Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Sourdough starter

Sourdough bread is one of those things I've always been interested in. I was experimenting with it (or, just starting to learn about it, really) way back when Abe and Seb were tiny, and I sometimes wish I could have a real bread oven and unlimited time/resources so I could REALLY get into it. But then I find SO much information and SO many opinions online and I think, "hmm, maybe I'm not THAT interested. . ." :)

But still! I think the idea of wild yeast---just waiting around in the air to be captured!---is so fascinating. The children found this equally fascinating. But sourdough is tricky, too. I don't think I've ever been completely pleased with a loaf of sourdough I've made purely from starter. Maybe I just don't quite have the knack yet.

During the week, we had two starters going---one made with a pinch of commercial yeast to get it started, and one that was just buttermilk and flour. I also have a dried sourdough starter my mother-in-law brought me from San Francisco a long time ago, but we didn't break that one out---we'll do that another time. Anyway, the buttermilk starter had problems. It it never really started bubbling and it totally dried out eventually. I'm not sure what went wrong. But the other starter came along pretty nicely and we were ready to bake with it after about 5 days.

The bread we made with that second starter surprised me with its flavor. It was really quite strong, but in a sort of unfamiliar way---which I suppose means it had attracted some local yeasts and bacteria to make it unique. We all really liked it. The texture wasn't perfect, which is where I've had problems before---it did rise nicely, and it was soft, but just slightly denser than I like it. Almost like a soda bread or something? So I'm not sure what we could have done differently there. We gave it plenty of rising time, and it looked soft and pillowy when it went into the oven, so I don't know how we could have done that part differently.
It did make a very nice-looking loaf.

I really do love having starter around to use for pancakes and breads, so I may get back into working with sourdough sometime, if I can figure out a good system to keep it fed and contained. (Back when I was using it more, it would drive me crazy to always have the jar of starter surprising me from dark corners of the fridge. I need a better labeling system, maybe? :)) And I'd like to learn more about how to keep a whole-wheat starter happy.

We watched this (rather self-congratulatory, but it comes with the territory from these foodie-types, I suppose) video:
and this one:

A site about how sourdough works
And here's a good explanation of using steam to bake bread.

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