either stone or packed earth. Tradition says that the Yule Log began as a huge log, big enough to burn for the entire twelve-day festival. One end would be pushed into the fireplace, and as it burned away, you’d push it in some more until it was entirely consumed.

With fireplaces being less and less common these days, the practical Pagan has adapted. Some choose a small log, some twelve or sixteen inches in length, flatten it along one side to make a base, and drill from one to three holes into the top, suitable for the insertion of candles. The candles are generally (but not always) “fire” colors, with red being the most common. The log is decorated with greenery, sometimes real, sometimes artificial – pine, spruce, fir or other evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe are a few possibilities – and the candles are lighted at sunset on the Winter Solstice. Tradition says they should burn through the night; but given safety considerations, most only allow it to burn so long as someone is around to keep an eye on it.

-JingleBell Junction

Pagan-style refers to how it’s a log with holes for candles, instead of a large log you burn in a fireplace. It’s also a more modern version. My dad made one when he was a kid out of a log with three holes on top. It isn’t just Pagan’s that use that style- lots of Christians have Yule logs in that way- but if I’m not mistaken, they started it.

So I had some wood in the garage that had been cut from branches that were hanging too low on trees in the backyard over the summer. I was saving it for our fire pit, but then the summer ended and the weather got too cold & they were shoved into the garage & forgotten. Then my mother mentioned she wanted a Yule log, and I realized I had the perfect pieces of wood for it. And then I decided I wanted one, but with tea lights instead of taper candles. I realized they’d look great with my winter tree!

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DIY magic: mason jar snow globes.

Oh, December. How I love you. Make no mistake- Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. Hands down. However, it’s only acceptable for me to play White Christmas over & over again in December. I don’t mind watching it in February or July, but I find other people take issue. Or perhaps they just take issue with me singing all of the songs (particularly this one & this one) out loud at the top of my lungs? Anyway. I wait until at least after turkey day to break out the Bing! Also, December is the Mount Everest of baking/creating: the best crafts, recipes, and decorations are happening  right around now!

Like these…

DIY mason jar snowglobes. Easiest winter project ever!

This tutorial is something you’ve probably seen all over the internet.

No, not probably. Definitely.  I’ve seen this concept more times in the past two weeks than I’ve seen my fiancee, it seems. I’m just repeating it here to show you how stupidly easy it is. And how fun it is. And chances are, you’ve already got the materials- or most of them- laying around the house. It’s a knockoff of a product that Anthropologie made (they made salt shaker ones too), hence the lack of water.

DIY mason jar snowglobes.

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Mason jars make the world go ’round.

First of all… before I get to the mason jars, let me just say that I’m crazy. I know this. I’m whacko. Contrary to my usual M.O. of doing these things at 3:00 in the morning, I decided (on this past Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.) to randomly finish doing the complete blog overhaul in ONE DAY. And I should also say that I was nowhere near being done- so I basically did everything in 3 hours. Yup. 3 HOURS. It was a massive pain in my ass, but it’s done. Everything is working, everything is fine, & I’m DONE. Hopefully never to read the word ‘widget’ again.

It’s totally different looking than it used to be. More content focused & streamlined. With the new layout, you’ll see that everything is over there to the right →

All the blog pages, the archives, the search form, the categories & even the link to the recipe index…. they’re all over there now. If you’re on a mobile device, then they’re probably at the bottom- keep scrolling down! The blog posts are no longer separated & you don’t have to click on them individually anymore; now they’re all here just like you’re reading a newspaper, just keep scrolling down. The comments link can be found at the bottom of the blog post. The ‘Pin It’, Facebook/Twitter/e-mail sharing buttons are still down there too, as well as the ‘print’ button. Other than the obvious, everything is the same.

Okay! On to the craft of the day:

Fresh flowers in a mason jar that's been DIY'd with a gold Sharpie!

Lately, I’ve been really taking notice of the small details. I was always the kind of person who was uber observant; I’d notice when someone’s shoes were a different shade of black than the dress they had on, I’d see that tiny little stain on a tablecloth no one else could see, etc. I was always like that. But nowadays I’m really noticing that the little things are sometimes what makes the biggest impression; in a positive way. Those little things that go unnoticed by most people make a giant impression on me!

For example, the above photo. Most people wouldn’t even notice the gold dots on the jar.

But I do notice these things. And they make me smile. So when I happened upon this post a few months ago, I knew I had to re-create it for myself. Unfortunately my quilted 8 oz. jars were all being used for jams & jellies or in the possession of other folks (return the jars, guys, and nobody gets hurt!), so I had to use a 16 oz. or pint-sized jar. Turns out I really love the way it looks on the smooth glass.

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I can’t believe it’s… butter.

Julia Child might be my spirit animal. The mere fact that she once said, “if you’re afraid of butter, use cream” is enough for me. Not to mention the myriad of other amazingly awesome things about her, she was a butter lover. I’m a butter lover too. I love butter like there’s no tomorrow. I love olive oil, don’t get me wrong. Big hunks of crusty bread dipped in a high quality olive oil is as close to heaven as it gets. But butter! There’s NOTHING like butter. And I find I can never have too much of it around. So I decided to try my hand at making my own, & it’s deceptively simple.

Like making homemade bread, making homemade butter has a kind of impressive nature. It practically screams either “AMISH!” or “HOMESTEADER!” Which I assure you I am neither; as best evidenced by my extreme lack of any religion, my nose ring & my obsession for going out to eat & looking in mirrors.

Quick & simple homemade butter. Made in a stand mixer using just heavy cream (40-60% butterfat) & salt.

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The dish ran away with the wooden spoon.

Back in June when I posted that DIY tea towel apron tutorial, I got a ton of great feedback. So I thought maybe I’d bring back the DIY thing with another really easy project: painted-handle wooden spoons.

