Sourdough Starter

Recently I’ve been sharing my sourdough starter as fast as I can bulk it back up. Two women two weeks ago, two more last week, and some for Dean who made sourdough dinner rolls and said they were kind of ugly, but delicious!

Here’s what I gave to Dean…

Typically my starter lives in my fridge, where I feed it once a week or less, if I’m not baking with it. It gets tucked all the way to the back left side, and usually has apples in front of it, or tubs of salsa, or a jar of homemade plum jam.

When I’m in a sourdough frame of mind, then the starter gets moved to the counter, where it lives in the open air and I feed it once, even twice each day. It goes bad out in the warmth if you don’t pay attention, so I keep it where I’ll always see it, right by the drawer that holds the dinner napkins and the phone charger. For the last two months, my starter has been working overtime.

Fido. I know it’s silly to name a sourdough starter, but Fi-means faithful and Do-is a lousy but fun version of dough. Catchy? Ha. Our family’s lore says that we Garaicoetxea folk (Ga-ra-ee-ko-eh-chay-uh… that’s the way you write our very Basque surname) brought our levain–our sourdough starter–all the way to the new world in the 1890’s. Since we were bakers in the Basque country, and immediately opened a bakery in California, it’s probably all very true! Here are some photos from my last trip there.

Anyway, what’s the big interest suddenly in sourdough? Well, articles are popping up everywhere about fermented foods, and so I thought I’d share a few links so that you might know a little more about this sour magic.

On food sensitivities

One person’s story on going grain-free, then reverting back to eating grains and their health benefits

The science behind sourdough, and a bit about San Francisco’s claim to sour fame

So, if you live near me and are tempted to try your hand at baking some of your own sourdough-based recipes, send me a message and I’ll put you in the giveaway lineup. If not, just make your own. Here are some sourdough starter recipes from trusted baking websites:

The Fresh Loaf

King Arthur

Bon Appetit–with some nods to Richard Bertinet, one of my favorite bread book authors, and a recipe for sourdough bread to boot!

Just be careful if you are inspired, but don’t want to bake sourdough bread yourself. Many of the commercial varieties aren’t all that special. Instead of using the traditional method of allowing the bread to ferment and rise over a long period of time–thus gaining that sour flavor and the benefits of fermentation, many of the large commercial bakeries simply add vinegars or souring agents to a typical loaf of industrial, yeasted bread… The ingredient list will be long, and you won’t gain any of the health benefits. Real sourdough bread has these three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. 🙂

Lastly.

Sourdough toast with butter and homemade plum jam. Stew and sourdough. French toast from sourdough bread. Bread pudding made from stale loaves. Egg in a hole. Grilled panini on homemade sour. Sourdough pancakes and waffles! Hot sourdough baked in a pot, on an open flame.

Are you hungry yet?

Advertisements

Sourdough Recipe

Growing up in a family of bread bakers who specialize in sourdough I can tell you two things. I recognize the look, taste and smell of a perfectly made loaf, AND I have been completely intimidated by that living yeast to tackle this style of bread baking, until now. You know, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve decided on many fronts that I’d rather continue to try new things and fail instead of living in a little bubble spinning in the same circles. Sourdough is a good challenge–and I’ve made several batches now of really delicious bread!

Sourdough is made with the simplest of ingredients. Flour, water, salt and that wonderful mixture of sour sponge. (Sourdough starter–or sponge– is flour and water and many little living yeasties that are kept alive by consistent feeding. It’s like having a little puppy in the house–a puppy who lives in the cupboard. Here’s a recipe for making starter from scratch that explains the process well.) Because making a starter takes quite a bit of time, ask around to see if there’s someone you know who might be willing to share theirs. I’ve given away many small batches of starter already this year to neighbors and friends…

Note: I don’t give any firm times in this recipe for when to mold the dough and when to bake. This is not a loaf of bread for beginners because you’ll need to be familiar with the way dough looks when it’s ready at each stage. Much will depend on the temperature and moisture in your kitchen, and the liveliness of the sponge. That said, go ahead and give it a whirl–there’s nothing like learning by doing–and you can always make croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right!

Time Commitment: Between 20 and 24 hours, depending on the conditions in your kitchen. You’ll need to activate your starter before you begin, so think about that as you’re planning…

Tools you need:
  • Cookie sheets or bread peel
  • Large mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 10-12 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • rice flour or corn meal for dusting
What to do:

Step One: Activate the starter. If your starter hasn’t been used in a few days, then it could do with a bit of refreshing before you begin. Add a little flour and water into your starter several hours before you want to mix your dough.

Step Two: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the starter, mix some more, then add the water. (I keep my starter fairly liquid, so I have to adjust my water accordingly.)  Stir, then get your hands into the dough and mix.

Turn it out onto a clean surface and begin kneading. Knead for about 8-10 minutes. Pray while you knead… Sing some Sourdough Slim ballads such as You Are My Sunshine while you knead, maybe even do a little yodeling :).

