Last autumn I discovered the joy of the sourdough starter. It actually began as an attempt to save money, as I read that you could bake bread without yeast. Fascinated I turned to my trusty cookbook Joy of Cooking and sure enough, in there I discovered a recipe for a yeast free sourdough starter. I attempted to make one and failed royally. The sourdough starter smelled awful, looked sickly and was going nowhere near anything I would eventually feed myself or my family. So what to do? Google! And there I found my answer. As one bread expert stated when delving into the world of Sourdough, don’t try to make your own starter, as you have no idea what it is supposed to look like, what it is supposed to smell like. What a beginner should do is try to get themselves some starter. Now you have some options, go to a neighbor who has starter, go to a bakery and ask nicely or send a self addressed envelope to Carls friends, they will send you some flakes of a sourdough starter that has been around since 1847. That is what I did. And I got a starter going and began the rhythm and cycle of baking with sourdough. Feeding the starter, baking with half of the starter, letting the leftovers rest in the fridge, to be fed again next week, and baked again, and left to rest again and so on and so forth. My bread didn’t look like much, but after a while, as I got to know the starter, the complexities of the sourdough taste in simple home baked bread gave new life our sandwiches.
So fast forward a bit, to May 2009, and an up and coming three month trip to California and Sweden. In between packing, organizing, worrying about where we would live, I was struck with a frightening thought… the death of my sourdough starter! Again, what to do? Who to ask for starter babysitting? Could I ask anybody? I turn again to… Google! And yet again I found my answer. I could dry my own sourdough starter. It is a simple process. Just spread a thin layer of starter on a wax sheet and leave it in a cool oven overnight. Next day peel of the dried flakes and put them in a ziplock bag. If you then put the bag in the freezer it will keep for a lifetime. As I returned in September I was a bit nervous to revive the dried sourdough flakes. But with the help of Breadtopia I was excited to try.
Stir in 1 tbs. all-purpose flour, cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Make sure you cover bowl with saran wrap, so that it doesn’t dry out. You might want to poke holes in the plastic wrap lid to let in some air. While not necessary, stirring again once or twice during this 24 hours will expedite the fermentation process.
Stir in another tablespoon of flour with an additional tablespoon of lukewarm water. If the dried starter is at all viable, as it should be, you will most likely see the bubbling action of fermentation begin somewhere between about 24 and 48 hours. If not, something is most likely wrong.
It is alive!
So at this point, I weigh the starter on a food scale in grams. Then I divide the weight by two and add equal parts flour and water. So for example if my starter weight is 50 grams, I add 25 grams water and 25 grams flour. I keep doing this until I have the amount of starter I need to bake bread. I then feed it one last time (doubling the amount). Wait four to six hours until the starter is at its most active, and use half of it to bake bread. I feed the other half and then put that batch in the fridge where it hangs out for a few days or a week at most until I need to bake bread again.
There are so many websites and recipes out there devoted to the sourdough. You can make it as complicated or as easy as you like. I prefer the easy way (kinda lazy that way), so I use a basic recipe from the joy of cooking:
2 cups sourdough starter
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup warm water.
Mix until sticky dough forms. Put in fridge unit double in bulk, 12-14 hours.
Take out and let rest 2 hours.
Add 1/2 cup bread flour and 4 teaspoons fine salt.
Knead until you have smooth dough.
let rest for 10 minutes
Divide and form two loaves of a bread for your choice. I am so simple I just roll it out into rectangles and then roll into a loaf, pinch together the edge and place in a regular old bread pan (which I have oiled).
Now the tricky part. Put in a warm place and patience and some more patience. Four to six hours later it should have risen. Mine never rise as much as I like. Jensen assures me he prefers his bread this way, but I don’t know. Perhaps you will have better luck. If you do, let me know your trick!
OK now your bread has risen, preheat oven to 450. And before you slip in the bread spray oven with water. close and wait a minute and then quickly put in your loaves. Wait 2 minutes and then open the oven and spray again. this is important. It makes the crust nice and crusty. With the denseness of the sourdough bread, it is very very important to have a crusty crust. Alright now it is almost done. Hang out close to the oven. It might take anywhere between 20 to 35 minutes. Let your nose be your guide. Take the loaves out, knock on the bottom of them if there is a hollow sign they are done!
remember you can always freeze bread. Let it cool a bit. Wrap with a layer of paper towels and then a few wraps of plastic wrap. It will keep in the freezer for a few weeks. Defrost in the microwave, on a low setting and it will taste like freshly baked bread. But first, sit down and enjoy a slice (or two) of your freshly baked, hot from the oven, sourdough bread with lots of butter and a crusty crust!
If you are tempted to try this out. Send me a comment and I will send you a couple of tablespoons of my dried starter flakes with directions.