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Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting (Part 1)


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A rosemary loaf....

Garlic....

Both have a bit of olive oil as well.

Devlin, they look pretty amazing!! Excellent crumb. I remember, not that many years ago on one of the newsgroup bread threads, someone suggesting that breads like yours owed more to photo-shop than baking. If only they knew!

Dan

Thanks Dan! No kidding. Breads like mine come from working like a mule (or is that a slave -- I ferget :unsure: ). A good camera helps, that's for sure. And decent lighting (and I did photo-shop a tiny couche thread off the top of the rosemary because it just detracted from the bread, but beyond that, it's just straight photo). But yes, those breads are the result of lots and lots of time and care and learning and attention. And the feedback from happy customers is testament to that and makes me glad.

Are you ever planning to get to this part of the world?

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Nancy Silverton's book on sourdough includes a small discourse on how she handles her breads which is the "bashing" method noted here. And I've seen both her and another baker demonstrate the technique. You pick the dough up at one end and bring it down on the counter with a bang, fold it, and repeat a gazillion times. I tried that for awhile. For me? A total waste of time. I get far better results with the stretch and fold method, the barest handling of the dough.

Also, my doughs are far wetter than most home bakers are used to, and I never add flour while rising and shaping. I use a bench scraper to handle the dough, and never ever add flour except on the couches.

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You pick the dough up at one end and bring it down on the counter with a bang, fold it, and repeat a gazillion times. I tried that for awhile. For me? A total waste of time. I get far better results with the stretch and fold method, the barest handling of the dough.

Also, my doughs are far wetter than most home bakers are used to, and I never add flour while rising and shaping. I use a bench scraper to handle the dough, and never ever add flour except on the couches.

This is pretty much the way Richard was working his dough. No flour till the dough is shaped and ready to go into the couches. It's very hard for home bakers to get over the stickiness and wetness factor, or at least it is for me. I'm going to try the stretch and fold method next.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Here's my latest sourdough bread - using a sort of bastardized King Arthur/jackal/Reinhart methodology - for a pure sourdough, this bread

had the best rise and tasted better than any I've done before.

Whole Loaf

gallery_6902_3887_79406.jpg

Sliced Loaf

gallery_6902_3887_140582.jpg

That is incredibly good-looking bread; I wish mine came out like that. No matter what -- even though I get great rise and oven spring -- I'm inevitably disappointed in the crumb when I cut my bread open. I'm going to try again tonight/tomorrow -- any advice?

"All humans are out of their f*cking minds -- every single one of them."

-- Albert Ellis

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Well, here goes. Thank you.

Starter is equal parts flour and water, no yeast added. I made it myself; it's about one year old and very active. No problems there.

The recipe I follow:

1,5 C starter (stirred to remove air before mixing)

1.5 C warm water

1 T olive oil

~5 C flour -- mix of KA 2/3 bread flour and 1/3 AP flour, when I'm feeling adventurous I mix in whole wheat

2 t salt

All goes into a stand mixer; mix until well incorporated -- a total of roughly five minutes or so. Let stand 20 minutes; knead again another five minutes (roughly).

Remove from mixer and into an oiled bowl; cover with moist towel and allow to proof ~5 hours. Gently degas and cut in two; form boules on peel (for me, usually a floured baking sheet) and cover with moist towel. Leave to rise until doubled; usually ~2 hours.

Allow the oven to warm for roughly half an hour to 450 degrees; dough goes in onto a hot stone. Water pan on bottom of oven, walls of oven sprayed every 2 minutes for first 10.

My bread, from the outside, looks unbelievably good. It's usually not as sour as I'd like -- which is something else I'd love advice on -- but the crust is crackly and brown, beautiful. Inside, though, are fine holes -- I'd describe it as "cakey." Am I not allowing enough gluten to develop? It's good, but never lives up to its promise. I'd post pics but haven't taken any.

Thanks for the help; nothing would make me happier than turning out the loaf I'm looking for.

