From Recipes

Cristina’s collection of her invented recipes and heritage recipes balancing health with pleasure.

vintage pumpkin bread recipe

Vintage Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Vintage Pumpkin Bread recipe fills your home with a delicious scent while cooking. Quick breads are sweet or savory breads risen with baking powder or soda instead of yeast. Which makes the baking process “quick” as compared to the “slow” yeast-risen breads. Sweet or savory, quick bread is a quick addition to any meal. I adapted this vintage pumpkin bread recipe years ago from a vintage banana bread recipe in a 1953 cookbook titled, “The American Family Cook Book by Lily Wallace. I often substitute leftover baked sweet potato for the pumpkin.

Pumpkin Bread Recipe

(one large or two small, loaves)

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Grease/butter a loaf pan: 5” x 9” x 3” or two small loaf pans

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose white flour
  • 3 t. baking powder (I use aluminum free)
  • 1 C. sugar (I use Mexican white sugar – it’s beige) You can mix brown and white sugar, too.
  • 1 to 2 C combination of/or raisins – black or gold; chocolate chips, chopped nuts

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 15 oz can of mashed, cooked pumpkin (about 2 cups). Sweet potato is a delicious substitution.
  • 1/4 C blackstrap molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 C EVO olive oil OR melted butter

Mix together wet ingredients separately until smooth, then dry ingredients separately. Then dump the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir by hand until mixed. Pour the thick mixture into greased loaf pan(s).

Put in pre-heated oven bake for 75-95 minutes OR until a knife pierced into the center comes out clean. Reduce baking time by 10-15 minutes if using 2 pans. Check for doneness.

Gingerbread cookie recipe

Vintage Gingerbread Cookie Recipe

Make these gingerbread cookies a few days ahead then invite friends to a decorating party during the Christmas holiday. These spicy gingerbread cookies are a vintage 1970’s gingerbread cookie recipe my sister Alisa and I have been making since we were young teenagers. It’s a family tradition we would love to pass to you. These cookies taste great when they are fresh and soft and also age well. They make great shaped cookies, but because they rise a teeny bit they won’t work for a gingerbread house.

These cookies age very well, lasting for weeks if well wrapped.

Time:  To mix: approx 15 min. To roll out and cut: about 5-10 minutes per tray.
To cook: approx 10 – 13 minutes at 350 F

Tools: Large mixer or very strong arms, a whisk and stout spoon. Rolling pin,
Cookie sheets, Oven. Cookie cutters or a cup to create shaped cookies.

Yield: Depends on the size of your cutters. With 4”-5” tall gingerbread people cutters makes about 4 – 5 dozen.

Cookie Ingredients:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 ¼ Cup dark molasses
3 large eggs
1 cup butter, softened
1 T. baking soda
1 t. sea salt
2 Tablespoons ground Ginger
½ Cup finely chopped dried crystallized ginger pieces (I put chunks in a blender with 1/4 C. flour and grind till  pieces are between the size of a rice grain and a petite green pea)
1 t. ground allspice
3 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
7 to 8 Cups approx. white unbleached flour

Mixing:
1.    In the mixing bowl combine butter and sugar until whipped.
2.    Add the molasses and eggs. Beat until smooth.
3.    Mix the dry ingredients together with 3 cups of the flour. Add to the wet mixture until mixed. Use a mixer on medium for 2 minutes or so.
4.    Add in flour a 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is stiff.
5.    This may become too much for your mixer and you’ll have to add the last cup by hand. Don’t add the last 1/2 cup if mixture feels dry.
6.    Dough is stiff. Use immediately, or wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Rolling and Baking:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 12 minutes
1.    Lightly flour your work surface and with a rolling pin roll a baseball-sized chunk of dough until it’s about 1/8” thick. Cut with cookie cutters or the rim of a cup dipped in flour.
2.    Spray pans with non-stick spray or smear them with a thin layer of butter
3.    With a pancake spatula put cookies on pan and cook.
4.    Re-roll scraps and cut more cookies while the others bake. Cool on wire racks.

Frosting:

With a mixer beat the following ingredients till stiff. Spread frosting across cool cookies with a knife. While it’s still wet add candy decorations to each cookie.

Ingredients:

4 C. confectioners sugar
3 large egg whites
¼ t. cream of tartar

Candy Decorations: Chocolate drops, colored sugars, raisins nuts, etc.