I’ve seen these wooden spoons all over Etsy & Pinterest. Every time I see them I think “I can do that.” I even mentioned doing it to match the apron in that post.

So I finally did it.

Make your own painted-handle wooden spoons!

Except these aren’t dipped in rubber like most of the ones you’ll see, they’re just painted in Martha Stewart Crafts™ multi-surface acrylic craft paint. Which, it just so happens, is both “weather-resistant” & non-toxic. They also did not cost $29.00 for a set of three like those other ones for sale on the internet. Instead, it probably cost me less than $5.00 a set, maybe even less than $3.00: The glitter paint is $2.99 & the satin is $1.99 (you could paint a ton of spoons with one bottle!), and a set of the three spoons cost me $1.00.

I think it took me ten minutes to paint three of them. I did one set for myself in pink (of course) and a set for my mother in black. Once I saw how cute they came out, I started experimenting with different colors & styles. You can paint them to match your KitchenAid mixer, to match your Le Creuset, to match your kitchen color scheme or just in your favorite color. Gold/silver/metallic or pearl paints are interesting choices, too!

Here they are in pink:

DIY painted wooden spoons.“pink dahlia”

Here they are in black:

Make your own painted-handle wooden spoons.“beetle black”

Here they are in light green:

DIY painted wooden spoons!“scallion”

And finally… here they are in glittery pink:

DIY pink glitter wooden spoons. Crazy easy & cheap to make!“bubblegum pink”

Awesome, right? No wonder the dish ran away with the spoon; look at how freakin’ cute the spoons are!

This is what you’ll need:

  • Acrylic paint. Mine is useable on wood, fabric, metal & glass among other surfaces, and like I said above- it’s non-toxic. Of course, you’re not painting the part of the spoon that touches the food, but why take a chance? I actually highly recommend the Martha Stewart line; it comes in a zillion colors (the colors I used are named above). I used the satin & glitter finishes, but you can use a gloss, metallic or pearl if you prefer, it makes no difference. All of them are non-toxic & weather resistant.
  • A small paintbrush.
  • Scotch tape.
  • Wooden spoons. I got mine in a 3-pack at the dollar store, you can buy whatever ones you want, or you can freshen up old ones you already have at home (as long as they aren’t recently oiled or varnished).
  • A pint jar or drinking glass, deep enough & with a wide enough mouth to accommodate the amount of spoons you’ll be painting without having the painted parts of the handles touch each other or the glass itself.

How to make your own painted-handle wooden spoons.

This doesn’t even really need a tutorial, it’s pretty much self-explanatory, but here goes nothin’.

The first thing you’re gonna do is gently wash the spoons in hot water with mild dish soap. Let them dry thoroughly. Then, you’re going to tape them where you want the painted section to end. Very easy. I made them all even so that when the spoon parts line up, so does the paint. You can paint as far down as you like, but I’d leave a decent amount of plain wooden space above the spoon part.

How to make those adorable painted handle wooden spoons.

Okay… once they’re taped, get your glass or jar handy & get your workspace ready. Paint your spoon handles with a thin coat of paint, placing them handle side up in the jar or glass as you go. Make sure the painted parts are separate from each other as they dry. After one hour, check to see if they need a second coat (they probably do). Keep the tape on and paint a second coat. Let them dry again in the jar.

It's so easy to make your own colored-handle wooden spoons. Here's a tutorial!

After 2-3 hours you can remove the tape to check if they’re even. If not, just re-tape the spoon a little bit lower and fix your mistakes. Keep the spoons in the jar for 12 hours after they feel dry just to be sure. Let the spoons cure for 21 days (or according to your paint directions) before using or washing them again. If you screw up & get paint on a spot you don’t want it, you can sand it off with some sand paper once it dries.

The glittery ones took about 4-5 coats to look good, but if you paint a solid color underneath then paint the glitter, it’d take less.

And that’s it… you’re done!

If you want a less perfect look, you can definitely paint them without using the tape. Go freehand. Be wild.

Adorable DIY painted wooden spoons.

Adorable x 1,000. I just love them.

Another idea: before painting, drill small holes at the end of each handle in the same spot. Sand away any rough patches & then wash/dry/paint the spoons as directed above. After painting, while it’s still wet, poke a toothpick through to make sure they stay clear. When they’re dry, tie them all together with a pretty matching ribbon for a throw-in gift (or stocking stuffer).

You don’t have to make it solid either- you can do stripes if you’re daring (ha!). Just place the tape all the way up the handle leaving spaces in between for painting. You can do polka dots in another color once the first color is totally dry, too, using a pencil eraser to make the dots. Or you can use pinking shears to cut the tape so yours isn’t a straight line around, but a zig-zag. Tons of ideas!*

Like this “zebra” style version I did (it’s more like an Ikat pattern, really):

DIY hand-painted wooden spoons to spice up the kitchen!

So, how easy is that? Very. Go get on it. And make yourself some fancy spoons!

*Yoyo also sent me a link for this post at red-brolly.com that shows you how to cover the spoon handles in fabric or Washi tape! It’s a bit more complicated than using just the paint, but it’s worth it judging by the photos.

Grow your own garlic- inside!

Wow.. it’s been a while since I posted an actual recipe or how-to kinda post, or rather any post without links to other places. I apologize. I’ve been really busy; Jay was on vacation this past week, we got engaged, etc, etc. You know how it is.

Anyway, any reader of the blog that’s been a reader for longer than a few months will know I love to putter around in the dirt & have a garden. In addition to flowers (especially lilies & roses) which I love to grow, I’ve grown my own food. Eggplant, cucumber, zucchini squash, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes (both heirloom & not), peppers of all kinds, and one of just about every herb available. It’s been a dream of mine to someday have a massive garden where I grow at least one of everything I love- including carrots & broccoli, and to expand into more exotic herbs such as purple basil, etc. I’d also like to buy some berry bushes, since I tried one once (blueberry) and failed.

