22 November 2013

Sourdough Toutons

One of the best things about living in Newfoundland is that you can fry bread in pork fat and not feel ashamed of yourself.

Breakfast good and proper:  toutons, scrunchions, and molasses.  Yeah, okay, it's not a well balanced meal, but you have all day to correct that..

Sourdough Toutons

Since this is traditionally a breakfast food, make the dough at least a day ahead of when you plan to cook the toutons; once it's made up, it can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  That means very little thinking is required before you finish that first cup of coffee on touton morning. If you're a breakfast-for-dinner kind of person, you can get the first step done before you go to work and finish it up when you get home.

Step 1 - Thicken up your sourdough starter (8-12 hours)

400 g mature sourdough starter*
100 g cool water
300 g unbleached all-purpose flour

*I have a white and a red fife sourdough one on the go (both started with the feral apple method found in this post) and used 250 g of white starter and 150 g of whole wheat starter... as long as you weigh it, it doesn't matter what proportions you use or if you only use one type.

Stir together all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Cover with beeswaxed cloth wrap or plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 8-12 hours.  Enough time for a full day's work or a full night's sleep.

Step 2 - Make the dough (~2.5 hrs)

There are a few 45-minute breaks in this process, so don't let the 2.5 hours frighten you... take advantage of the breaks to get other stuff done: darn your socks, write a letter, bathe the dogs.  No, on second thought, don't bathe the dogs, it would be too difficult to keep hair out of the dough.  Turn your compost instead, you're always forgetting to do that...

starter from step 1
40 g butter
60 g milk
350 g warm water
2 tsp salt
150 g whole wheat flour
750 g unbleached all-purpose flour

Heat butter and milk in a saucepan until butter is just melted; remove from heat and add warm water and salt to butter mixture.  Stir together and let cool until comfortable to hold your finger in the liquid (this shouldn't take long).  Add liquid and dry ingredients to sourdough mixture from step 1. 

I'm about to share a sourdough miracle with you.  In my continued self-education about baking with sourdough, I finally gave in to the stretch and fold technique .  Years of using baker's yeast made it really difficult for me to let go of kneading, but I'm a convert now.  And here's the first part of the miracle: stir all the bread ingredients together until the dry ones are just moistened.  That's it.  It doesn't need to be smooth or taut, just combined.  Cover and let it rest for 45 minutes, when it will be time for 
the first stretch and fold (here's a good video demonstration from Mike Avery of Sourdough Home).

Turn onto a clean surface.  Using a flat palm under the dough, stretch it out into a big rectangle.  Fold in thirds lengthwise, then in thirds crosswise.  If the dough feels really soft and unstructured, stretch and fold again.  Put it back in your bowl, cover, and let rest for 45 minutes.
Above: Ingredients for breakfast.  Who wouldn't want to start
their day with bread, sugar and pork fat?  Below:  Lest you
should imagine that we cut corners, please note that we used
the Atantics BEST pork back fat... packaged locally which
saved my mainlander self from having to reach into the big
tub of brined back fat at the store. 

Repeat the stretch and fold, return to bowl for 45 minutes.  Stretch and fold a final time, then pack the dough up in an airtight container and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.  Ready to use it already?  Move on to step 3.

Step 3: Make the toutons (~1 hr, depending how many you make at a time)

dough from step 2
a piece of salted pork back fat, cut into small cubes
fancy molasses

Cut dough into pieces.  Half of the dough will make about 18 toutons. (If you are feeding a crowd, use the whole batch. If not, use as much as you need and either refrigerate or freeze the rest, or make a loaf of bread with it.)  Gently form each piece into a ball-like shape, then roll into a circular-ish disk.  Set aside to let rise while preparing the cooking fat.

I used a piece of back fat about 8 cm x 6 cm to cook half the dough.  Place the cubes of salted back fat into a cast iron skillet and heat over medium, stirring occasionally, to render the fat.  This will take a while.  When the fat stops bubbling but before it starts smoking (ask me how I know it will start smoking if you aren't quick enough), use a slotted spoon to remove all the crispy cubes of salty deliciousness from the fat and cool on brown paper.  These crispy bits are called scrunchions, you need them later, so just set aside.

If the fat is not hot enough, your dough will soak up way too much of it, so, keep the fat hot, but try not to let it smoke; adjust the temperature as needed as you go.  If you used flour when rolling out your toutons, tap off as much as you can before cooking but without deflating your touton (the flour will eventually burn in the fat and fill your kitchen with intolerable smoke, trust me). Working in batches, fry the toutons until puffy and golden brown (~2 minutes on each side, more or less).  Drain on brown paper.

Serve hot, with scrunchions and molasses.  The sourdough results in lots of big bubbles in the touton and that delicate soft bread is a perfect contrast to the crunchy, salty scrunchions and the sticky sweet molasses. 

Lots of big air pockets in the sourdough resulted in a very pillowy touton.  Mmmm...

Toutons (tout pronounced like shout or lout) are touted (heh. get it?) as one of the backbones of traditional Newfoundland cuisine, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out that although it uses a different leavening agent, toutons are not really different than fry bread (the post-contact bread of indigenous North Americans).  And never mind North America, similar fried breads are found everywhere: Maori paraoa parai, South African vetkoek, Indian poori, Yemeni m'lawwah, Moroccan harsha, Uruguayan tortas fritas... the list goes on far and wide. So although scrunchions and molasses make Newfoundland toutons specific to Newfoundland, don't feel restricted by them.  Go ahead and serve toutons with curries and tagines.

Regardless, toutons are real folk food in Newfoundland: the sort of thing no one needs a recipe for because you just make them with your regular home made yeasted bread dough, fried in a pan.  (Of course, just like anywhere else, a lot of people don't make bread.  However, the same modern conveniences that caused that problem have also solved it: in any grocery store in Newfoundland, you can buy raw bread dough labeled "touton dough".)  Nearly every restaurant serving breakfast here will offer toutons as a side or as a main served with a side of baked beans.  Toutons are part of the fabric of life.

Admittedly, we never ate sourdough toutons before creating this recipe.  But keep your traditionalist socks on, there's no need to imagine William Coaker rolling in his grave: the sourdough makes for a pillowy fried bread, and these are certified heavenly*.  Well worth the effort of sourdough.  Also, I'm willing to bet money that toutons were made with sourdoughs in the days before commercial yeast was readily available.

Regarding the brined pork back fat: You might be shaking your head and feeling grossed out by it.  Indulge me for a moment though to consider it may not be so icky as all that when you consider that it provides an opportunity to get a bit more personal with your food than buying a pound of lard packaged into a nice reliable block.  I know the homesteaders and food revivalists among you are cheering because this is exactly what your grandmother would have done, rendering salt-cured fat from the hand-raised pigs; the hipsters and foodies among you are clapping your hands in delight because fat is in right now.  At any rate, for how often you're really going to spend two days making fried bread, go ahead and enjoy the pork fat and the excessive molasses.   And molasses is a good source of iron, so it's practically a health food anyway, right?  

By the way, this is perfect food for eating with your fingers from a shared plate.  Especially out on your back step, in the crisp morning air, with a steaming cup of coffee, watching some boats being put into dry dock for the winter.  It doesn't get much better.  (And it gets you out of that smokey kitchen...)

*I made that certification up, but if it existed, well, hoo boy.

The entire time I was rendering pork fat and frying the toutons, I felt as though someone was looking over my shoulder.

submitted to YeastSpotting!


  1. I fear I am just about to get drummed out of the vegan confraternity (again...) but "KUDOS!" If a pig has died for a few choice slices of bacon and the rest of it is so much waste THAT is wrong. Fry those delicious little bready morsels however you see fit and I bet they tasted amazing. Your cat certainly thinks that they would ;)

    1. We try to include the bits and pieces most people don't eat for exactly that reason. That cat, by the way, stole touton from the counter but lost it when the dogs noticed what was in her mouth.


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