By Cristina Acosta ©2007 – 2015

Cottage Cheese Yogurt Breakfast Pie by Cristina Acosta

Resilient Pie Recipe: Cottage Cheese Yogurt Pie

Raise chickens and cows and you’ll need some good recipes to use up your eggs and milk. During the 1980’s I owned a small  ranch east of Bend, Oregon. Twenty acres of volcanic rimrock, juniper tree lined ridges and flood irrigated grasslands were topped with a collection of small sun-bleached wood buildings garnished with eighty years of bailing wire and cast off ranching equipment. I bought the old ranch and discovered about 100 feral chickens lived in rafters and pecked around the old milking barn. Without an actual chicken coop to corral the eggs, I carried a bucket of water to test the eggs I found trailing the chickens. If the eggs lay flat submerged on the bottom of the bucket, they were fresh. If the eggs tipped up, I pitched them towards the barn cats.

Mrs. Creasy down the road left gallon glass jars of fresh raw milk from her Jersey cows in her porch refrigerator with a money can nearby. Neighbors made proper change before taking a warm gallon or two home.

With eggs and cream to spare, I adapted a vintage pie recipe from scratch to accommodate abundance or less. I often made this pie recipe in the evening so it could chill before cutting – it makes a lovely breakfast pie served with fresh or cooked berries. You can use yogurt or sour cream as desired; full, low-fat or nonfat dairy as desired. Adjust sweeter as desired. Etc. If you are short an egg, or have an extra, no worries.  This resilient recipe does well with change. Make it yours.
————-
2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup yogurt
4-6 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
Zest and juice from one small lemon (About 3-4 T juice, 2-3 t zest)
Mix all of the ingredients on med to high in a blender or food processor.

Crust Is Optional!!
Pour mixture into a graham cracker OR cookie crust OR No Crust! And cook.

  • No crust option: Shallow ceramic or glass ovenproof pie pan or brownie pan and butter the inside. While the oven is preheating, place a larger pan with about an inch of water in it. Place your crustless pie pan in that water bath.
  • OR Pour into a graham cracker crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 50-70 min. A test knife in the middle should barely come clean.
    If you are cooking small dishes, reduce baking time about 10-15 min.

Topping: Fresh or cooked fruits are delicious. I made the marion berry topping in a skillet.

Fruit Topping:

2 cups of fresh or thawed berries, peaches, cherries, etc.

1 cup water or juice (orange juice is good with berries)

2 T. flour or 2 t. cornstarch blended in a little liquid, then added to the pan.

Sugar or other sweetener as desired, such as: 1/4 C. to 1/2 C. brown or white sugar, 1/4 C. honey or stevia to taste.

Add all ingredients in a saucepan or skillet and bring to a boil, stirring as the mixture thickens. When it’s thick, remove from heat and chill. It will set up even more.

Quick Master Scone Recipe with Dairy Free Options

Quick scones to make for a special morning breakfast. These scones are beautiful to look at, they taste wonderful and the scent of baking scones filling the house is enough to get most anybody to the breakfast table. This is my master recipe that you can alter to make a variety of types of scones.

If you want to make dairy free scones, substitute non-hydrogenated shortening or lard for the butter and plain or vanilla soy milk (or other type of milk) for the cow milk.
Some of my favorite scone variations are: Cherry Pecan (with dried tart cherries), Wild Blueberry, Cranberry Orange Scones (orange zest & dried cranberries), Lemon Poppyseed (with lemon zest), Chocolate Orange Nut (with orange zest, chocolate drops & nuts). Experiment and have fun with this recipe.

Time: 10 – 15 minutes to prepare, 15 minutes to bake    Yield: About 8 – 10 scones (depending on how you cut the dough)
Tools: Hand held pastry cutter, OR a food processor OR 2 dinner forks
standard size flat baking pan (one that fits in your oven), oven, spatula, 2 bowls. Optional: Vitamix

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups flour (I use unbleached white mostly, sometimes I’ll substitute 1/2 cup of whole grain flour — more than 1/2 cup makes for a very heavy scone)
  • 1/3 Cup dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown or white sugar
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • OPTIONAL:
    • 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (wild are best as they are small)
    • 1/2 cup dried fruits such as: raisins, chopped apricots, pitted cherries, sweetened cranberries, etc.
    • 1/2 cup chopped nuts such as: pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts
    • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
    • 1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) of spice such as: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, coriander, ginger
    • 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
    • 2 Tablespoons fresh orange or lemon peel zest (don’t scrape off the white part of the rind as it will be bitter).