However, I haven’t gotten into growing onions, garlic or any kind of edible bulb-thingy until now.

How to grow your own garlic indoors!

I stumbled upon quite a few how-to’s on regrowing kitchen scraps like garlic, and then I saw this one. It just so happened that not only did I have some coffee cans left from that cake, but I had a few old cloves of garlic that were starting to sprout. I thought I’d combine them with a few other cloves and see if I could grow my own garlic indoors.

One can never have too much garlic around. Especially since it seems I make more pickles & Italian dishes (like pizza with homemade sauce) that require fresh garlic than anything! And even better if I can do it inside, on my windowsill.

In a coffee can.

It's easy to grow your own garlic... even inside!Four days after planting!

Here’s what I did:

  • Using a hammer & nail, I poked holes in the bottom of a coffee can*. I didn’t want to use a can opener, because I had no extra screen or cheesecloth laying around to cover the holes to prevent the soil from washing out. I decided 5-6 holes per 13 oz. can was plenty. If you’re using a larger size can then obviously more holes are needed. If you use a coffee can, keep the plastic lids and use them as water-catchers under the cans.
  • I filled the cans up with a sandy soil**, then I watered them until the water came out of the bottom. I let it sit, until all the water was out and it didn’t drip when I lifted it.
  • While the water was draining, I separated my garlic cloves. You want to keep as much of the skin or papery stuff on as possible, so don’t peel them! If you’ve got cloves that are sprouting already, then obviously use those. Otherwise you can use any garlic cloves as long as they’re fresh, not preserved or from a jar and they aren’t peeled. I decided to put 6-7 cloves in each can, assuming some might not grow.
  • I pushed the cloves into the soil, flat side down/pointy side up, a few inches in. The garlic can be close to other cloves, but just don’t cram them in so much that they’re touching. A far as depth, I’d say you want (at least) anywhere from 1/2″ – 1″ of soil covering the garlic.
  • Cover them with soil and pat it down gently. Place them in a sunny spot, like a kitchen window that gets a lot of morning light. Water often & keep soil moist but not soaked.
  • As soon as you get green shoots that are a couple of inches high, you can snip them off (leave 1″). They can be used just like chives, as a topping on salads or in other dishes; the flavor is a very light, delicate garlic taste.
*you can also use a large tomato can or just a flowerpot.
**I mixed a few tablespoons of sand into my soil before filling the cans, but if you live in an area where the soil is already naturally sandy then you can skip this step.

How to grow your own garlic, indoors... in a coffee can!

Garlic likes sandy loamy soil, so a good potting mixture with some sand mixed in is your best bet. Also, they like compost fertilizer. So if you have a compost heap that would be the best stuff to use. Other than that, a good ol’ fashioned blood meal works. That said… if you’re keeping them indoors in a small can, I don’t know if this will matter. Especially if you use a fertilized potting soil like Miracle-Gro.

Or you can just do nothing & use regular soil. If my original cloves started to sprout in my house without the benefit of soil, sun or fertilizer, I bet you really don’t need to do much once they’re planted. Those pictures were taken- I kid you not- four days after planting my cloves! FOUR DAYS. I literally had these shoots after just four days. This next photo was after six days.

Once I planted these babies, they literally exploded.

Grow your own garlic... on your windowsill!

They might turn out to be crowded in there, so I might transplant some to a larger container, possibly move them outdoors. We’ll see how it goes. I started this in late May and as you can see below, tons of things have changed since the above photos. I still have no idea where this is going, though!  I’m not fully sure if I’ll grow more bulbs this way or just scapes, but I would assume that eventually I’ll get garlic bulbs.

Garlic scapes are the long, winding, almost blue green shoot that hardneck garlic varieties put out in the spring. Scapes have a fresh, mild garlic taste and make the best pesto I have ever had. They can also be used to glorify mashed potatoes, salads, roasted vegetables or stir-fries.

Harvest scapes when they are young and tender. Once they have curled around in a circle, they are ready for picking. Picking the scape not only is not only good for cooking, it will actually help your garlic grow bigger and better – up to 35%.

- about.com

I want to try this with onions as well… especially since I have a tendency to just throw away onions when they sprout (I know, shame on me) & possibly with leeks or green onions too. It’s amazing what you can grow from things you’d normally toss. I’m even growing a pineapple from the top of a fresh one I used!

Growing your own garlic in coffee cans!They just keep on growin’!

Note: some people will say not to use store-bought garlic, just to use garlic you buy at a nursery, etc. These are the same people who tell you not to buy Heinz ketchup because of the high fructose corn syrup. And I get it, I do. I’m just not that insane about things… I’m too laid back for that. I like having fun, experimenting, & doing things randomly at 2 a.m. which doesn’t always afford me extra time to go looking for the right garlic bulb for planting. So if that means using some cloves of garlic I have in my kitchen instead of hunting down a specific variety, then so be it. Do as you will.

Garlic grown in coffee cans!

And of course I’ll keep everyone updated with the status of my (not so) little garlic babies.

Internet inspiration: cupcake liner storage.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned over the past few years that I honestly never would have thought of nor realized if it weren’t for this wonderful thing we call the internet. They aren’t really important things, not for the most part, but I thought I’d share them with you just the same.

