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