Optional Topping: Mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar with 1 Tablespoon of liquid to make a glaze. Suggested liquids are: espresso, orange juice, fruit / chocolate / or maple syrup, milk, water

 Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray a baking pan with release or grease it with butter/shortening.
  3. In a Vitamix or by hand using a fork and a bowl: beat together until frothy – eggs, milk
  4. In a large dry bowl mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar, sea salt.
  5. Using a pastry cutter, food processor or 2 dinner forks, cut the butter into the dry mix until the mix resembles coarse meal and there aren’t any chunks of butter much larger than 1 grain of rice.
  6. Add any fruits, nuts and/or spices to this mix.

Then. . . .

  1. All at once add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just until the dry mix is saturated. Don’t over mix or the scones won’t rise.
  2. Dust a little flour onto a clean counter and after flouring your hands, pour the batter on to the counter (it should be almost like a very wet biscuit dough).
  3. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and knead it for about 5 – 10 strokes. To knead the dough, pat it down til it’s easy to grab the far edge. Bring that edge over the front edge of the dough (by your belly) and make push it together hard with both hands. Do this a few more times, turning it until the dough is easy to pat into a shape.(Sprinkle on more flour if dough is too sticky).
  4. Pat dough into a circle about 1″ thick.
  5. Just like you’d cut a pie, cut the dough into wedges.
  6. Transfer the dough to the pan (with a pancake spatula) and spread them on the baking pan at least 1/2″ apart so they won’t grow into each other as they cook.

Bake the scones at 425 until browned. About 15 minutes.

Pour glaze on when the scones are cool enough to eat. (optional)

 

Cookies for a Crown recipe by Cristina Acosta

Easy Cookies for a Crowd

School events, holidays, potlucks and parties are busy enough without making yourself crazy with complicated baking. This cookie recipe is easy to modify and makes  bunch of small cookies. I

Cookies for a Crown recipe by Cristina Acosta
One cookie recipe for many types of cookies is easy for kids to help. Great for school events, parties or Christmas cookies.

usually make three kinds of cookies from one batch. Divide this dough into portions and add different ingredients and you’ll have a batch of cookies for any occasion.

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or Food Processor or by hand, Oven, 

Baking Pans: 2 to 4 large cookie sheets – as many as your oven can handle at once
Yield: about 12 dozen
Baking time: 6 – 8 minutes.  Assembly time 45 – 60  minutes
Oven 400 F  (preheat for at least 5 minutes)

  • 2 Cups Butter softened
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 4 eggs large – beaten
  • 1 1/2 C. Sugar – Mexican Moreno sugar, organic “white” sugar or light Brown sugar (or a combination)
  • 3 to 3 1/2 Cups flour – unbleached white or add in some whole grain if you prefer, though the texture will change.
  • 2 t. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 sea saltOptional ingredients:
  1. 1/2 C. colored sugar – roll teaspoon of dough in sugar before setting on baking sheet.
  2. 1 C. Chocolate drops – add to dough or insert large drops on top of single cookie
  3. 1 C. powdered sugar – when cookies are warm from the oven, put them in a paper bag and gently turn them in the sugar until completely coated. Repeat process again when they are cool if desired.
  4. 1 C. dried fruits and nuts – add to dough
  5. spices – 2  t. cinnamon,  2 t. ginger, 1/2 cloves for spice cookies. Adjust amounts to taste.Directions:
    Mix together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add only 2 1/2 cups flour to start.

    In a mixing bowl whip butter with sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and beaten eggs and whip for a few more seconds until everything is mixed.  Reduce mixer speed to low and pour the dry mixture in gradually. The dough will stiffen, so you may need to finish mixing by hand. Add the flour slowly after 3 cups (or not at all if the dough is dry). Dough should be a little bit sticky but still easy to roll into balls

    If you want to make more than one variety of cookie, divide the dough into portions and add the optional ingredients or plan for them depending upon the cookie you want.