"All humans are out of their f*cking minds -- every single one of them."

-- Albert Ellis

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JohnnyH,

My breads are inevitably better when I work the dough with my hands rather than the stand mixer.

It looks like you might be lacking an overnight ferment/retardation period somewhere along the way, though jack or devlin are much better suited to answer those questions than me :smile: .

Try heating your oven stone for 1 hour at 500 (it really wont be hot enough after 30 minutes) - then lower to 450 after you spray the oven. As for spraying, I do once every 30 seconds for the first minute and a half - 3X total. Otherwise, you're opening the oven a lot and losing a fair amount of heat spraying it 5 times in its first 10 minutes.

Keep us informed, JohnnyH - it's the late 2007 sourdough experiment.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Well as usual, Jackal will probably have better advice for Johnny than I, but I'll just ramble a little and see if it might help.

First, take notes and be consistent with each bread you try. You'll never figure out what you're doing if you just sort of wing it with different flours and ingredients and the like. It's one of the most important things I did in the beginning, and it's still just as important to me today.

The photo of your sourdough culture is gorgeous.

It's hard to respond to your question very generically when you've provided at least three possible different formulas. One just above using either bread and ap flour, or bread and wheat flour, and another with only(?) rye. Wheat and rye flour will produce a denser dough, generally speaking.

Given your formula just above (and taking into account that you suggested you'd like more flavor), I'd start it with a sponge the night before. And don't use warm water. Use cold water, either as cold as you can get it out of your tap or cool it with ice. Reinhart's ancient bread, for example, starts with water at a temp of 40 degrees farenheit. I use cold tap water, around 60 to 63 degrees generally.

That's the first thing.

And then your 5 hour (more or less) proof/rise. For me, that looks like a major problem if I understand it correctly. I would work the dough a bit using the stretch and fold method every hour rather than just let it sit, otherwise it'll never develop properly. It's something you have to play by ear, generally, deciding when it's risen sufficiently, and that takes practice and will depend on what type of dough you have (the flours, the water, any ancillary ingredients).

And then cut and shape and rest and proof for however long it takes to proof what you have.

Preheating the oven as hot as you can for at least an hour before. A stone. Those things will help. Frankly, fiddling around with steams and temps after it goes into the oven has turned out to be not as significant as I had thought it should be, given all the literature devoted to it. I work with a brick wood-fired oven, for example, and once the dough goes into the oven, the temperature is continually sort of nuanced by loading and reloading, and the steam aspect frankly has had very little influence on the rise and crumb of my breads.

Another issue, instead of measuring with cups, I'd strongly advise you to get a scale and start weighing everything instead.

Edited by devlin (log)
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My guess is that because you only have a single rise the dough is under-developed. Cakey would indicate the dough is too wet.

Lets look at your formula (Ive converted to grams and bakers percentages)

1.5 cups Starter, equal volume flour and water

If your starter is in fact equal weight of flour and water, then these calculations will need to be redone, and use 100g or about half a cup more water in the sponge step.

3/4 cup flour = 85 grams

3/4 cup water = 180 grams (very wet! - 211% hydration )

Dough

1.5 cup water = 360g

5 cups flour = 550g

1 T Olive Oil = 15g

2tsp salt = 14 g (say)

Total flour = 635 g

Total water = 540 g or 85% (wet)

Salt =14g = 2.2%

Some suggestions:

1. Introduce a sponge stage with about 1/3rd of the flour. The long fermentation will give you better flavour and texture.

2. Use half a cup less water

3. Omit the oil (you can use some on your hands and bench and basins to stop sticking)

4. Use a little less salt

5. Don't degas. About 2 hours after you have mixed the dough form it into boules, and put upside down into a floured cloth lined basket. (banneton) Actually if its easier use an oiled basin for each boule. When you come to bake 3 hours later just invert onto the peel, slash and put onto the hot stone in the oven.

