Friday, May 15, 2009

Sourdough bread, Part I

A while back I wrote about taking an artisan bread making class and my desire to bake real sourdough bread. I've been working on it and have found that the road to good bread is paved with stinky starter! I'll backtrack...

For my birthday last month, Scott gave me Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg. I read it from cover to cover, but have yet to try many recipes in it. I've made the boule, which was also my favorite recipe from class. It's very tasty, easy and my family likes it. All good reasons to keep making it, but it's not sourdough. Hertzberg says that if you leave the dough in the fridge for several days, it starts to develop a mock sourdough flavor. My problem, besides the fact that I don't have enough room in my fridge for a huge bowl of dough, is that I don't have the patience to wait that long for my bread! So I've never baked anything even remotely sour by this method. Hertzberg's book is very popular and I also enjoyed it very much. I will go back and try more of his recipes. The only complaint I have is that he is pretty opinionated and it gets old after a while.

So mock sourdough just wasn't making it. Next, I got a cup of real sourdough starter from one of Scott's coworkers. She had purchased the real thing online and had so much she didn't know what to do with it all. It came with four pages of small type instructions on the care and feeding of the starter. I really, really tried to follow the directions. So I bought non-chlorinated water since chlorine purportedly kills wild yeast. I bought it and I set it on the counter, and then I transfered my starter to a larger container and carefully fed it flour and nice warm tap water. Oops.

I didn't know if I'd killed it or what, so I placed the tap water starter on the windowsill and then looked at the jar the original starter had come from. There wasn't much there, but there was some since I hadn't scraped the jar. I fed that, too, with flour and the right water this time and then I set it next to the other. After a couple hours, the non-chlorine starter definitely looked healthier. I decided to use up the chlorine starter in pancakes for dinner. Dinner time came, and I followed the pancake recipe exactly, not remembering until after they were eaten that I meant to use the starter.

The starter also came with a recipe for authentic sourdough bread. The recipe was daunting, taking days to make the loaf. I decided to take a little shortcut... I combined the boule recipe from the cookbook with the recipe from the starter into a concoction I hoped would yield delicious sourdough bread. I made enough to bake three loaves. The first was a shape I'll call "the lump." It ended up about one inch thick -- perfect for ordeurves, and not a hint of sour taste in it. So I refrigerated the rest of the dough for a day or two and then tried again. This time the dough was much firmer and I could make a little taller loaf. I baked two loaves, took them out of the oven too early, and just smiled when everyone commented how "moist" they were. They tasted fine, luckily, just not sour.

My saga continues. Stay tuned for the next episode of "How the Sourdough Turns..."


kale for sale said...

Big applause for hanging in there and not giving up. I haven't baked a loaf of bread for months and months. But you've got me thinking about it. Thanks.

Donna said...

You're going to love the next installment, then. :)