    Drop by small spoonfuls on greased baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 6 – 8 minutes and remove onto a rack to cool.

Chocolate with Water (Chocolate con Agua)

Chocolate is a famous “New World” food. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 1500’s they noted that the Aztecs and other indigenous groups drank a hot beverage made from bitter cocoa beans. It wasn’t long after that chocolate became a European obsession.

 

I was recently traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. The state of Oaxaca is the home of the Zapotecas and

Took this photo in Oaxaca, Mexico at a chocolate store. Chocolate con Agua  or Chocolate con Leche are local favorites. The green pottery and wood whisk impart a unique flavor to the drink. What a treat! Que rica ©Cristina Acosta
Took this photo in Oaxaca, Mexico at a chocolate store. Chocolate con Agua or Chocolate con Leche are local favorites. The green pottery and wood whisk impart a unique flavor to the drink. What a treat! Que rica
©Cristina Acosta

over twenty other indigenous groups. The colonial architecture of the town is centuries old and filled with charming, warm people. Craftspeople sell their wares at street-side markets, and the stores and large mercados are filled with local products. Wool rugs hand woven with yarn dipped in natural dyes, fanciful wood carvings, silver jewelry, tin work, straw woven goods, black-clay pottery and green-glazed ceramics are some of the many arts and crafts  for which Oaxaca is famous. One of the foods Oaxaca is known for is chocolate. Traveling down the streets (calles Aldama y Mina) between  2 large markets, Mercado Juarezand the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, I could smell chocolate. Following the scent, I found a street with several chocolate shops which though appearing very similar, boasted of their special blend of chocolate. My favorites are La Soledad and Mayordomo. Here are photos of a chocolate store and a photo showing a woman (her hands) mixing the chocolate in a typical Oaxacan green-glazed ceramic pitcher. Note the handmade wooden chocolate wisk.

Day after day I visited chocolate stands, stores and tried chocolate drinks at most every opportunity. What a great trip! Here’s what I discovered — I love chocolate with water  (Chocolate con Agua).

Here’s the recipe for 2 servings:

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or whisk

Chocolate with Water

  • One 42 gram (that’s  about 1.5 oz.) of Mexican Oaxacan chocolate in the shape of a disc. OR 1 large disc – In the U.S. the brands Abuelita or Ibara are most common. I consider this ingredient to be the “sugar”.
  • To make mine less sweet I then add  about 1.5 or 2 oz of dark bar chocolate (at least 50% – 100% cocoa).
  • 2 Cups Boiling water

Put all ingredients in a blender, secure cover and start on low. Blend until mixture is smooth and frothy. Pour and serve immediately. The traditional Oaxacan method is to blend the chocolate in a pitcher with a wood wisk designed for this purpose.

Note:

  1. Oaxacan chocolate comes in bars flavored with Coffee, Cinnamon, Vanilla or 100% bitter Chocolate. You can use a good brand of high quality of chocolate bar such as Giradelli, Lindt, or Green & Black as a substitute.
  2. If the drink is too watery for you, add more chocolate!
  3. Remember the movie, Like Water for Chocolate? Not only is the movie wonderful, the title is a reminder of a important cooking tip if you’re not using a blender or hand mixer: Before you mix your chocolate into milk, gently blend the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat with a small amount of water until it’s smooth, then add milk or water.
  4. The photos below show a typical chocolate store. A worker would scoop chocolate beans into the steel machines against the wall. They would mix with sugar and spices. The result was a deep rich brown mixture that resembled fresh turned farm soil. How beautiful! ¡Que linda!
  5. Choc_mx_store2.jpgChoc_mx-store1.jpg

All photos and text ©Cristina Acosta

Sangria Sonrisa

The Spanish word sonrisa means smile. And you’ll get plenty of smiles when you serve this Sangria at your next get together. The perfect fiesta drink, this recipe is easy to put together and flexible. Start with an inexpensive red or white wine, add plenty of fruit and some bubbly and you are done. This recipe is light, fruity, and not too sweet.
Serve the Sangria in a clear glass pitcher and ladle some of the fruits into the glasses along with the liquid. It’s easy to refresh — just add another bottle of wine along with a bottle of ginger ale and you’re good to go for a second batch.

