I started baking sourdough from semi-necessity. As those of you who follow my blog know, my family started following the Cure Tooth Decay diet about 4 months ago so that my five-year-old might remineralize his 8 cavities. On the diet, you give up all wheat and whole grains – except for white sour dough bread. And it has to be the real kind that has really fermented. It then becomes a health food. Real artisan sour dough bread is expensive in the stores, and kind of hard to find. I’m a back-to-nature kind of do-it-yourselfer anyway, and I’ve baked bread in the past. I know that I enjoy it, but always considered it time-consuming. This time aspect is all in your perspective. It takes about 16 hours and some forethought, but you only have your hands in the dough for a total of approximately 30 minutes. 30 really lovely minutes.
Sourdough bread is not created equal – at all.
My experiment with sour dough has brought me to all levels of giddiness. My mom asked, after 2 months of baking the stuff, if I was an expert yet. The answer simply is NO. Probably not for 50 years. Here’s how it went down.
The Magic of Sourdough starter
After perusing the top internet sourdough sites, I felt confused about starting my own starter, so I sent out an email to the local homeschool group to see if anyone had a starter I could get a piece of. The only person who responded was really far away.
Starting Your Own Starter
So I went for it. There are two ways to start a starter – add yeast or “catch” wild yeast. Even though wild yeast sounds exotic, I opted for adding a packet of store-bought yeast to get ‘er rolling. The magic of sour dough starter is this: you will never need yeast again. The starter is your yeast. You grow it and treat it like a pet. It was a necessity as pioneers moved west where there were no stores in which to buy yeast, hence San Francisco sour dough.
I started baking with my new 2011 sour dough starter, and it tasted great – but the bread was so dog gone dense. While hot from the oven, it tasted like those loaves you get at steak houses, but the next day it would be just too hard for a sandwich.
Finding an Established Starter
That’s about when I got the email from Marianne, a friend of someone on the local homeschool yahoo group. She was going to be baking soon, and would save off a little starter for me. It just so happened that this starter was given to her mother in 1968. And all I have to say about that is that 1968 must have been the summer of loave. When I was at her house picking up the starter and making a new friend, she cut a piece off of the bread she had baked three days before; it was so unbelievably soft and fluffy. In hind site, I can tell you it’s because her dough rises like the sun.
I’ve been baking with and experimenting with both starters ever since. A few major points come to mind.
- I have no idea what the science is behind it, but the 1968 yeast is so far superior to the 2011 that I’m tempted just to throw out my own creation and probably will soon. The 1968 loaves rise more than twice as much.
- There are so many ways to treat your starter and to bake the bread – so the best advice I got was this:
- There is really no wrong way. It’s hard to mess it up, so go for it, lose all fear, and have fun.
Every article I read about starter said that there were two ways to keep your starter. You can either keep it out at room temperature or you can refrigerate it. If you keep it out, you have to “feed” it daily because warm yeast metabolize their food very quickly. If you refrigerate it, you have to “feed” it at least every two weeks. According to Marianne, whom I trust implicitly, it can stay in the fridge for at least a month. In fact, her recipe requires you to keep it refrigerated for at least a week before re-using. Every source I found said the same thing about feeding – you just take a cup of the starter out and replace it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water (preferably with the chlorine leached out by leaving it out for a few hours.)
A totally different way of “feeding” sourdough
I would say that I have a new way to feed sourdough, but that would be far from accurate. This, folks, is the old way. You don’t ever “feed” the starter. For the 1968, you use all of the starter in your “sponge” and the next morning when you’re about to turn your sponge into bread dough, you scoop out 2 cups and set aside in a glass jar add some sugar (I’m experimenting with honey and having mind-blowing results). Refrigerate it for at least a week and then you use all of it again the next time. I was so paranoid that I was going to ruin this precious heirloom that I made sure to have at least two jars of starter going all of the time. Again, I forget the third major point – there is no wrong way and it’s hard to mess it up. If yeast has some flour and/or sugar in it, it just survives.
When Marianne makes her sponge, she uses potato water – water off of boiled potatoes. None of the web posts mentioned this. I have just experimented with this in my 2011 starter, and will let you know if I have good results.
In a nut shell, my 1968 starter blows the doors off of the 2011, and the differences in keeping it and baking with it are quite different. If you’ve read this far you must either already bake sour dough or you are really considering it. I’d be happy to pinch a little off of my next starter for you. 😉 And hey, I’ll even paste the recipe on here, with Marianne’s permission.
-UPDATE- Well, I treated my 2011 like the 1968 with outrageous success! When I put away the starter last time, I added sugar/honey and when I baked with it, I used potato water. The bread was fabulous. I’d say 85% of what the 1968 is. So – my verdict for now is: use the recipe below with whatever starter you have. Enjoy your awesome, easy, tradition making, sourdough bread.
East Texas Sour Dough – The Recipe
1. Night before, put starter in large bowl (not metal). Add 2 cups warm potato water and 3 cups all-purpose flour. Mix well with wooden spoon; place a damp, warm cloth over top and place in a warm area.
2. In the morning (or 8-10 hours later), put 2 cups starter and 1 cup sugar in clean quart jar. (This is Betsy – I’ve been substituting 1/4 cup honey – works great!) DO NOT STIR! Cover with wax paper and perforated lid. Puncture wax paper through perforations in lid. Leave lid slightly loose on jar. Label with date & refrigerate. Let stand at least 1 week before using again.
3. To remaining mixture in bowl, add 2 cups warm water and ½ cup liquid oil. Add 2 tsp. salt, ¼ cup sugar, honey or molasses, 8-9 cups flour, beating in flour with wooden spoon, until you can beat in no more flour. Sprinkle remaining flour on dough board and knead dough for 10 minutes. Continue to add flour till dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to board. (Sometimes I use my big mixer for mixing and beginning knead and finish by hand.)
4. Grease a large bowl & place dough in bowl, rolling to coat;
cover with warm, damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
5. Punch down and divide and shape into 3 or 4 loaves. Place in
greased standard loaf pans. Cover and allow to rise again for 2 hours.
6. Bake in a preheated 350-400 degree oven, 35 to 40 minutes, till
golden brown. Remove hot loaves from pans and set to cool. Place in plastic bags when cool. Loaves freeze well.
(An aside from 2 years later – I use glass bread pans and I bake it at 375 for exactly 27 minutes. I also put the dough in the oven when I turn in on, no need to wait for preheating.)
Betsy here – I have found that longer rising times are fine and sometimes necessary. I also like making free-form bread – baguette-looking things and “boules” are fun, and then you’re not always stuck with sandwich shaped bread all of the time. I also think that the cup of sugar when stowing the starter is a bit excessive and renders the bread too sweet. So far, a quarter cup of honey has been doing the trick.
Also, a cornstarch & water brushing after 10 minutes baking makes the bread shiny, pretty and even more “artisan” looking.
To know when the loaves are “done” you can thump them on the bottom when you take them out of the oven, and if you get a nice thumpy sound, they’re done.