Loafing Around with Sourdough

I’ve been intrigued by bread baking for a long, long time.  A few years ago I began baking most of our bread using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Decent bread for sure. Easy. Really, it is very difficult to mess up.

But something is missing for me…something I want. The depth of flavor in a sourdough risen bread is just better. More interesting.  But I am afraid of kneading. I’m afraid of big, floury messes. I’m afraid of making finicky recipes. Oh, hell, let’s just call it what it is…I’m a big scaredy cat.  Of so many, many things. You really don’t even want to know.

Tea is have a year of cooking challenges as well. She has chosen some kitchen projects that many people aspire to do but need a bit of help, inspiration, and hand-holding. The first month is for Sourdough.

Between the pasta and the bread, I have definitely started 2012 in a floury film.

My friend Mel is the head baker at Grand Central Bakery (go on, click & take a peek! It is her! Hi Mel!)  Mel is awesome. Funny, adorable, smart, and amazing in the kitchen!  And she is a bread geek.  I dig people who geek out on things- not matter what it is. Geekery rules, says me.

So, naturally, I emailed her right away. Something along the lines of “Help! What is the best way to make my own sourdough starter? I’m doing this thing. I know I could find one, but I’d rather make it. Oh, and do you need eggs? Because we have a ridiculous amount.”  

I got hooked up with a starter recipe, using rye flour and water. I was surprised at how quickly it became active since our house is pretty cold. And by cold I mean we keep the heat  set at 60° and I walk around with a perma-blanket around my shoulders. I have no idea why it got active so easily.  Perhaps it is just warmer hanging out there by the stove. But I really don’t think it should have become active so soon.  But, hey, it was bubbly, expansive, and tangy smelling, so what do I know?

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

Bubbly starter in the jar

After 3 rounds of baking sourdough bread, I have determined that I am confused.  So, if you’ve come hoping for sourdough wisdom, sorry. We’re just learning over here. Trying to toss off the training wheels, so to speak.  Let’s take a look at where I’m starting. Because in a month I am going to be rocking the sourdough. You heard it here first.

Round #1

I burned it. Boo. Yet! It was clear to me that the insides had better flavor than other bread I’ve made in the past, so I still took it as a semi-victory.  Why did I burn it?  Well, my behavior seems to show that I think the absolute best time to start a project is when I am getting ready to put the Babylady to bed. I have no idea why I do this, but it is a completely predictable idiosyncrasy I have.  So, yep, I didn’t set a timer and was in her room and forgot about it. Oops.

Round #2

This boule was pretty! I was really excited about it because it looked so nice. However, it was dense.  So very dense.  Again, good flavor, so I was hopeful!

Round #3

Much better texture and crumb!  I let this one do the final rest too long though and think it caused it too blow out the pretty diagonal cuts on top.  It didn’t look pretty, but tasted pretty great.  For 24 hours. And then was almost too hard to cut.


The method I’m using calls for taking my loose starter and creating a stiffer levain.

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

The stiff levain to be added to the rest of flour/water later

The loose starer is firmed up to a stiff levain by adding a higher percentage of rye flour to water than when just feeding the starter.  I let it sit out for about an hour and then refrigerate overnight.

The following morning I mix together a flour blend (white and whole wheat) and water and allow to rest (or autolyse if you are feeling fancy) for 20 minutes. Resting allows for better gluten formation. I think. And maybe better water absorption?

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

2nd batch at autolyse stage. I think it needed more water. Or more mixing. Or more of both.

After the rest period I added the salt, honey, levain, and a bit more water.  Put it in an oiled bowl and allowed to rest for 3-4 more hours.

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

The 3rd batch done resting and ready for shaping. I don't think it is smooth enough.

After this rest period, the bread is shaped and allowed to rest again. A lot of resting- it gives a new understanding to “loafin’ around.”

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

This is the 2nd batch (the dense one)-- the dough wasn't smooth at all so I think I didn't mix it enough.

Then we bake it in a 450° on a hot stone with a steam pan on the bottom rack.


grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

The 2nd batch was the best looking of the 3 attempts, but so dense. Hockey puck-ish.

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

The 3rd round was not so pretty- the cuts went way. It was the best textured though!

grow and resist sourdough bread challenge

The 3rd round was the ugly on the outside-great on the inside loaf

I sent an SOS to Mel and got some tips on storage, feeding, timing and such. So stay tuned for Sourdough, Part II in the next month or so.

Have you had success with sourdough at home?  I’d love the hear about it!

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11 Responses to Loafing Around with Sourdough

  1. inquebiss says:

    I love a bread adventure! Your baker friend may have told you that your rye starter became active so quickly because rye flour has a high concentration of natural yeast on the bran. Some people use grape skins to make a starter for the same reason. I love the color of your bread, too! Most are afraid to let their loaves get ample color, but this results in the best flavors. Nice post!

  2. I got my first starter going last fall and experimented with the bread. I was able to get a very nice rise and loaf out of my starter. I have attached the link to my website where I posted the results. The only thing I’d like to try now is using spelt flour. I have the idea that the bread could be a little lighter texture even though it has wonderful crumb and isn’t dense at all, just something I think could be done a little differently. Anyway, I was tickled that I got this far with sourdough as it is my all time favorite bread ever! Good luck with yours! 🙂 http://www.thepocketfarmer.com/no-knead-sourdough-bread.html

  3. Allison says:

    Ack! I still need to start with sourdough. Putting it on the list…

  4. So how did you get your rye starter started? This has been on my list for ages, but I think now (when I am drowning in work and getting sick) is the PERFECT time to obsess over it.

    • Clearly it is the best time Kaela! The starter was bascially this:

      Rye flour: 4oz
      Water :8 oz.
      It needs air, so make a container with holes in the top [I used a 1/2 gallon jar with a used lid I poked holes through.] Keep this liquid at room temp, and stir 3-4 times/day. For 2 days.
      3rd day, feed the starter 2oz flour(white/wheat/rye) 4oz water. Room temp, and stir
      4th day repeat the feed.
      5th day, if you have activity take starter down to 10oz. feed 4oz flour/8oz water. If not, repeat the 2oz feed.

      • Stop it – so easy? I was going to ask for some but damn if I’m not making it my big girl self. Check out northwestsourdough.com and there is a fair bit of info on breadtopia on spelt sourdough (no knead if I recall). Good luck!

  5. Inder says:

    Mmmmmm. One of my favorite bread books, The Secrets of a Jewish Baker, has a whole chapter on traditional Jewish “rye sour” breads calling for a similar starter, which I have never tried. It might be time. Drool.

  6. Carla says:

    Hoping over from Inder’s, I love your site! I just got into bread baking and I haven’t tried sourdough yet, but yours sure looks delicious. I feel inspired to give it a try.

  7. Pingback: Sourdough Saturday – Onion Chive Biscuits « WineBarrelGourmet’s Blog

  8. Pingback: Grow It 2012: (Sourdough) Bread | Grow & Resist

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