Serves 4 to 6

Tools: Sharp knife, food slicer (optional), pitcher

Ingredients:

  • One 750 ml bottle of red or white wine
  • One 12 oz. bottle of quality Ginger ale. I use brands with real ginger and sugar instead of  corn syrup.
  • 1 cup thinly sliced strawberries

Note: wash the outside of the citrus fruit and slice with the skin on.

  • 1 medium/large orange, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium/large lemon, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, halved and thinly sliced
  • One 20 oz. can of pineapple chunks in their own juice.
  • approx. 1-2 cups ice

Mix:

All ingredients together and serve.  You can make this ahead an hour or more, so that the flavors can meld, but it’s not necessary. Note that red wine will dye the fruits after it sits for an hour or more, so they will not be quite as pretty when served. If that bothers you, put it in an opaque pitcher. White wine maintains the color of the fruits.

For a spicy option:  Slice a fresh jalapeño pepper in half lengthwise and mix with the fruits. The longer the mixture sits, the more picante (hot and spicy) the Sangria will become.

Fruit options also include watermelon and peaches. I don’t think apples go well with wine. Experiment with other fruits.

Hot Mexican Chocolate Cookies

I  warn people about the chili pepper in these cookies before I serve them. Mostly because I hate watching people gag while eating something I cooked for them. If you decide to eliminate the cayenne in these cookies, they’ll still taste great, they just won’t be as “interesting”.
Inspired by the Mexican version of hot chocolate this recipe has a well rounded chocolate flavor with an after-bite of heat. These thin cookies are wonderful with ice cream or coffee or my Creamsicle Flan.

Tools: Mixer or by hand, oven

Yield: aprox. 4 doz. thin cookies

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rounded unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 rounded t. dry instant coffee granules
  • Optional:  >1 to 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper (adjust for desired “hotness”). I use 1 teaspoon.
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • ½  cup (1 stick) real butter, softened to room temp. (Use a little extra butter if you prefer butter on your baking pan.)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2  eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour (rounded is OK) or slightly more*
  • ½   t. sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 Centigrade).  Butter or non-stick spray pans or put baking parchment on cookie sheets.
  2. In a mixer at medium speed; combine cocoa, cinnamon, coffee, ground peppers, butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Beat for approximately one minute or until mixture changes texture and appears “whipped”. No more than 3 minutes.
  3. Gently stir in flour and salt combination until fully integrated.  No more than 1 minute.  *If you want the cookie to be a bit higher, add approx. 1/3 cup more flour.
  4. Arrange by small teaspoonfuls on the cookie sheets and bake for 8-11 minutes.  If using the convection feature on your oven, bake for 8 minutes and check immediately.
  5. OPTIONAL: You can roll the small teaspoonfuls of dough in granulated sugar before putting them on the pan. The baked cookie will sparkle with the sugar granules (and you won’t drip powdered sugar on yourself when you eat them.)

Remove from cookie sheets immediately and cool on racks.

Decorating options:
•    Dredge in 1 cup powdered sugar  OR
•    Frost with Kahlua glaze – 1 cup powdered sugar with 2-3 T. Kahlua.  Mix well and drizzle on the cooled cookies.

by Cristina Acosta ©2005-2015

Homemade Artisan Bread Using a Natural Yeast Starter (Sourdough)

In Ed Wood’s book, Sourdoughs from Antiquity he included a picture of a man in the Middle East tending bread loaves on wood planks outside his home. The man was using the heat of the sun to rise the loaves before baking them. That picture was an epiphany for me. Till then I believed that I had to measure ingredients carefully and follow rigid schedules to make bread. I realized that the man in the picture represented hundreds of years of people making bread without fancy weights and measures and perfectly timed schedules. Making bread was historically a very right-brained, intuitive, kinesthetic process! Yea!
Inspired by Mr. Wood’s book I ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour Company and began teaching myself to make bread with simple tools; a spoon, a bowl and an oven. For over a decade my neighbor Rick and I have kept the sourdough starter going, passing it to friends along with loaves of fresh bread. I constantly experimented with rising times and cooking methods, learning that there were many ways to get a beautiful loaf.

Consider these instructions a rough template. The amount of ingredients and rising/fermenting times will change depending on the humidity and warmth of the seasons and the way the starter adjusts to your particular style. After you’ve practiced several loaves, you can change the ingredients to make almost any type of bread you can think of. One of my favorites is Chocolate Bread.Directions for the chocolate variation are in the 4th question under the FAQ list.