Sponge

Take your 1.5 cups starter as before but add 1 cup of flour. Knead together and leave covered in a warm place for 12 -24 hours. You can do this in the KA mixer bowl and dump the rest in on top next day:

Flour: 85 + 110 = 195

Water: 180 = about 93% hydration - still very wet

Dough

All the sponge

Flour now 4 cups plus 3 Tbs /460g

Water: 1 cup = 240g

Salt: 1 3/4 tsp = 12g (assuming fine salt, about 12.5g or 0.18%)

Total flour: 460+110+85 = 655 g

Total water = 180+240 = 420g or 70%

Continue as before...but form the boule after 3 hours and put into bannetons or oiled basins for the last 2 hours.

Some more advanced options (try these later):

1. Retard the dough. When you form the boule, 2 hours after you mix the dough, put them into the fridge for anything from 4 to 24 hours. When you bake, bake from cold, or let warm up for an hour. This lets you bake at your convenience,

2, Weigh instead of using volume measures. Allows much more accuracy

3. Use all AP flour. Softer flour gives bigger holes, but slightly harder to work

4. Use a stiffer starter or sponge. I'm now using a 50% hydration sponge, and I think it give better flavour. You will need to adjust the water in the recipe.

5. Use much less starter. I use 1Tbs only, with corresponding changes in the sponge formula and fermentation times.

Good luck.

I'd try changing one thing at a time to see the effect. Please report here, preferably with pictures...

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Excellent -- thank you for the response(s). Photos will accompany my next post with a report on progress.

I'm glad Jack broke down the water and flour values because although as I read it late last night (1 a.m. here) and thought it peculiar, I was too tired to figure it out. So, anyway, yes, I'd second that. And the overuse of culture as well.

For the breads pictured above (the rosemary and the garlic loaves), I'm using bread flour from a local mill (which is actually shipped from up north but milled here), about 11% protein. For myself, I've had better results with it than anything else.

I don't produce anything like the traditional French baguette, and I'm although I'm an advocate of the lovely open crumb (it's what I look for myself, generally), I find the flavor of the traditional baguette fairly flat and not particularly interesting, especially beyond a day. I've played around with them in a number of ways, different flours, varying degrees of hydration, but I continue to be disappointed with their flavor, ultimately. Great for sopping stuff up, or if you want a bread to slather butter on. But I prefer a bread I don't have to butter in order to experience great flavor. It's the first thing people want to do when they slice open my bread, and it's the first thing I tell them not to do. Don't butter it. It's a hard habit to break. Of course if they want butter after, that's fine, but at least taste the bread itself first.

But after you've tried Jack's formula, which I'm thinking you'll be delighted with (it was Jack's formula that helped me over the hump in my own breads, and I've incorporated many of his methods in my own breads), you might also experiment with some barm methods. Dan Lepard has a formula in his book that's a great place to start, and I've got a durum loaf I've nearly developed to my satisfaction using a fairly mild lager barm. Nice open crumb, beautiful flavor.

Looking forward to seeing how you get on.

Edited by devlin (log)
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Nice looking breads, Mitch. Really nice.

I've a question about stones: Chef Bertinet of the bread class the other evening, said that he used granite as his baking stone. So, I happened to go to a stone yard yesterday, and they wouldn't sell me a piece of granite because they said it might 'burst' in the oven. Not shatter, or crack, but burst. Anyone use granite or had any issues with granite?

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Nice looking breads, Mitch. Really nice.

I've a question about stones: Chef Bertinet of the bread class the other evening, said that he used granite as his baking stone. So, I happened to go to a stone yard yesterday, and they wouldn't sell me a piece of granite because they said it might 'burst' in the oven. Not shatter, or crack, but burst. Anyone use granite or had any issues with granite?

I bought a square baking stone that I love and was very reasonably priced. I'd looked around in hardware stores and the like but was never sure what would work, so in the end it was just easier to buy the darned thing.

