My brother in-law, Dave, is responsible for the fact that my ENTIRE kitchen is bathed in a fine layer of flour and has the unmistakable odor of something fermenting. You see, Dave has gotten into making sourdough bread recently, which just happened to coincide with plans that I had been making to get back into sourdough starters and bread making. Dave’s enthusiasm and success gave me the extra push I needed to plunge myself wholeheartedly back into an old favorite hobby.
Two and a half decades ago I was a sourdough fiend and read everything I could find on sourdough starters and breads. It amounted to a flyer from the county extension service and three paragraphs in a small bread book that I had on hand. I had a recipe for Sourdough French Bread, one for Sourdough Pancakes and one for Sourdough Rye bread. Remember, the internet mostly did not exist at that time.
My first sourdough starter was made using all-purpose white flour and tap water. It took a leap of faith to believe that the flour and water slurry sitting in a quart jar on my countertop would actually become active with wild yeast spores and turn into a viable sourdough starter. After nearly a week of dutiful coddling for an exhaustingly exhilarating 6 minutes a day, the slurry did indeed become bubbly and active with whatever native yeasts were in its microclimate.
But, let’s move forward. As I have searched the interwebs for new information about sourdough starters and breads, I have been very surprised at the phenomenal amount of information available. Not only is there a lot of information, there are also new methods, new sourdough-related gadgets and lots of wonderful recipes (yay!), there are also a large amount of various sourdough starters available for purchase.
I ordered some of those starters and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I started my own starter from scratch. Again I returned to flour and water, but with some distinct changes. I used unbleached, unbromated bread flour (Montana Wheat brand), freshly ground rye flour and non-chlorinated water. (I know for a fact that the rye flour was fresh because I was the one who ground it.) The rest of the ingredients were already in the flour and hanging out in the air in my house. Cool. I’m not going into details about how to achieve a viable sourdough starter here. That’s for another post, if anyone is interested.
The artisan bread revolution has definitely impacted sourdough breads and how they are made. Home bakers can turn out exceptional breads and rolls with a bit of practice and earnest commitment. You don’t need a brick oven or a steam oven; just a standard kitchen oven and something as simple as a squirt bottle will do the trick.
I don’t have any fancy equipment, just a simple scale which measures in both ounces/pounds and grams; some favorite bowls; measuring cups; one newly purchased banneton; and glass jars. Oh, and I do own a baking stone, but even that one is not completely necessary for success.
The thing about sourdough is the time commitment – not that it takes a lot of hands-on time, but that it takes lots of waiting time. As a matter of fact, though, you get to sleep through much of the time that the sourdough is doing its sourdough thing. Hands-on time is actually very minimal. Feed your starter before you go to bed and, ta-daaah, when you wake up, you’ll see that your starter will have shamelessly partied all night long. There is also nothing quite as lovely as shaping loaves of bread before bedtime, putting them in the fridge to rise while you sleep and then baking them the next morning. Freshly baked bread mid-morning – you decadent over-achiever, you.
Of all of the new things that I have learned about making sourdough bread so far, I think that the most fascinating is not kneading the dough. I have been making bread for a very long time and the idea of NOT kneading it is astounding to me. The science behind a great crumb on yeast breads is all about kneading the dough to work up the gluten. With a sourdough, however, the sourdough starter does all of the work with its yeasty beasties and lactobacilli. It acts on the proteins in the flour and forms beautiful, stretchy, resilient gluten strands. What a marvel!
My very most favorite thing about making sourdough bread is the crust when the loaf is fresh out of the oven. It is brown and crispy and crackles as the bread cools. I love to eat the crunchy crust like a snack cracker or chip. It’s the best tasting “chip” ever!
I have plans for more posts on sourdough starters and sourdough breads. I hope that you will like them. Sourdough is definitely one of those things that cannot be addressed in a single post. We’ll start out talking about sourdough starters, of course.
I’ve added a few of my favorite associated resources for sourdough. I am learning from them by leaps and bounds and am loving the whole process. You Tube has been a great resource for me as I have studied about sourdough over the past month. I am a visual learner and luckily I stumbled across some very helpful video tutorials which motivated me to get up and bake!
- Breadtopia — what is it about sourdough that makes people so nice? Sour bread, nice people. Go figure. You will enjoy this well organized sourdough blog by Eric and Denyce Rusch. There are great posts, videos and even a store.
- Northwest Sourdough — very informative blog and many good video tutorials. Teresa Greenway, the blogger, has easy, gentle, can-do video inspiration. Beautiful hands, too. Again — sour bread, nice person!
- Sourdoughs International — very good blog by Ed Wood and a GREAT place to purchase an exciting variety of sourdough starters and learn about sourdough starters from all over the world. Especially good information for the science behind sourdough.
- My Sourdough Starters — fun, friendly, informative blog by Bill Karoly with sourdough starters for purchase. The selection of starters is fun and very wallet friendly. Remember wallets? People used to put money in them. Remember money? You must be OLD.
I’m pretty sure you will LOVE these recipes: