And Then Comes the Bread Thursday, Jan 15 2009 

… Just in time for The Strong and Noble, Wonderfully Handsome Mister to have taken my camera with him on a short exercise. A friend is going to be around tomorrow, and has promised to lend me the use of his camera, so I’ll be adding in a picture or two of the lovely loaf I baked today.

Baking sourdough bread is much like baking any other kind of bread, the same kneading, proofing, punching down, reproofing process is used, but the proofing process just takes longer.

A trick or two that I use: whether you’re using milk or water (I prefer the milk) warm it up as it will help to speed the proofing process, same for the starter you’ll be using but be very careful not to over heat it. When you place your loaves in the oven, have a pan with some hot water in it on the lower rack, the steam it will release will help your bread to have a better crust.

If your bread comes out crustier than you’d like it to, leave it alone and try it out again the next day. It does soften considerably. There is nothing like bread fresh out of the oven, but if the crust comes out too hard, one day out of the oven can’t hurt.

Sourdough Bread

2 ½ C sourdough starter
1 ½ C milk or water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp salt
3-4 C flour (I used one cup whole wheat flour to replace one cup that would otherwise have been all purpose.)

In a bowl, mix your starter with your milk/water, the sugar butter and salt. Mix in flour slowly until a sticky dough forms. I did it by hand, but I’m sure a mixer with a dough hook wouldn’t hurt.

Turn the dough out onto the counter or a cutting board and knead in the flour until no more will go into it. It really depends on the humidity how much flour the dough will take, but when you hit that point where the dough doesn’t seem to be taking it up any more, stop! Clear away the remaining flour and knead a little more, you need the gluten to develop.

Put your ball of dough in a bowl with a little oil so that it doesn’t stick. Cover with a cloth and let it proof until the bulk is doubled. This can be a long process, especially if your water/milk was cold. Expect it to take a couple of hours. Don’t be impatient, a watched sourdough will seem to take longer to proof.

Punch down your proofed dough ball and let it rise again. The second proofing shouldn’t take as long as the first proofing. Punch down for the last time, and shape into two smallish loaves or one large one. If you go for the large one, make it skinnier than you think it should be, or else when you cut it the slices of bread will be humongous (but maybe you like your bread that way).

Let your loaves rise about half way, about 30-45 minutes, and then put it in a 375 degree oven to bake. You know it’s done when you give it a knock and it sounds hollow, it should take a ballpark of 45 minutes though.

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Some fun ideas: finely dice an onion and mix it in with your batter, or maybe a cup or so of grated sharp cheddar or another favorite cheese. You can art up your bread however you want, but both of the aforementioned are tested tasty additions.

Watching for Bubbles: Sourdough Starter Days Two and Three Thursday, Jan 8 2009 

It looks like everything is working out properly! How can I tell? Bubbles.

If your wild yeasts are working, and fermenting away, you’ll see little bubbles on the surface of your starter. Mine looks like this:

bubbles

If you’ve got a starter, well… started and it hasn’t got bubbles yet, give it some more time, sometimes it takes longer to get going.

Soon, the characteristic smell of sourdough should get stronger. Right now, if you take a sniff of mine, it  smells like wet flour. The presence of the bubbles show that the wild yeast culture is becoming active, and as soon as the lactic acid starts to build up the sour tang should become apparent.

The process: on both day two and three, you want to add more flour and water, again in equal amounts.  Stir the starter smooth after the additions and then just cover (don’t seal) and let those bacterial cultures get happy your jar.

Phase one is complete! Now, for the next days here is what you need to do:

  • day-3Day Four (That’s Tomorrow): Just give your starter a good mixing until it is smooth. If you’ve got it in a jar, you can actually just give it a good agitative shaking and save yourself a spoon to wash (but really, is one spoon that much to wash?).
  • Day Five: Another day with just stirring. There is a lot of flour and water in there right now, the yeasts won’t dry out or starve.
  • Day Six: Feed your starter about 1/2 C flour and an equal amount of water. Stir smooth.
  • Days Seven, Eight and Nine: Repeat steps for Four, Five and Six.

On Day Ten, if all goes well, it will be time to bake some bread! Next Thursday is the date we get to see the fruition of all of this stirring labor.

I hope everyone is doing well in blog land.

Yeasty Beginnings: The First Day of Sourdough Starter Tuesday, Jan 6 2009 

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The thought of sourdough bread has appealed to me for quite a while. The tradition, continuity and sustainability of it pulls the heartstrings, and the bread you get has that fabulous flavor and chewy texture one can only get with sourdough. You save the money you would spend on bought bread, and a couple of extra pennies on yeast from the store as well. Time investiture is a little higher than with other home made breads, but as anyone who loves sourdough knows, the extra time is worth it.

I didn’t have the opportunity to get a little bit of starter from someone who already makes sourdough, so I decided to make my own. All you need is some flour, some water, a tool for mixing and a container you can seal to put your starter in.

img_0129Here’s day one: make sure that the resealable container you plan on using is clean. I picked a jar from off of the shelf and washed it with hot water and dish soap. Sourdough starter makes bread rise because of fermentation done by the yeasts and bacteria that occur naturally in flour. Molds and some kinds of bacteria are bad for the starter, so that’s why the container needs to be clean.

In your nice clean jar add equal amounts of flour and water. I used about half a cup of each, and the flour I used was
just plain old all-purpose, though different sources recommend bread flour, rye or whole grain. Mix until smooth.

I read that after stirring, the small amount of starter left on the walls of the container increases risk of infection by bad bacteria, so I cleaned off the edges with a spatula.

After that, all that is left to do for day one is cover, but not seal, the container and let the microbes start to grow. I’ll be back on Thursday for an update of days two and three.