But about granite. We recently had a long conversation with a clerk at one of the big hardware stores about granite, how it would hold up under very changeable weather, freezing to hot, and he suggested it wasn't the best stone for that, noting it would crack or shatter or the like. So I suspect it may not be the best stone for oven use.

On the other hand, one person's definition of "shatter" may be another person's definition of "burst."

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One other question -- where can I look to find out more about the "stretch and fold" some have mentioned?

Thanks again -- I really appreciate all the help.

Jon

"All humans are out of their f*cking minds -- every single one of them."

-- Albert Ellis

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Nice looking breads, Mitch. Really nice.

I've a question about stones: Chef Bertinet of the bread class the other evening, said that he used granite as his baking stone. So, I happened to go to a stone yard yesterday, and they wouldn't sell me a piece of granite because they said it might 'burst' in the oven. Not shatter, or crack, but burst. Anyone use granite or had any issues with granite?

I bought a square baking stone that I love and was very reasonably priced. I'd looked around in hardware stores and the like but was never sure what would work, so in the end it was just easier to buy the darned thing.

But about granite. We recently had a long conversation with a clerk at one of the big hardware stores about granite, how it would hold up under very changeable weather, freezing to hot, and he suggested it wasn't the best stone for that, noting it would crack or shatter or the like. So I suspect it may not be the best stone for oven use.

On the other hand, one person's definition of "shatter" may be another person's definition of "burst."

Thanks Devlin. I'm going to dig around and do some research, if I found out anything interesting, I'll report back in.

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There is some very conflicting "info' out there.

This seems to be about the most reliable, from Findstone.com:

A 1013: What happens if the granite is heated about 500 deg F? Will it crack? Can you use granite to manufacture dishes or plates? Is it hazardous to health? Cesar, USA. June 20

R2: In as much as it will come as a shock to you, if you heat granite to about 500 deg F it will become hot!

Will it crack? No, it won't. In fact, granite it's the only material on which you can put a pot right off the stove top. Is it hazardous the health? Big time! especially to your teeth if you try to chew it before swallowing it!

Maurizio, USA Contact

R1: Granite should not be affected by 500F if the heat is evenly applied. Cooling of articles with a change in thickness could be of concern if not done slowly. There is nothing deleterious in most granites that make it unsafe to eat off. If "machining" a piece of granite, you would want to know the orientation of the "grain" just as in wood work. A granite's strength can vary depending on the orientation. Jim Australia

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  • 1 month later...

Yesterday, I did some sourdough baking, after starting a couple of doughs the day before yesterday.

Here's the first one - jackal's sourdough, as taught in the eGCI here. It spent the night in a brotform, retarding in the refrigerator after its primary fermentation on my counter top. I baked it in a Chinese sandy pot, in a take-off of the dutch oven baking method used in the minimalist no-knead bread technique.

gallery_6902_5624_6435.jpg

And here's the second one, which was started with a bit of sourdough biga and a small amount of instant yeast, risen once, folded, risen again, and then put into a plastic bag to rest overnight in the fridge. Baked on a stone, in the hottest oven I can get at home.

gallery_6902_5624_76806.jpg

Unfortunately, my wife and I ate 3 of these :laugh:. Though they don't appear so, they're 8 - 9 " across, with a nice thin crust.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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During the last weeks, I have made several attempts to do a plain wheat starter. I've gotten activity pretty quickly, but on the second or third day the starter has separated into a greyish/brownish watery layer and all the flour at the bottom. It has also started to smell a bit off, almost like puke (sorry, no better way to describe it...). Acidity has been very high.

I've tried both organic and standard wheat flour with the same result. Any ideas?

I've prevously made rye starter without any problems, but maybe some nasty bug is currently inhabitating my kitchen. I went out and bought some wheat starter from a local bakery the other day. It smells much fresher than my own attempts, none of the puke smell...

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Awesome bread Mitch. I love the ridges! I wasn't sure about doing a retard for the second rise, but I guess it works just fine.

(On a stupid note, I read on Joe Pastry's blog about Jacques Pepin's daughter who was describing her retarding method on the radio, and someone called into the radio show to say that her use of the word was insensitive to the feelings of challenged people! :laugh: I hope that caller never listens to a radio show about dog breeding.....)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have searched in vain for threads that addressed my problem, so I thought I might start a thread and see if you more experienced bakers could help me.

I was going to do the NY Times no-knead thing, but then I decided to make a starter. After reading several cookbook recipes, scouring the web and asking some friends, I made a starter with flour, water, yeast, and sugar. I know the yeast is a no-no for some but after a few days, feeding daily, draining or stirring back the hooch, I had what seemed to be an amazing starter. It tasted rich and sour and heady. I was excited.

So I made a sponge and let it sit in the oven with only the light on overnight. In the morning, I added the flour and salt and a little oil and had a wonderful dough that I kneaded vigorously for a very long time. I've made regular yeast bread before and I know how it feels when it's ready. I got two great rises out of it, then let it proof.

I decided to try baking in a dutch oven to trap the steam in, but when I put it in, I lost a lot of air. But the pot was preheated, so I couldn't take it out without a mess. The bread came out looking amazing, but it was bland, too dense, and had absolutely zero flavor from the starter.

Any guesses as to why this happened?

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I'm not sure yet if this is a problem, but I made a firm starter today and forgot about it, so it tripled in size (at least). Should I forge ahead or toss it and start over?

BTW, doug, I noticed that the first few loaves I made with my new starter did not have the rich sour flavor -- it's sort of like the starter needs to be refreshed over the course of a few weeks to "mature."

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Go ahead and make bread with your mature starter. It will be OK.

Do you mean starter, of which you use a tablespoon, or preferment, which is maybe up to 33% of the loaf? Either way its OK. If its the preferement, the loaf will be flavoursome.

This is perhaps the key to getting more flavour in the loaf. It comes from the preferment, which should be ripe. I ferment my preferment typically for 24 hours.

Doug I am not surprised your bread was dense. Asking 3 rises from the yeast is bit much, and the loss of gas would indicate the bread was overproved. At most 2 rises (bulk ferment and proof), and halve the time

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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I find your photos - and surely your bread - amazing!

I am a beginner, trying a few recipes, mainly from Dan Lepard's books but I must admit that my bread comes out a bit on the heavy side. :sad: What I want is something well risen with lots of 'air bubble spaces' like yours. Since Dan is not teaching courses in the next future, I was thinking of attending one of Richard Bertinet's courses. Recommendation?

I cook in an Aga, with the advantage that the high temperature is not a problem but the lower temperature, that is below 200C is not easy to achieve with a 2-oven Aga. Has anyone got experience with this? I was wondering whether it is best to do the high temperature cooking in the Aga top oven first - this easily reaches 240 C - and then transfer the loaf to an ordinary electric oven with a lower temperature, say around 180-190C for the remainder of the baking.

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      If your oven is steam injected, build up a good blast of steam.
       
      If not, throw in a few ice cubes and close the door or put a bath of hot water inside.
       
      The steam is what creates the sexy crust!
       
      Let it build up for a few minutes!
       
      Right before you put the bread into the oven use a bread razor to slice the top of the bread.
       
      Place the dough balls into the oven and douse with another blast of steam or ice and close the oven.
       
      Let them bake for 13 minutes at 450 degrees. Then turn the loaves and bake for another 10 minutes.
       
      Remove when the crust is as dark as you want and the internal temperature exceeds 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
       
      Now pull out and make sure to let cool off of the sheet pan with room to breath underneath. You don't want your crust steaming!
       
      Now here is the hardest part, wait at least 20 minutes before getting into the bread. Also, cutting into bread to early really seems to come out poorly. I would rip the bread until 1-2 hours has passed.
       
      Now serve it with your favorite butter, goat butter or whipped duck fat!
       