Read the recipe through and the notes at the end to get an idea of the process. After you’ve made a few successful batches of bread you’ll have the confidence to alter ingredients and timing.

First: Grow a starter or get one from a friend. (It will take about 2-3 days to grow 4 cups worth from a small amount).
You can buy a dry starter and resuscitate it, or buy a moist starter from King Arthur Flour and enlarge it. Follow directions on the package.
Replenish the starter with enough flour to get a jar of about 4 cups worth going in your refrigerator. Ideally the starter is the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Store the starter in a glass or ceramic pitcher/bowl with a loose fitting plastic lid.

Tools: Oven, 2 flat baking sheets, 1 deep baking sheet or shallow pan for the water.
Bowl, stout rubber spatula or wood spoon.
A pizza paddle or wide spatulas to move the dough loaves around.

Yield: 4 normal size loaves, 6 small loaves or lots of buns.

Bread Recipe: Plan for between approx. 10 to 24 hours for the process (your choice — read ahead and plan for what works best for you)

  • 2 cups (approx) liquid starter culture (always leave at least a cup of starter in reserve for future bread baking)
  • 8 cups (approx.) White unbleached bread flour, (approx. 3 lbs.)
  • 5 cups (approx.) Baby Bottle Warm water* (appx 90 degrees)
  • 4 heaping teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 4 heaping teaspoons sugar (honey, organic white or brown sugar)
  • 2 or more additional cups of flour
  • Approx. ½ cup olive oil

Note: All measurements are very approximate. Adjust flour and water ratios til it feels right (tough if you have no idea what that means, you’ll just have to try it my way first then adjust your approach next time.) I allow 1 teaspoon of salt per medium loaf. The sugar is to counter the killing effects of the salt (on the yeast).

Step One: Approx 5 minutes to make. 8 to 24 hours to sit on your counter and ferment.

  1. Mix by hand the flour, starter and water in a very large ceramic or glass bowl until all ingredients are moistened. Do not beat, just gently mix.
  2. Let this sit for a minimum of 8 hours (in a warm kitchen) or as long as 24 hours. I prefer about a 12 hour period (I mix it in the morning and bake it in the evening). If it’s very warm, go with less time so that your culture doesn’t run out of life before it’s baked. This process is called the “sponge”. I cover mine loosely with a flexible plastic cutting board.

Note: after you’ve made a few loaves and have a feel for the process, see the FAQ’s for info on adding other flours at this stage.

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Step Two: About 10 – 15 minutes to knead. Approx 1 to 2 hours to rise.

  1. Mix Salt and sugar with 1 cup of flour. Stir this mixture into your fermented sponge.  Add additional flour if the dough is still wet. When you can no longer stir the bread, cover your hands until they are dripping in olive oil and dive them into the bread. Knead the loaf by turning the far edge over the loaf and towards your body. Smash it into the loaf, give it a ¼ turn and repeat kneading the loaf for between 4 to 15 minutes. (Depends on how fast it goes and your attention span).
  2. Add a little more flour if the loaf is too sticky, though err on the wet side as a wet dough yields a more open texture.  If you make the mistake of adding too much flour, as soon as possible shake off the excess flour (save it to add to your starter) and  add more olive oil to the mix until you can knead it again.
  3. Oil the bread bowl heavily. Put the dough in the bowl and pour more oil on top and spread it around so that it’s protected from drying out.
  4. Let it rise in a warm place til it’s about 50% bigger or almost doubled. (about 1 to 2 hours)

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Step Three: Cooking. About 15 minutes to prepare your oven and loaves. 45 min. to bake.

  1. Pre-Heat your oven to 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Meanwhile put a large kettle of water to boil. Put a shallow metal pan in the bottom of your oven.
  2. Punch down your bread dough.
  3. With a knife, cut it into sections for loaves. This recipe makes 4 medium or 6 small loaves.
  4. Make about 2 to 6 kneading motions of each dough section and shape the dough into a round or long loaf. Shaping a loaf requires only childhood mud-patty skills, so don’t make this hard on yourself.
  5. Sprinkle a layer of flour on your kitchen counter and put the shaped loaves there.