Step Three: In a large, clean mixing bowl, either dust the bottom of your bowl with flour, or oil it. Place your dough in the bowl and cover it with a moist, clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk. I typically mix my sourdough in the early evening or late afternoon. The first rise will take around 12-15 hours. Sleeping during this rise makes the most sense!

Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked. Another method I use is to dust rice flour on my husband’s favorite wooden pizza peel and allow the bread to rise there…

Mold your dough. I like to shape my sourdough into round boules. Once your loaves are molded, cover them again with a damp cloth.

Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about 5-8 hours. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Step Six: Your loaves are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Score the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I use a small, serrated pairing knife. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven, or peel off your bread directly onto the stone. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Sometimes I will remove the cookie sheet at this point and allow the bread to bake directly on the baking stone for the rest of the time. Bake another 20-24 minutes, depending on the shape of your loaves (rolls require a shorter bake) and the true heat of your oven.

Remove the bread, and cool on a rack, unbothered, for at least 30 minutes. Then, the best part.

Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)

Sixteen Candles and World Peace

32 rosemary rolls

Mixed: 1:15 pm

Molded: 3:15 pm

Baked: 5:30 (had to do a bit of retarding because of oven sharing)

Gave to: Kai, Wayland, Andrew, Austin, Garrett, Riley, Mad, Hannah, Ben, Gabe, Aaron, Leti, Donny, Chiara, Douglas, and John Ronan

Summer is in full swing, and there’s nothing like a herd of teenagers to cause a baker to have to quadruple her recipe. What fun I had mixing up more than eight pounds of dough to contribute to my eldest son’s birthday celebration. And there’s nothing like baking bread for happy customers. I had intended to give away any leftover rolls to neighbors, but was there any leftover bread to give?!

Part of the birthday gang

Boys being boys- taking showers with soda

Four lemon meringue pies, sixteen candles

Soon, we’re off to New England on a long-awaited adventure. I’ll be toting along some of our family’s ancient sourdough starter, hoping to bake, and give, while we’re away. I learned just last year that sourdough starter travels well in luggage–no bursting out of its baggies, or bubbling over in the suitcase, so my already well-traveled mama dough will gain some new yeasty companions to intermingle with. I think the blending of the yeasts will be a peaceful affair. I pray so. There’s nothing like the pursuit of peace, whether you’re a boy of sixteen candles or a mama…

who needs a vacation.

Burning Down the House

Half recipe, two French jacos using half yeast plus sour starter
Mixed 1:30pm
Molded 3:45pm
Baked 5pm
Gave to: see below…

So, I got a bit of a late start baking today. A not-so-typical Monday. My husband has just returned from India, so he was taking time in the middle of the day to do things that he’d missed while away. I was continually examining my list that had grown over the weekend to 19 items long. With my husband away I had lost some ground, and it being Monday, me being somewhat rested, I thought that 19 items, with a miracle here or there, might be possible. Ha! I’m such an optimist.

My husband’s a pretty handy fella, but electrical work isn’t high on his handyman resume. While I was doing some Monday morning tidying, I heard him on the phone with his dad, trying to figure out how to install an outdoor light fixture with a motion censor. It was a replacement for the old one that had been crushed to bits by a wayward basketball. The installation wasn’t going well, and the only reason I was tidying at all was because the power to my computer was repeatedly being turned off. Finally, after many failed attempts at getting it right, I suggested he visit Jack, our electrician neighbor across the street, who happened to be home.

So there it was, 1:30 in the afternoon, and I had “bake sourdough” as number 15 on the list. Not that I do things in order.

I’d wanted to bake sourdough to go with our evening meal of grilled veggies and chicken. Plus, I just like fiddling with sourdough. But where had the time gone? Being optimistic didn’t help; sourdough doesn’t respond to hope and optimism. It responds to warm kitchens and patience. So, I settled for a bread mutt: I mixed my typical recipe for French bread–unbleached flour, salt, and water, then used half the typical amount of commercial yeast and flopped in a full dose of sourdough starter.

Meanwhile, my handy husband was learning from our neighbor, Jack, that his wiring efforts were flawed. That he had connected the white and the red in exactly the wrong places and might have burned the house down. Oops.

So, now it’s 5pm, the bread is beautiful–it’s hot, but who to give the second loaf to? After all, that’s the whole point of this blog–to get me out of my cozy hole and get me giving. I glanced at my 19-item list to see if I needed to give anything to anyone… Nope, no help there. I opened the front door and peered up and down the street for haggard and hungry wanderers.  I thought about walking the loaf down to the neighborhood park, but it was awfully dark outside. Finally, I asked my husband, “who do you suggest?”

Sourdough Mutt for Jack

Jack!

Of course, Jack. It must have been that list. I was side-lined by a list, not able to see past the list. Past the list to Jack, who deserved more than a loaf of bread as thanks for keeping us electrically safe. A sourdough mutt for Jack. I ran it across the street, propping it on a chair so he’d see it when he returned from wherever he’d zoomed off to. I hope he liked it. I checked a half hour later, and it was gone, found, hopefully eaten. Thank you, Jack…

bread for jack