    • By andiesenji
      ANDIE'S ABSOLUTELY ADDICTING BREAD & BUTTER PICKLES
      Here’s the thing about pickles: if you’ve never made them, they may seem to be an overwhelming (and possibly mysterious) project. Our listener Andie – who has offered some really valuable help to the show several times in the past – has sent this recipe which provides an opportunity to “try your hand” at pickle-making without much effort. Andie suggests that making a small batch, and storing the pickles in the refrigerator (without “processing”) can get you started painlessly. Our Producer Lisa says that the result is so delicious that you won’t be able to keep these pickles on hand - even for the 3-4 months that they’ll safely keep!
      The basics are slicing the cucumbers and other veggies, tossing them with salt and crushed ice and allowing them to stand for awhile to become extra-crisp. You then make a simple, sweet and spicy syrup, (Andie does this in the microwave), rinse your crisp veggies, put them in a jar, pour the syrup over, and keep them in the refrigerator until they’re “pickled” – turning the jar upside down each day. In about 2 weeks you’ll have pickles – now how much easier could that be? If you are inspired, I hope you’ll try these – and enjoy!
      MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART.
      FOR THE PICKLES:
      4 to 6 pickling cucumbers (cucumbers should be not much larger than 1 inch in diameter, and
      4 to 5 inches long)
      1/2 to 3/4 of one, medium size onion.
      1/2 red bell pepper.
      1/4 cup, pickling salt (coarse kosher salt)
      2 quarts, cracked ice
      water to cover
      2 tablespoons, mustard seed.
      1 heaping teaspoon, celery seed
      FOR THE SYRUP:
      1 1/2 cups, vinegar
      *NOTE: Use cider or distilled white vinegar, do not use wine vinegar.
      1 1/2 cups, sugar
      2 heaping teaspoons, pickling spice mix.
      PREPARE THE PICKLES:
      Carefully wash the cucumbers and bell pepper. Slice all vegetables very thin, using a food processor with a narrow slicing blade, or by hand, or using a V-slicer or mandoline. Toss the sliced vegetables together in a glass or crockery bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of the vegetables. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the cracked ice, toss again to blend all ingredients and add water to just barely cover the vegetables. Place a heavy plate on top of the vegetables to keep them below the top of the liquid.
      *Set aside for 4 hours.
      PREPARE THE SYRUP:
      Place the vinegar, sugar and pickling spices in a 4-quart Pyrex or other microwavable container (the large Pyrex measure works very well)
      Microwave on high for 15 to 20 minutes. [if a microwave is not available, simmer the syrup in a narrow saucepan on the stovetop, over low heat, for the same length of time.] Allow the syrup to cool. Strain the syrup and discard the spices.
      ASSEMBLE THE PICKLES:
      Place one wide-mouth quart canning jar (or two wide-mouth pint jars) with their lids in a pot of water to cover, place over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer (180 degrees). Remove the pot from the heat and allow jar(s) and lid(s) to remain in the hot water until needed.
      *After the 4 hours are up (crisping the vegetables as described above) pour the vegetables into a large colander and rinse well. The cucumber slices should taste only slightly salty. Return the rinsed vegetables to the bowl, add the mustard seeds and celery seeds and toss well until evenly distributed. Set aside.
      Return the syrup to the microwave, microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes [or heat the syrup on the stovetop] until an instant read thermometer shows the temperature of the syrup is 190 to 200 degrees.
      Place the vegetables into one wide-mouth quart jar, or in 2 wide-mouth pint
      jars that have been scalded as described above. Pour the syrup over the vegetables, place the lids on the jar or jars, tighten well and place in the refrigerator overnight.
      The following day, turn the jar upside down - then continue to turn every day for 2 weeks. (This is to insure that the pickles are evenly flavored)
      After 2 weeks open the jar and taste. The pickles should be ready to eat.
      Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 months.
      ( RG2154 )
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