Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sourdough Bread Making: A Labor of Love

I've always enjoyed baking from scratch.  It is hugely satisfying when I create something grand from just a few basic ingredients.

I thought making sourdough bread would be no different than making a cake.  After all, haven't people been baking with sourdough for thousands of years?  How complex could it be when many mastered the technique before Kitchen Aids?  Well, I can say after several attempts that it's certainly not easy.

I recently tried making sourdough bread with a wild starter for the 4th time.  I am proud to say that it was a success!  The starter is robust and really sour.  It's my new baby; one that I only need to take care of a few times a week!

The starter was cultivated with the bacteria and yeast present in my kitchen, and based on instructions from Mike at Sourdough Home.  I thought the starter was ready after a week since it was bubbly, even though it wasn't doubling in size.  The bread that resulted from the first bake was small and dense, but nice and sour.

Cultures for Health provided more information and answered many questions that I had.  If anyone is  interested in making sourdough bread, I suggest going to this site first and watching their videos.  First timers may actually want to purchase one of the several starters that they sell instead of cultivating it from scratch.  Following the Basic Sourdough Bread instructions from one of the videos, my bread dough did not double during the proofing, but resulted in a bread that was less dense than my previous attempt once baked.

I tried the recipe again a week later.  Since I keep my starter in the refrigerator, I have to feed it 3 times, 12 hours apart, so it takes 1.5 days just to get the starter ready to bake with.  This time, it was as bubbly as ever and doubled within a few hours during the feedings alone.  After adding the flour, salt, and water, the bread dough rose nicely while proofing and baking.  It was light and sour: the consistency and flavor our family desired.

I suspect that it has taken 3 weeks for the starter to mature, which is why my first couple of batches were not impressive.  So please, if you do embark on this journey, DO NOT GIVE UP!  Be patient and persistent!  And with a mature, well cared for starter, you can make sourdough bread for years to come.  (I'm trying not to think about the previous 3 times I tried baking with a week old starter - I threw them out when not satisfied with the loaves.)

My shaping and proofing steps still need to be fine-tuned, and I would like to explore making different shapes of artisan bread.  Linked here is a video from FiveFlourFingers that has been helpful.

One can see, based on my experience, that there are many ways to make sourdough bread and tons of guidance on the web.  It can be very confusing!  I'm getting close to making my ideal recipe though; one that is mine but influenced by countless bakers before me.