  • The internet taught me that not everyone who CAN make a website SHOULD. Yellow text is just never acceptable.
  • Pinterest taught me that there are a shit ton of alfredo chicken pasta recipes & enchilada recipes- everyone’s husband LOVES them & all of them are “top rated”! (are they really, though?)
  • Pinterest also taught me most people do not buy Ball® jars to preserve food. Silly me.
  • Facebook has taught me the most unattractive people love to post the most photos of themselves. Usually in “da club.” Usually drinking. Usually wearing inappropriate clothing for their weight/age/etc.
  • Facebook also taught me that people who didn’t like me in HS want to be my friend now, after not seeing or speaking to me for 13 years. Strange isn’t it?
  • Instagram taught me I really, really, really love to see what other people are eating & drinking. Maybe too much.
  • Instagram also taught me that there are chicks who do that “duck face” thing seriously, not joking. Woops.
  • Twitter has taught me that I like people better when they’re limited to only 140 characters.
  • Twitter also taught me that people still prefer to follow rather than lead. (whoa- DEEP THOUGHTS)
  • Blogs taught me that everyone thinks they’re funny, clever, and either a professional photographer, makeup artist or chef.
  • Blogs also taught me that most of them are none of the above.

But one of the most important things I’ve learned- aside from the fact that there are a lot of really cool people out there, who sadly, do not live anywhere near me- is that anything you want to do, or things you’ve never dreamed of doing (particularly involving the re-use of every day household items)… the instructions on how to do these things are all right at your fingertips.

And so I made these.

DIY cupcake liner storage that's display worthy! Made using mason jars & chalkboard paint.My chalkboard-writing skills only apply to larger pieces… obviously…

I have a problem with pretty cupcake liners. I always have, really, but before I baked it wasn’t as big of an issue. Before I baked, I’d see them in a store & say “Oh how cute!” then I’d promptly pass them by and pick up a frozen pizza & a bag of Totino’s pizza rolls. But once I started using them it became a thing. I bought so many I had nowhere to actually put them. For awhile, I had some out on a few cupcake & cake stands, but they were getting dirty & dusty from being in the middle of all that kitchen-witchery. So then I bought plastic shoeboxes at Bed Bath & Beyond. And I filled those up real quick, but they got overloaded and in the process began crinkling & eventually ruining the shape of my beautiful liners. Wahhh.

What’s a girl to do?

(Psst… I’m sharing this with you because if you’re here reading this, you might very well have the same problem.)

So one day I was browsing Pinterest, as one is wont to do, and I happened upon this. Genius. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well actually, I had, but I thought of it using Ball jars; and you see, based on what jars I had at my disposal I realized that regular mouth jars aren’t wide enough, and aside from that… pint jars are a bit too shallow and don’t hold as many as you’d like. But this time it just so happens that when I saw that pin, I had literally just finished cleaning out & de-labeling two 25 oz. Victoria pasta sauce jars. And as I scrubbed them I was wondering what exactly I was going to use them for. I had already made candy jars out of old sauce jars, so I didn’t want to do that again (a girl can only have so many candy jars).

Cupcake liner storage jars!

And so there I am, washing these jars & seeing this pin on Pinterest. And like I said, I had all these pretty liners… all wasted by being hidden away… it just made sense. So I made some cupcake liner storage jars out of ‘em! The Victoria jars are the PERFECT SIZE for this. Basically, you need a jar with a mouth opening of around 3″ in order to accommodate the liners comfortably. And it should be a pint & a half at least in order to make it worthwhile- you really can’t fit many in a pint jar. It just so happens the Victoria jars are 6″ high (not including lid) with a 3″ wide mouth. Wide mouth quart-sized Ball or Kerr jars would probably work as well.

The thing with these is that there really isn’t any “tutorial” involved- just get jars that the liners fit into without getting squished, and do whatever you want with them. I painted the lids with black Martha Stewart acrylic chalkboard paint (2 coats), and put chalkboard label stickers on the front. This way, if you wanted to split the liners according to holiday or color, use the labels or chalkboard lids to mark them; i.e. “Christmas”, “pink”, “stripes”, etc. The chalkboard paint comes in just about every color you can imagine, so you can match your appliances, your KitchenAid, your kitchen, you name it.

Done. Counter-ready, aesthetically pleasing cupcake liner storage, at your service!

 

*And if you wanna make some more “Pinterest Projects”, head on over to textdrivebys.com and check out my other DIY posts.

All about sourdough starters.

Happy April! I hope you all had a lovely holiday this past week, regardless of which one you celebrated. Or at the very least, I hope you had just an all-around pleasant week/weekend. I’m exhausted from this past month, so I’m desperately trying to catch my breath. But other than that… I had a great week, and a great holiday.

Before I begin this post, let me say this: I’m no bread expert. I’m no canning expert either, however, and yet I did a little tutorial on the basics of that last summer. But you know, I have made plenty of loaves, plenty of pizza crusts and plenty of yeast-based things to know the basics. Enough to know a thing or two about it. All that said, I’m not a professional breadmaker. I’m not even an every day or every week breadmaker. I make bread whenever I feel like it, and I haven’t done an obscene amount of research beyond what I need to know. That said, I do know enough to ensure that my bread always rises and is never gummy or too tough. I know enough to always use fresh yeast- when in doubt, throw it out. And I also have some experience with starters. Also known as “biga”, “mother dough”, “poolish” or “the thing that makes sourdough bread taste that way.” Starters are a bit more complex than just regular breadmaking, so I’ve done a bit more research into them.

Starters frighten some people. Understandable. They hear the words “fermentation,” “constant feeding” and “can explode in an airtight container” and they get turned off. Or they assume it’s too much work. And I don’t really blame them, because I was the same way. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: things that you’re frightened by are rarely as scary as they seem in your mind. That goes for most things in life, including cooking or baking. A starter really isn’t all that hard, or scary, or dangerous. Yes they can “explode” if put in a container that’s sealed. But this is something that’s very easily circumvented and it really isn’t a big issue at all… especially if you pay attention or have a basic concept of science.

But that’s my point with this blog to begin with: everyone can bake.