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Note: This step in the process is the ideal place to add flavorful ingredients to the bread such as – Chocolate chips, dried fruit, chopped nuts, cinnamon and sugar, sautéed onions and garlic, cheese, chopped jalepeno chiles, etc.
Either knead the ingredients into the dough before you shape it OR flatten out the dough and spread the ingredients over it. Roll up the dough and tuck in the ends.

6.  Shake a generous sprinkling of flour (about 1/2 cup) on your 2 baking sheets.
7.  Finish the dough –
A. The easiest: Pat flour all over the dough. OR
B. Beat a whole egg and spread it over the tops of the loaves.
Optional — Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds .
8.  With a sharp knife, slash the tops of the loaves approx ¼ to 1/2” deep. On round loaves I make an “X”. On long loaves I put 3 to 5 slashes the width of the loaf.
9.  Slide the loaves onto the pan and put them in the hot oven.
10. Pour the boiling water into the hot shallow pan on the bottom of the oven and quickly shut the door to seal in the steam.

Bake for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

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FAQs:

How do I take care of the starter?
The starter is like a houseplant (a succulent). If refrigerated it needs care every 1 to 3 weeks. Keep the starter in the refrigerator with a lid that is on loosely.
Take it out of the refrigerator to feed it. Feed the starter a cup of white unbleached bread flour and 1 cup of baby-bottle-warm water. Stir and leave it on your counter for 8 hours to let it warm up and come back to life. Before I “put it to bed back in the refrigerator” I give it a “snack”. Stir in about ½ cup of flour and put it back in the refrigerator. If you need a lot of starter, add extra flour, never much more than twice your amount of starter. (ex. you have 2 cups of starter — add 2 cups of flour and water OR you have 4 cups of starter — add 4 cups of flour and water.)
If you’ve neglected the starter for a long time (4 to 6 weeks) give it a chance and try to revive it. You might have to feed it and then after 6-8 hours pour off some and feed it again. Repeat this cycle 2-3 times til it’s bubbly and happy again.
If you’re making bread every day you don’t have to return the starter to the refrigerator as it can live comfortably at room temperature if fed daily.

What is Natural yeast anyway?
Natural yeast is a “wild” yeast compared to the store bought hybrid yeast. Both types of yeasts are a single cell fungus that breaks down the starches in wheat flour through the process of fermentation to create sugar that gives off carbon dioxide gas that makes the bread rise. Natural yeast starter has yeast and lactobacilli (similar to the lactobacilli in yogurt or other cultured foods) in a symbiotic relationship.
A store-bought hybrid yeast is like a corn field. It all grows at the same rate and is harvested at the same time. A natural yeast starter (the lactobacilli is part of the starter) is like an old growth forest. Imagine trees and other plants of varying heights that grow at different rates. The lactobacilli create the rich flavor and their presence retards bad molds from growing in the starter. For this reason, a natural yeast starter is responsive to a wide variety of temperature and humidity changes and doesn’t need a strict schedule, though with use, you’ll learn that your starter is most powerful (lots of bubbles and puffy) at a certain point in the fermentation process.

How do I add whole grains to my loaves?
At Step 1 of the recipe substitute up to half of the white flour with whole wheat. If you use a low-gluten flour like oat or rye, substitute ¼ of the flour. As you experience the results, increase your whole grain/white flour ratio. I’ve used 100% whole spelt or wheat grain, but the loaves have always been smaller and denser than loaves made with more white flour. It’s up to you.

I want to make some different breads. What is the easiest way to do that?
Add flavorful ingredients to the bread such as – Chocolate chips; dried fruit; chopped nuts; butter with cinnamon and sugar; sautéed onions and garlic; cheese; chopped jalepeno chilis, etc.
At Step 3 either knead the ingredients into the dough before you shape it OR flatten out the dough and spread the ingredients over it. Roll up the dough and tuck in the ends. One of my favorite breads to give as a gift isChocolate Bread. I knead in about a cup or more of dark chocolate drops into each loaf, it’s delicious!

How do I plan the bread around my life?
I prefer a fermentation time (Step 1) of 8 to 12 hours. I’ll start the bread Friday night and then do Step 2 and beyond Saturday morning. If I have time during the week, I’ll start Step 1 in the morning before work, then begin Step 2 and beyond when I’m home for the evening. If my plans change and I need to slow things down, I put the dough in the refrigerator. If I need to speed things up it doesn’t work very well as the yeast/lactobacilli don’t have time to do their work. I suggest slowing down the process.

