Discover more from The Bittman Project
Born to Bubble
From pancakes to king cakes, my life as a sourdough starter
Today, we’ve got a King Cake recipe from Kerri — a spinoff from Bittman Bread cinnamon rolls — to usher in the weekend through Mardi Gras. It’s the first of two recipe narratives inspired by the cinnamon rolls recipe from the book with is available to members. The piece is an as-told-to Kerri Conan, co-author with Mark of Bittman Bread. Holly takes on the rolls on a sesame spin here.
Read on for more.
To celebrate my 4th birthday, I — a whole grain starter spawned for the purpose of baking bread, pancakes, and other human comestibles — have decided to write a mini-memoir. I don't have an official name. You can call me Bubbles.
In my short life, I've been the bounce behind 300 bakes. And though I'm a mere microbial, my journey, like that of you humans, is a mix of learning experiences and victories, challenges, and celebrations. With each adventure, a little part of me is transformed; I rebound, adapt, and come back stronger. Through it all, I keep a spring in my step.
I was born on February 2, 2018, in the only home I've ever known, a thrift store apothecary jar decorated with a hand-painted poinsettia. Though I'm grateful to my guardian Kerri for providing shelter and sustenance (and for scribing my recollections accurately here), mine is a life of chilly boredom, fermenting slowly in the fridge waiting for the call to action.
When it's time to bake I'm ready for all the different recipes in Mark and Kerri's new book, Bittman Bread. One morning I might rise biscuits or waffles, another time it's pizza patrol or sandwich bread — or the King Cake that follows.
After I donate a spoonful to boost the jumpstarter, Kerri feeds me whole wheat flour from Cairnspring Mills, which is grown and stone-ground near where she lives in Washington State. She uses the Expresso variety for baking everything in the book — and lucky for you, they ship all their flours everywhere.
Once when Kerri was away taking care of her mom and away from home for a couple of months, she couldn't bake and was unable to feed me. We were both worried I couldn't be revived and neither of us wanted that to happen. She tells the story and honors her beloved Mom in My Mother, My Starter.
Now about that King Cake, the traditional Mardi Gras treat: Kerri and her husband's families are both from New Orleans, so she was thrilled to see one of the book's Instagram enthusiasts post her version to #bittmanbread. Hats off to @kristinhebertveit for the inspiration behind Kerri and my cake shared here. And many thanks to everyone baking and telling their stories, asking questions, and contributing to the baking conversations here in The Bittman Project community. For members, you can talk about your starters or your own observations and questions with others in the community on this Bittman Bread thread. (Kerri’s been popping in frequently also and there are a couple of other conversations going, too.) Or join hundreds of others and share photos and captions on Instagram with #bittmanbread.
Together we bubble!
Bittman Bread King Cake
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Time: 8 to 12 hours for the jumpstarter; about 3 hours of intermittent work to mix and fold the dough; a couple hours to fill, bake, cook, and decorate the cake.
Any cinnamon roll recipe is an excellent — and almost authentic — foundation for King Cake. Even Mark and Kerri's whole wheat sourdough method. Kerri didn't bake a toy baby or a bean or anything inside (as is the tradition); if you do be sure to alert everyone to be on the lookout. You still have the weekend to make one for Mardi Gras on March 1. But this recipe is so good you should consider celebrating "Fat Tuesday" any week of the year. Half the fun is choosing how to decorate the cake: Gold, green, and purple are the traditional colors. The cake shown here started with blood orange buttercream is sprinkled with demerara sugar, and naturally tinted jimmies.
100 grams whole wheat starter
300 grams whole wheat flour
Water as needed
5 grams salt
1 stick softened butter (113 grams)
75 grams turbinado sugar
5 grams ground cardamom (about 2 teaspoons)
80 grams golden raisins
Glaze or buttercream and decorations
1. Combine the starter, 100 grams whole wheat flour, and 100 grams water in a large bowl. Stir, scraping the sides and bottom as necessary until all the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic or a damp towel and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. The jumpstarter will bubble and become quite fragrant. (If you haven’t already, feed the starter: Add 50 grams each whole wheat flour and water and stir or shake. Make sure your container is at least double what you think you need. Cover and return to the refrigerator.)
2. When you’re ready to make the dough, add the remaining 200 grams flour and 100 grams water. Stir with a rubber spatula or wet hands until a dough forms and looks springy, 1 to 2 minutes. If there’s still flour not incorporated around the bottom or edges of the bowl, stir in more water 5 grams at a time as you work. The dough should be wet and shaggy but still form a loose ball. Cover again and let sit for about 1 hour.
3. With wet hands, fold the salt into the dough, adding enough water to create a little milkiness on the surface without losing the ability to hold a loose shape. Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.
4. Proceed with the 4 folds about every 30 minutes. As you work, wet your hands and the dough with enough water so it becomes smooth while still holding some shape. After the 3rd fold, make the filling: Mash the butter in a small bowl with the sugar, cardamom, and raisins.
5. After the 4th fold, line a stockpot that's at least 12-inches in diameter and has a tight-fitting ovenproof lid with two layers of overlapping parchment. Turn the dough onto a wet surface and use wet hands to press it into a rectangle about 16- by 9-inches, with the long side toward you. Dab the top evenly with bits of the sugar mixture. (Don’t try to spread it or you’ll tear the dough!)
6. Working from the long side closest to you gently stretch and roll the dough tightly to enclose the filling; set the log seam side down. Bring the ends together to form a circle, stretching and pressing as necessary to form a relatively seamless splice. Transfer the ring to the prepared pan, fitting it in the bottom so it's almost touching the sides of the pot. Use scissors or a razor blade to cut 6 or 7 vents into the top of the dough. Let the cake rest until it puffs slightly and the indent from your finger springs back slowly, 15 to 30 minutes.
7. Cover the pot and put in a cold oven and set for 400°F. Remove the lid after 30 minutes and continue baking until the top forms a golden crust and the filling bubbles through the vents, 15 to 20 minutes more. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest bready part should register 200°F. Brush the top with any pooling butter from the bottom of the pot and let the cake sit in the pot for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack and slipping out the paper. When cool, glaze, frost, or sprinkle as you like. Cut into wedges and serve.
— Recipe adapted from Bittman Bread