Everyone can cook. Everyone can make bread. You don’t have to be a professional or come from a family of cooks- you just have to want to. You just have to have a desire to learn.

This is going to be a very long post with a lot of information. Let’s start (ha ha) with the history of starters, shall we?

A pre-ferment is a fermentation starter used in bread making, and is referred to as an indirect[1][2] method. It may also be called mother dough.

A pre-ferment and a longer fermentation in the bread-making process have several benefits: there is more time for yeast, enzyme and, if sourdough, bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough; this in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavor. Though pre-ferments have declined in popularity as direct additions of yeast in bread recipes have streamlined the process on a commercial level, pre-ferments of various forms are widely used in artisanal bread recipes and formulas.

The common, but undocumented, origin given for the term poolish is that it was first used by Polish bakers around 1840, hence its name, and as a method was brought to France in the beginning of the 1920s. “Poolish” however is an old English version of “Polish”, whereas the term seems to be most used in France (where “polonais” is the word for “Polish”). Some nineteenth-century sources use the homonym “pouliche”, a French word that typically means a female foal.[15] With either spelling, the term only appears in French sources towards the last part of the nineteenth century. There is not currently any credible explanation for the origin of the term.

-Wikipedia

This is no-knead sourdough bread, isn’t it pretty? Recipe is down further in this post.

Alrightly then. Interesting, correct? And now let’s find out what exactly is meant by “starter”:

Fermentation starters (called simply starters within the corresponding context) are preparations to assist the beginning of the fermentation process in preparation of various foods and fermented drinks. A starter culture is a microbiological culture which actually performs fermentation. These starters usually consist of a cultivation medium, such as grains, seeds, or nutrient liquids that have been well colonized by the microorganisms used for the fermentation.

These starters are formed using a specific cultivation medium and a specific mix of fungal and bacterial strains.[2][3]

Typical microorganisms used in starters include various bacteria and fungi (yeasts and molds):

Rhizopus, Aspergillus, Mucor, Amylomyces, Endomycopsis, Saccharomyces, Hansenula anomala,Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, etc. Various national cultures have various active ingredients in starters, and often involve mixed microflora.[2]

Industrial starters include various enzymes, in addition to microflora.[2]

A pre-ferment is easy to make and usually consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). Two schools of thought exist regarding the inclusion of salt or sugar. They both act to inhibit or slow yeast growth, as determined by time to proof or rise,[16] so they are not usually included and instead are added to the final dough. Ultimately, the amounts of each ingredient, and when they are added, depend on pre-ferment and final-dough formulas.

When expressed as a bakers’ percentage, 50 parts of flour added to 50 parts of water or 1-to-1 is 100% hydration, and results in a relatively fluid pre-ferment. Stiffer doughs such as 50% hydration or 2-to-1, may also be used. After mixing it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to the final dough as a substitute for or in addition to more yeast. There are distinctly different brew types of pre-ferments designed for computer-controlled bakeries that use a rather different series of ingredients, including oxidizers, needed for continuous dough-production processes.[17]

Fermentation is sometimes performed in a warm place, or a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment. Cooler-than-room or refrigeration temperatures decelerate growth and increase the time interval,[18] while slightly warmer temperatures accelerate growth and decrease the time interval. Too warm of a temperature slows growth, while even higher temperatures will kill the yeast. Death of the yeast cells occur in the range of 50–60 °C (122–140 °F).[19][20][21] When cooling a levain or sourdough pre-ferment, if the dough temperature drops below 10 °C (50 °F) it affects the culture and leads to the loss of a particular aroma in the baked bread.[14]

To allow room for the pre-ferment to rise, the ingredients are mixed in a container at least four or five times their volume. This is about the point in time when some process similarities of yeast pre-ferments to sourdough or levain starters begins to diverge. The typical amounts of time allotted for the yeast pre-ferment period may range from 2–16 hours, depending on the dough’s temperature and the added amount of viable yeast, often expressed as a bakers’ percentage. Spontaneous sourdough starters take, at a minimum, several days, and are subject to many variables.[3]

To make a sourdough starter from scratch, the minimum-needed ingredients are flour, water, and time. This starter is maintained with daily feedings or refreshments of fresh flour and water or, new dough. It ferments at room temperature until the desired age or minimal number of refreshments, following a refreshment schedule that may include acceleration of time intervals leading into the final dough, then is added to the final dough. When maintaining a starter’s existing weight, it is advised to discard 60% (or more) of the starter, replacing that discarded dough with new dough. If an increased amount of starter is required, simply add new dough. 40-parts-to-60-parts of old-dough-to-new-dough by weight, or 2-to-3, is known as the back-slopping ratio, and changes to that ratio change the pH of the just-refreshed dough.[8] To make a primary-culture levain, Calvel used salt, but less of it than would be typical for many final-dough formulas.[note 3]

-Wikipedia

Yes, it’s a lot to read. But honestly, if you’re going to make something, you should know how and why you’re doing it that way, don’t you think?

At any rate, starters sound very complex, but they really aren’t. Usually they consist of three-four inital ingredients, a fermentation period, feedings, and then refrigeration. Some use a bit of the original dough. Some are thick and some are liquidy. But they all do the same basic thing; add flavor. And all you have to do is keep it warm when it needs to be, and keep it fed and refrigerated when it needs to be. It’s not hard, and it’s not at all easy to screw up. Most starters are incredibly strong & tough- even if you forget to feed them for a while, you can usually get them going again with a little flour and water (equal parts), for example a 1/2 cup of each. The reason they can’t be sealed is because they’re fermenting; there are gases building up almost constantly in there. If you close it off airtight, there’s no where for the gas to go. Kind of like a shaken bottle of Coca-Cola.

