A few weeks ago I decided to get a sourdough starter going. There’s just something cool about being able to make bread without needing a package of yeast from the store – I mean, that’s how bread was made for centuries, right?
I don’t much like the truly sour taste of the San Francisco style sourdough breads … it’s just a bit overwhelming for my taste buds, I think. However, I know that just because a bread is made with wild yeasts and cultures doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be sour – much depends on how the actual bread is put together.
I did a bunch of reading … there’s a ton of fascinating information on the web, ranging from the highly complex and technical down to the ‘hey, really, this isn’t rocket science’. I followed the instructions for starters from sourdoughhome.com, and after a couple of stalled out days and a bit of mold (neither of which was a catastrophic problem: just change to a clean container and feed the starter more, it sorts itself out) we now have a happily growing starter culture. It helps that the gas oven is very warm inside, and that seemed like the ideal place to keep the culture during its rapid growth stage.
Today I decided it was time to try an actual loaf of bread. I read all kinds of detailed recipes and ideas at The Fresh Loaf and was starting to think maybe this wasn’t for me: anyone who’s watched me cook or bake knows that I learned from my mom … a bit of this, a shot of that, stir until it feels like this, then it’s good. Weighing things to the gram? This is so not going to happen.
Then I stumbled on this great site: wisebread.com. An article that repeats, over and over, “it doesn’t matter” in the instructions segments is my kind of article! I’ve made a lot of bread – it’s not like I don’t know what the dough is supposed to be like. Add flour and water until it’s dough. Knead it until it feels right. Let it rise. Bake it. Oh yeah, I can do that.
So I made my first loaf today.
And it was edible!
Of course I know some changes I need to make … the dough needs to be sloppier (I didn’t leave this one wet enough, so it had trouble rising), and I forgot to let it rise upside down, then plop it out of the basket (I am using a plain wicker basket I got at the dollar store lined with some cotton well dusted with flour – the really cool kids use these snazzy coiled baskets called banneton), but it still worked.
I let the starter have some more flour to eat and by this evening it was all bubbly and happy again so I’ve taken a generous dose of starter and added two cups of flour and two cups of water, then stirred the whole thing together with a shot of salt and a smidgen of sugar (yes, those are the measurements I use). It’s in the fridge because I don’t want it to rise too quickly, and in there it will develop much more slowly … it might be more sour than I normally like, we’ll have to see if the added sugar helps take the edge off (I have learned that a long slow rise apparently leads to more sour taste than a quick single rise). Tomorrow I’ll take the (very sloppy – almost like pancake batter) dough out and add more flour and knead it until it is bread-like … I’ll probably put a little bit of rye and a smidgen of oats in it, so it’s not too boring, and then make a ball with the neat side *down* in the basket, and let it rise until it’s nice and airy. Apparently the trick then is to tip the basket out onto parchment paper and then slide that onto your preheated baking stone (or unglazed tiles).. but as I have neither, I’ll probably use the cast iron pan. I can preheat it in the oven, then take it out with an oven mitt and dump the bread right into the cast iron pan. That oughta work.
Guess we’ll find out!