I’m a longtime bread baker. Even as a child, I loved to bake bread. Okay, at the time, baking bread consisted of thawing one of those pre-formed loaves of bread dough found in the grocery store’s frozen food department. Of course, these were the days before artisan breads were readily available on many store shelves. They were also days when Wonder Bread was considered a treat in my family; Mom usually bought the least expensive brand.
When I moved out on my own, I started making my own bread. I wasn’t very adventurous; most loaves were simple white bread. But they were better than what I could find in most supermarkets. I’ve been making my own off and on (mostly on) for quite some time now. Lately, I’ve become fascinated by technique. I spent much of New Year’s weekend watching YouTube videos about bread making. (Hey, you have your definition of fun, and I have mine.) I decided to start with sourdough, especially since I have this thing for fermenting. So I also looked through my copy of Classic Sourdoughs, Revised: A Home Baker’s Handbook. Then there are myriad sources on the Internet.
The first thing I needed, of course, was starter. I’ve tried making starter on my own before, with marginal success. I ordered starter from King Arthur Flour. In the interim, I made some of my own. There are lots of recipes for starter. Purists believe true sourdough can only be made using flour, water, and salt (optional). Other recipes call for a bit of yeast or already prepared starter to give the new batch a kick-start. I also found recipes calling for pineapple juice or organic grapes and berries to attract the yeast in the air. Some instructions said to use only glass or ceramic bowls and wooden spoons. Others said use anything as long as it was nonreactive. Whatever you use, you’ll want a 3 to 4 quart container. Since I love glass mixing bowls, that’s what I used. And here’s the recipe I used.
2 cups lukewarm, filtered water (about 100 degrees)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Pour the water into the container and dissolve the honey (if using). Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Gradually add the flour, stirring after each addition. Place the container some place warm. Let it sit for 2 to 5 days, stirring each day. Don’t worry about the liquid that will form. Simply stir it into the starter in training. When bubbling has lessened, stir the starter use or refrigerate, covered loosely.
Most sources say the starter should have the consistency of thick pancake batter. Mine was a bit thicker, but did work.
I currently have 2 starters in my fridge. Peggy Sue is the one I made, and Myron is the King Arthur Flour starter. Incidentally, sources that said you shouldn’t use plastic to make up your starter say it’s all right to store your starter in food-grade plastic, just make sure it or any other container is not airtight.
Follow your starter recipe for feeding instructions. They are not all the same. For example, in the above recipe, if you’re storing the starter in the refrigerator, once a week I take out half and replace with the same combined amount of flour and water.
The next step is to find a sourdough recipe. I used one from Classic Sourdoughs, Revised: A Home Baker’s Handbook. And here’s the result.
It’s not quite as tangy as I’m used to in sourdough bread. I’m not sure why, but I had a couple of theories. I used the no-knead version, which calls for proofing at about 70 degrees. The “regular” recipe says that proofing at a lower temperature will make the bread rise well but lessen the tang. Proofing at a higher temperature will result in a tangier loaf but not quite as high a rise. Another possibility is that I used the lower end of the proofing time. A longer proof and rise may have made it tangier.
Having said that, I have to say this is the best bread I’ve had in a long time—homemade or bakery bought. It makes great toasted cheese sandwiches. More important, and for me at least a better quality determinant, is that it tastes great on its own, without anything on it.
I mistakenly posted somewhere that I used completely wild yeast for this starter. I got it confused with another starter recipe. So yesterday I began a starter hoping to create one relying only on captured wild yeast. Here’s the recipe.
1/4 flour, any type
3 tablespoons room temperature, filtered water
Whisk together and place in a jar or bowl. Twelve hours later, and every 12 hours for the next week, whisk in 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup filtered water. After a week, you can use or store your starter.
Incidentally, if you use commercial yeast in your starter, it will take help attract wild yeast and ferment. So don’t despair if your attempt to make a starter completely from wild yeast doesn’t turn out as expected.
Sourdough bread epitomizes the slow food movement. True sourdough can’t be hurried along, but your patience will be rewarded. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. And while I’ve used starters as local as you can get and from Maine, I’d love to expand my starter repertoire to other locations.
© Copyright 2013 Ida Walker, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Enabling Cook