(One thing to note before I continue: you shouldn’t have homemade yogurt & a starter going at the same time in the same room/area. They will contaminate each other. For real…)

The starter pictured above (at the top) was used to make the bread pictured above (& below), which is a sourdough no-knead bread with poppy seeds. I’m going to give you two starter recipes here, that one being the second. As a matter of fact, for that one you don’t even really need a recipe, since it’s usually equal parts water/flour with yeast. But I’m going to give you a guideline anyway. The first one I used to make Levain bread a few years ago, and it’s amazing. While it’s slightly more complicated than the second, it yields good results. It also lasted a very long time until I ultimately did kill it when my refrigerator died. Cue ‘Taps.’

The benefits of using a starter? Well, for one, that sourdough taste. Two, once you’ve got a starter you don’t have to worry about having yeast on hand, your starter is all you need to make bread or pizza crust rise. Of course, that is if you desire that flavor. And once you have that bread made, you can even save a small piece of it and use that as a new starter. Once you start using a mother dough you can experiment with how much of it or how strong or “alive” it needs to be for your enjoyment. Some people say that you should feed it once every 8 hours for the three days leading up to baking. Others say as long as it smells okay and has bubbles it’s good to go. I assume this is a matter of taste, as I’ve done both methods and can’t say I ever had a problem with the taste or the rise of my bread.

Neither of these starters are better than the other, they’re just different. Try whichever one you want to start with, and if you like it, keep it up. No need to mess with a good thing!

SOURDOUGH STARTER A

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water ( 105-115° degrees F)

Starter feed:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons instant potatoes
  • 1 cup warm water (again, 105-115° degrees F)

Directions:

  1. To make the starter, mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Put into a plastic container, seal, and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
  2. To make the starter feed, combine the sugar, potatoes, and water in a small bowl and stir into the starter. Cover loosely (to allow some of the pressure to escape as the gases build) and let stand at room temperature for 5-12 hours. The mixture will be bubbly.
  3. When ready, take out 1 cup to make bread and loosely cover the starter and return to the refrigerator. Feed again after 3-5 days. If not making bread after feeding the starter, take out 1 cup and discard it to avoid depleting the starter. NOTE: do not put the lid on tight.

SOURDOUGH STARTER B

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. In a ceramic bowl, add warm water and yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until the yeast is dissolved.
  2. Stir in flour. Mix until smooth.
  3. Pour starter into a plastic container that is at least four times larger than the liquid amount of the starter. This is because the starter will expand. Cover with a cloth napkin or tea towel and hold in place with a rubber band.
  4. Set the starter in a warm spot for 5 days. Stir each day. Refrigerate and use as needed, at least once a week. Replenish every other day (aka “feed”) with equal amounts of water and flour (1/4 cup each is fine, even less works as long as it’s equal amounts). If you’re not baking, remember to throw out a cup every week to leave room. Again- DO NOT PUT THE LID ON TIGHT!

See, they’re not that hard.

What I did this time was I halved the above recipe (B) and used a glass quart-sized Ball jar with a bit of waxed paper (with holes poked in it) held on with a rubber band on the top. I also labeled it because my fridge is filled with all kinds of concoctions in jars, like flavored milks, and you don’t want anyone to be half-awake and take a gulp of this. So far I’ve just used it in the following bread recipe, but I found it to do the job. If you find your bread isn’t quite sour enough, you can add a bit more starter next time, or do a refrigerator extended fermentation using the dough once it’s made… but that’s a whole ‘nother story! And funny enough, I just so happened to screw it up! I didn’t feed it enough during the initial 3-5 day initial fermentation period, and it had to begin to eat itself so to speak. It smelled of alcohol- straight alcohol, like I was brewing beer. Not a faint white wine-ish smell, a complete & total brewery smell. Like the smell of a freshly poured pint of Sam Adams lager. So I decided to ditch it & start over. There are ways of fixing it but I didn’t want to be bothered. On the whole, a faint vinegar smell & an alcohol smell are just fine during certain points in the starter-creation process. Even the development of “hooch”, a dark-colored or clear liquid alcohol that forms on top of your starter, is totally normal. Some people just stir it back in, others pour it off. Generally speaking, a starter goes through a variety of odors before its fully going. Unless it smells like rotten eggs, a bottle of beer or has mold on it, you’re probably okay.

Double, double, toil and trouble… an active starter doing it’s thang

Also, just something to note: the firmer the starter, the more the acetic bacteria love it, and the wetter the starter the more the lactic bacteria love it. So if you’ve got a firmer starter, you’ll probably have more of an alcohol-y or vinegar-y smell than if you’ve got a really liquidy starter. And also, the firmer the starter, the more sour the bread will be.

You can only use a small amount like 1 tablespoon water/1tablespoon flour to feed the starter once it’s in the fridge & the growth slows. I’ve even gone days or weeks without feeding it and it’s still been alive & kickin’! However, if you feed it too little during the first few days of the fermentation period, you’ll get bad results. Take notes from my mistakes. Consistency during that time is key. And pretty much any container is fine- I’ve used Tupperware with plastic wrap & a rubber band on top, glass jars & Pyrex bowls. As long as it has room to grow & bubble it’s all good.

Note: different recipes will call for different amounts of your starter. Some will call for 2 cups, which might deplete or almost deplete your stash. That’s okay- just add more flour and water (EQUAL PARTS) and let it re-ferment, repeating the initial process. There’s no way to screw this up, I promise, unless you forget to feed it during the crucial first days, don’t feed it enough during those crucial first days or you make one & then your refrigerator dies in the height of a mid-September 95° F heat spell and you totally forget about it and it smells really weird & has a weird color growing on it by the time you get around to normal life again.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Also, make sure you feed your starter the day before you want to use it for baking. This is important, especially if you don’t feed your starter often or you’re forgetful. You want it all bubbly and alive when you use it so you get that really good flavor. I forget to do this sometimes and my bread turns out just fine, so don’t stress it, but if it’s been a LONG TIME since you’ve fed it, you might want to feed it once or twice before using it, just to make sure it’s healthy.