My bread doesn’t taste very sour. What’s up?
Possibly your starter won’t produce a very sour taste. The lactobacillus are responsible for the sour flavor. You could order a starter from a San Francisco company and give that a try. I did that and discovered that while the starter was stronger in flavor, it wasn’t wildly different. (After 6 months I combined it with my other starter because I didn’t notice enough difference to make the hassle worthwhile of keeping separate starters.) The other thing to think about is that your palette has been tampered with. Many commercial bread companies put citric acid (also known as sour salt) in their loaves to make them taste sour. You can order citric acid from King Arthur Flour company and give it a try. I’ve never tried the product, consequently I  have no idea how it would react with my starter. If you try it and like it, let me know.

Why do I add hot water to my oven when I bake the bread?
In the oven, the maximum rise is in the first half of the baking period. The steam bath keeps the outside of the bread loaf flexible enough to allow the yeast to rise as much as it can during that time. During the second half of the baking period the steam contributes to creating a crunchy crust.

Mail order sources for Starter:

King Arthur Flour Company   
*If the water in your area is heavily chlorinated, use filtered or bottled water or boil a pot of water and leave it out overnight.

Other Reading: I highly recommend Edward Espe Brown’s, The Tassahara Bread Book. It was the book responsible for my first bread success. Though the yeast I used then was packaged, The Tassahara Bread Book is the classic that started me making bread.

Here’s a note from Bob’s Red Mill — the Oregon flour I use for my bread: “All of our products are non-GMO and identity preserved.  This means that the seed that was planted for the plants that yield the grain originated from a non-GMO source.  We have little control over factors such as wind drift and pollen drift, so we do shy away from advertising our products as non-GMO and printing it on our packaging,”  says Jennifer Barnes, Customer Svc., Bob’s Red Mill.

©Cristina Acosta 2007 – 2015

Calligraphy by Cristina Acosta

Midlife Transformation – Using Old Letters to Create New Words

Midlife transformation is inevitable for women. Menopause is irrefutable and for most women, a defining experience. Whether a woman has had children or not, reproduction and nurturing as defining metaphors in our lives are now replaced with reinvention and renewal.

And all of that change and midlife transformation requires a new vocabulary of a sort. A reinvention of new words from the same old letters we’ve been working with our entire lives. An anagram for renewal, real and new can define this new phase of our lives if we allow ourselves the opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of reinvention quite a bit as I’m in the middle of the biggest reinvention phase of my life (so far). Much of my life as I knew it has changed these past few years and I’m starting again. A situation that is exhilarating and energizing as well as depressing and scary.

While trying to  stay focused on exhilarating and energizing this past week, I found myself visualizing calligraphy. For about ten years of my art career, I painted signs, paying for my art degree at the University of Oregon and then transitioning into a career as a billboard lettering and mural artist until the trade ended with the advent of computers. One of the foundations of sign painting is calligraphy, the hand drawn art of letterforms.

I found myself thinking about the twists and turns of line I could create with the motions of my body transforming brush and paint into meaning. There is a lovely sensual pleasure to brush calligraphy, a quality that varies with each letter and each grouping of letters as they form words. Surprisingly, actually feeling the visual forms a word takes enriches the feeling the word invokes, even when the feeling of creating the word with line is counter to the meaning of the word.

Those memories in mind, I realize that the midlife transformation I am going through now offers me the opportunity to reform the letters of my life. Those letters being the skills, experiences, wisdom and attitudes I’ve developed over the years, and re-ordering them into new words, creating new meanings for myself.

New words and meanings denote a new reality. Here are a few examples: I have been making art, painting or drawing for decades, but now I have different thoughts and feelings about the process and different (fewer) expectations . I have been cooking for even longer, filling in for my single mother of seven when I was a young teenager, working in restaurants, then being a homemaker and mother. But now, when I cook I see more than a quick meal or a beautiful spread, I understand the connections and spiritual qualities of food much differently than I have in the past. Life feels richer.

There is an old Zen proverb that goes something like this: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Midlife transformation can be a type of enlightenment, a time when the familiar meanings and perceptions of the shapes and forms of our lives transmute into new beginnings.