I realize that many of my recipes here are based on flour and baking. Even so, I haven’t talked much about bread. I’ve gone through bread baking phases, gradually improving the loaves that I pull out of the oven. I’ve been wanting to bake with a sourdough starter for quite some time. I took a class a couple of years ago, but just didn’t get into the rhythm of baking sourdough.
This fall I decided I had to get back into it and I have been loving it. I read carefully through the sourdough chapters in the bread books I have (King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book, The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Berenbaum, and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart) as well as the information that Clotilde has written. With a bit of trepidation I began leaving a jar of flour and water on the counter for the natural yeast to work its magic. Just like any sort of fermentation, I had to wait and hope that the right conditions would provide a bubbling, living starter.
After several days, it was certainly alive. My first few loaves didn’t rise much, though, so I put the jar in the fridge and ignored it for a while. The starter needed more time to gain strength and eventually I took it out and fed it daily until I could see it was even more alive and bubbling. Over several hours, the starter would rise up the edge of the jar until it reached its limits and then slowly fall back.
The bread from these loaves was definitely the best that I have made from scratch. The dough starts off stretchy and flexible in a way that is so different from commercial yeast bread. The bread that comes out of the oven is soft and chewy, the crumb holds together and is moist and so flavorful. Its hard not to eat half the loaf when it comes out of the oven. It isn’t sour and, in fact, sourdough is just one of the many names for a natural yeast starter, another one of those ancient accidental discoveries that has been so important to all of baking.
I would love to share a sourdough bread recipe with you, but I’m still getting the hang of it and figuring out what works best. I couldn’t help but share my initial success and I strongly encourage you to get a starter going. At first I followed specific directions for feeding the starter but I’ve gotten a little looser, just discarding part of the old starter and adding what seems like enough flour and water. Miraculously the living yeast does what its supposed to do and with a little guidance and several hours of rising time beautiful bread results. Baking bread creates a gentle rhythm of attention to the dough and long periods of rising, it’s a routine that I enjoy including in my week and I am excited to practice and learn more about sourdough.
I was just rereading the introduction to the Bread Bible because I recall reading a passage commenting on how many people have not had the good fortune to taste freshly baked bread (an unfortunate situation which we should try to change). I couldn’t find the exact quote but I did reread about how bread baking is an evolving process and many bakers don’t even know how the bread will turn out each time. I do like a creative process that doesn’t have to be perfect and exact. I will continue to work on this sourdough and eventually I hope to share some recipes here. In the mean time, have you baked any bread lately? Ever? What breads are your favorites?
P.S. I started a facebook page for Seedling Design where I will also post updates from The Road to the Farm. Feel free to check it out.