If you have any problems with your starter, I suggest checking this FAQ page. It’s got a lot of great information.

Now. Are you ready for a recipe to use up that smelly ol’ starter you just made? Good, ’cause here it is.

Panera, eat your f*cking heart out.

SOURDOUGH NO-KNEAD BREAD (adapted from a recipe at Breadtopia)

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup starter

Directions:

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the water until the water is incorporated. You can use a wooden spoon or your hands, or even a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook on low speed if you must. Place the dough in a bowl coated lightly with olive oil and cover the dough with plastic. Let sit for 12-18 hours (I usually go with 10-12 hours, 18 is a bit much) at room temperature.
  2. Unwrap the dough and fold it over onto itself once or twice. Recover loosely with plastic and rest for 15 minutes. Transfer to well floured towel, and sprinkle with flour. Cover with another towel and let rise about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Transfer to a 6-8 quart French or Dutch oven, or ceramic/Pyrex container with a lid that’s been preheated to 450-500° F degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes (before baking I sprinkled mine with poppy seeds). Then, remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  4. Let cool completely on rack.

It’s really that easy.

I swear.

Now you can use that delicious sourdough bread for grilled cheese sandwiches. Trust me, it’s insanely good.

Some folks have a bit of a problem with using starters in their bread, they find the dough is maybe too wet and won’t hold a shape. As long as it’s a general roundish shape, and not a completely flat pancake that won’t rise at all, you’ll get bread from it. The wetter your dough the larger the air holes in it, which I happen to like, so I prefer to find a happy medium with a not-so-stiff dough that still holds it’s shape well. It’s all about experimenting and trying things, and I have to say I never had an issue that turned out to be an inedible bread! Most mistakes are still edible, if not perfect. But this way you’ll know that next time, you’ll have to add a bit more flour during the beginning stages. Like buttercream, bread dough isn’t always an exact science. Sometimes you need more milk or sugar in buttercream, sometimes you need more flour in bread dough. As long as you get a good rise in the oven, what’s known as an “oven spring”, then it doesn’t matter that the dough is too wet or too spongy or too dry. Here’s a bit more info about wet/liquid vs. firm/stiff starters.

And also, the type of flour you use and even the type of water you use can make a difference in your dough, so you might need more flour or less flour than a recipe calls for. It isn’t a big deal, trust me.

Like I said: the wetter the dough pre-baking, the bigger the holes in the finished bread. So if you always wondered how to achieve that, it’s a higher water content in the mix that causes a really wet dough.

Bottom line: anyone can make bread, and anyone can make sourdough bread using a starter! It’s NOT that difficult. If you’re interested in making yeast-based bread, and/or experimenting with starters in different kinds of bread, there are quite a few recipes I’ve posted over the years. From bagels to beignets, to cinnamon rolls to basic French bread and sourdough. Some require stand mixers, some don’t, some use starters, some don’t. You can find them all at the Recipe Index, under “Breads and Rolls (yeast).”

Experiment, enjoy… and good luck!

Find the gold at the end of the rainbow cupcake.

Something I always loved was the way layered, multi-colored cupcakes look. I thought I’d give them a shot a while back (I think when New York passed the gay marriage bill thingy) and never did. I know they’re all over the internet, and there are a gazillion bajillion ways to make them. And I know this blog post is really nothing new.

But it’s cute, right?

I think it’s cute. And what better occasion (other than gay marriage legalized, I mean) could there be than St. Patrick’s Day? You know that old legend, finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow:

Dating back to Old Europe, the legend of the pot of gold is claimed enthusiastically by the Irish. They’ll tell you that fairies put the gold there and then the leprechauns guard it. This folklore has become part of the symbolism of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that celebrates everything Irish including the hope and luck it takes to find that elusive pot of gold.

The famous Irish lore is based on a bit of eye trickery. In case you didn’t know, there really is no end to a rainbow. The way the physics work, rainbows are actually full circles, except the Earth itself gets in the way of us seeing the complete circle. As humans, our vision is limited to only as far as the horizon.

One of the biggest signs that a Leprechaun is near by is from the rainbow shining from the leprechauns’ pot of gold.

One good tip, a leprechaun is sure to be found near his pot of gold. One needs to be careful when approaching any leprechaun as they are extremely quick and will vanish at the sight of any humans close by, but you can manage to creep up behind him with a net in hope to get the pot of gold or three wishes. Be careful what you wish for though, as Leprechaun’s are smarter than us humans and are known to trick people.

To protect the leprechaun’s pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!

When the Vikings inhabited Ireland, they stored hordes of treasure all over the land. According to the legends, when they left, they forgot to take several stashes of gold with them.

The leprechauns found the gold and divided it among themselves. But they knew the riches of the Vikings had been collected through wicked deeds, and this deepened their mistrust of humans.

The leprechauns decided that humans could not have the gold because of what their greed would make them do. They stored the coins in pots and buried them deep underground where humans could not find them. However, according to the stories, a rainbow will end where a leprechaun has hidden his pot of gold.

- Mystical Mythology from Around the World

 

And I can’t really think of a better representation of a rainbow than a rainbow cupcake. There are a few ways to top them, you know, to keep with the “pot of gold” theme. I chose a less obvious way- gold crystal sugar & edible gold pearl dust with some shamrock sprinkles (you can use edible glitter, too). Another way would be to get those little chocolate gold foil-covered coins (or even individually wrapped Rolo’s) and put one on top of each cupcake, or you can get even more literal and get actual little pots of gold (edible or not). Oh! You know what else would be cute? Lucky Charms. You could put some Lucky Charms cereal on top of them.

But no matter how you top ‘em, you have to make the rainbow itself the same way:

1. One yellow cupcake or white cupcake recipe, divided into 6 bowls and then tinted. Each bowl ends up a different color- red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. If you want to get really crazy, you can follow ROY G. BIV to the tee, including not just blue but “indigo”, or you can throw in some pink. I kept it simple- as it is, the red and orange weren’t very different once baked. That was user error, aka my fault. Not enough yellow in the orange. BAD TRADITIONALLY-TRAINED ARTIST! I should know better.

I didn’t think you needed photos of all that. I figured you could handle it on your own.

Six bowls, equally divided vanilla cupcake batter in each, then each one colored a different color. Simple.

(Pssst- I used white liners so the color could be seen through them, but black liners would be awesome, kinda like a black pot of gold. Plus that way it’d be like a surprise when they’re unwrapped!)

2. After you’ve got your bowls all colored to the shades you want, then you start making your cupcakes. Line your muffin tins, then get six spoons ready. I say six spoons because you’re not going to want to use the same spoon in, say, both the blue and yellow batters, etc. Now you’re ready to make a rainbow.

3. Spoon the first color in to the liners. I’d say about a teaspoon of each color is fine, but do a “test cupcake” just to see how they rise, etc. I did one and it helped me figure out how much of each color and also showed me that the darker colors looked better on the bottom. Therefore, I did it in reverse ROY G. BIV; violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and lastly the red. Try and spoon it in evenly, so that the bottom is covered. Don’t use more batter than you need to, just smooth the batter out with the spoon. My rainbows aren’t perfectly lined up, but that’s okay. Who needs perfect!? Once every cupcake liner is filled, tap the tin on the counter just to even the batter out a bit. Pop ‘em in the oven and that’s it.

Once they’re out, cool ‘em, frost ‘em, and decorate ‘em. I used this tip & a plain vanilla confectioner’s sugar buttercream.

However you choose to do it, I guarantee you your audience will enjoy these. They just make anyone- even the most hard, cold or miserable among us- smile.

Santa Claus is coming to town…

AND HE’S COMING IN 21 DAYS.

(Better pick up that phone…)

;

Wow. So it’s really December! Holy crap, right? Thanksgiving has come & gone. Black Friday is over, as is Cyber Monday (which sounds very dirty to me, sorry I’m a child of the ’90′s when “cybersex” was the big parental fear, not “sexting”). The pumpkins are gone & being replaced with lights. ‘Tis the season of Christmas cookies, Hanukkah recipes & gifts of all shapes & sizes. ‘Tis the season of peppermint everything & mistletoe, snow & fireplaces, Christmas lists & long lines. Toys & sleds. Snow & red noses.

I love Christmas time, but really, it’s enough to make you want to crawl under a down comforter until February. So let’s ease into it all, shall we? How about easing into it with some polka dot cupcakes, and some hot cocoa? Sound good to you? Vanilla cupcakes, with little green dots made from the same vanilla batter. So easy!

(Mugs & plates from Target. And yes, the mugs & plates are small… the cupcakes aren’t huge!)

;

It’s so simple. Here’s what you do:

  1. Just pick your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, make it, then take about 1/2 cup of the batter, maybe even just 1/4 cup, and put in in a separate bowl.
  2. Tint it whatever color you want (you can also do a few different colors by dividing the batter further).
  3. Pour the plain vanilla batter into cupcake liners, as usual.
  4. Then take the colored batter & spoon it into a disposable pastry bag, snip off the very bottom and carefully pipe “dots” on to the tops of your unbaked cupcakes. Or, you could use a very small round piping tip if you have one. My dots were uneven… what else is new, haha- but once they were baked you couldn’t even tell anyway.
  5. You can do red & green dots on vanilla cupcakes, plain vanilla dots in red velvet cupcakes, chocolate dots in vanilla cupcakes, vanilla dots in red velvet cupcakes, red dots in chocolate cupcakes, etc, etc, etc. The possibilities are endless!

I didn’t frost mine so the dots were visible. If you want, you could probably pipe the dots in layers so that you get polka dots all the way through the cupcakes. Never done it myself, but it’s worth a shot. The liners are from Michael’s, not sure what brand they are. You can definitely get similar red/white polka dot liners at any number of places, though: sweet estelle baking supply, Layer Cake Shop, Bake it Pretty, The Cupcake Social, Sweet Cuppin Cakes. Wherever you like to shop. I think dotted liners in a contrasting color look so cute, but stripes would be adorable too!

And of course… the cupcakes wouldn’t be complete without some hot cocoa!

;

CUPCAKE REHAB’S HOT COCOA*

Makes about 6 servings, depending on the size of your mugs *wink*

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use dark, too)
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • Candy canes, mini marshmallows, whipped cream & peppermint schnapps/peppermint syrup (all optional)

Directions:

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir in the hot water & bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk and heat, but do not boil. Remove from the heat & add vanilla. Pour into mugs.
  3. Add a dash of peppermint schnapps, if desired, then add whatever you like on top: whipped cream, mini marshmallows or both. Add a candy cane stirrer (or crushed candy canes on top) & enjoy!
*this hot cocoa also works well with a dash of cinnamon sugar & a pinch of cayenne pepper instead of peppermint schnapps & candy canes.

If you’re caught without candy canes (hey, it’s only the BEGINNING OF DECEMBER!), some hard peppermint candies will, when smashed, work the same way. Or, you can use a squirt of peppermint syrup in the cocoa and skip the crushed candies on top. The peppermint is optional altogether, however, so don’t sweat it. I personally like a little peppermint in my hot chocolate, but this cocoa happens to be good enough on it’s own to stand up without any fancy stuff.

On that note, I look forward to spending another holiday season with all of you. Sláinte!