Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Adventures in Sourdough

My family likes sourdough bread. Sourdough bread is expensive. And so, do-it-yourselfer that I am, I decided I wanted to learn how to make sourdough bread.

Did you know that flour has native yeasts residing in it? And when you provide conditions friendly to those wild yeasts, that they grow and multiply until you have sourdough starter? It's true. Sourdough bread is made without adding yeast. The preparedness geek in me thought it would be very good to know how to make bread without yeast.

I was pointed to the Sourdough Home website by a friend, and began the adventure of making my own sourdough starter.

First, I added a little bit of flour to a little bit of warm water in a mason jar (see the Sourdough Home website for detailed instructions). I did two starters; one with all purpose unbleached white flour, and one with home ground hard red wheat flour. Water came from my kitchen tap.

Every twelve hours for the next week or so, I removed half of the goo from the jar, and added water and flour. This is called feeding the starter. During this time in early June, summer had not yet arrived, and so the temperature of my kitchen was closer to 70 degrees rather than the recommended 80 degrees. Although the cooler temperature slowed things down a bit, by the 4th day, things were bubbling. By the 9th day, the starter in the white flour jar was rising to double its size after each feeding, so I decided it was time to give baking a try.

The problem with baking bread "at home" is that the baker kinda needs to be AT HOME during the whole process, at least the first few times one does it, so as to keep a good eye on the rising loaves. Due to some craziness injected into my summer schedule by silly things like swimming lessons, physical therapy, saxophone lessons, and Cub Scout den meetings, I am rarely home for more than an hour at a time until late afternoon. It's been a little frustrating.

But finally, I had a free afternoon. I began my first attempt at making Black Canyon Sourdough Bread.

Here are the round loaves, resting on the counter after kneading.

Here they are in the oven, after waiting over three hours for them to rise. It is now after 9:00pm. They didn't rise well, so it seems obvious that something is off... either the starter wasn't vigorous enough, or I added too much flour (most likely) which made the dough too stiff.

And here is the finished loaf still hot from the oven.

The flavor was very good with a nice sourdough flavor. The texture, however, was dense, and the crust was very tough and difficult to cut. Still, people ate it and encouraged me to try again.

Next time, I plan to use less flour to hopefully produce a lighter crumb texture, and to put a pan of water in the oven to help steam the crust so it will be chewy and crunchy... I'll let you know how it goes.

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