I know many bakers will tell you sourdough is finicky. I’m here to tell you I wholeheartedly disagree. I imagine sourdough is tricky to maintain if you expect the same outcome every time. It’s difficult to get sourdough to follow a recipe. Sourdough is not jarred yeast. It is not baking powder or baking soda – providing a measured chemical reaction.
Sourdough is alive. And like any creature it prefers staying alive. It does best if you feed it regularly. But lucky for me it doesn’t die as quickly as a houseplant if you forget.
It’s been a couple of weeks (two? maybe three?) since I baked a sourdough loaf. It was Christmas time, I did a lot of baking, all of it sweet. I was pretty sure I’d fed the sourdough the week before Christmas. But when I pulled it out Tuesday morning there was just a sad little half-cup of flour sitting under some grayish liquid. It smelled sour-but-not-spoiled. Good enough for me!
I put two thirds of it (plus the liquid) in a big bowl with three cups of flour and 1.5C of water. I mixed it all into a paste and put it in my warming cupboard.*
I mixed another half cup of flour and water into the mason jar with the remaining starter. Quietly apologized for neglecting it, and stuffed it back in the fridge.
10 hours later my dough was bubbly and happy. I added salt and enough flour to keep it from being sticky. I kneaded it, divided it in two, and formed loaves.
Sometimes my sourdough is amazing and tangy. Sometimes it’s yeasty. Sometime it is dense and maybe could’ve stood to rise a bit longer. Sometimes it’s poofy and baked a little too long. I imagine I’m more like a medieval peasant than a professional baker. My bread is a little different every week. But it’s always good. If I need it to ferment faster I keep it at room temp. If I need to make two loaves I feed it daily. If I’m not using it as often I keep it in the fridge and feed it every 5-7 days (if I remember.) Obviously all this variation is why I never get the same thing twice. But I also haven’t killed it yet!
*I’m not some fancy baker with a fancy setup. I just keep the cupboard over my fridge empty enough to hold a bowl of dough. I imagine everyone here could put bread dough on top of their fridge with a little rearranging.
The loaf of sourdough I made this weekend is pretty munch perfect. Soft on the inside, not too crumbly, good crust, perfect tangy flavor.
Windsor ate two slices the first day, plus the centers out of two more while I wasn’t looking.
Sourdough is a bit imprecise, but here is how it went:
Hold over about 1/4 cup of starter when making the previous loaf. Mix in 1/4 cup each of flour and water. Tuck in the back of the fridge for 3 days (Saturday, sunday, and monday.)
Add another 1/4 cup each flour and water and put back in the fridge for another 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday.)
Feed the starter again, this time leave it on the counter overnight (Thursday.)
Friday: take a 1/4 if starter and put it in a clean mason jar. Put the rest of the starter in a bowl. Add about 1 cup of water and 1.5 cups of flour. Mix briefly, you want the dough to be just a bit wet and right at the point where you’d turn it out to knead it. Instead put a lid on it and let sit for 24 hours.
Saturday: mix bread yeast in a little water with a bit of sugar and let it start to bubble. Turn the bread dough out onto a floured surface and make a well. Pour the yeast in, sprinkle on some salt (I used 1tsp and that’s about right.)
Knead! Add flour as necessary. Let rise for at least and hour (we went to a birthday party, so it was more like 5hrs) Punch down, knead again, put into an oiled loaf pan.
Let rise for about an hour. Bake at 350F I think this was about an hour too. But I forgot to pay attention. Next time!
Years ago I had an awesome sourdough starter. I cultured it out of the air when we lived in Johnson. It was tangy and stable and made good bread.
Around the time Windsor was born (five years ago, how’d that happen??) I realized I wouldn’t be baking so much. And after a little googling I froze my starter and hoped for the best.
This summer Windsor decided she loves sourdough. She’s making pb&j on sourdough bread. Almost 5 year olds can eat a lot of bread. So I dug the starter out of the deep freezer and let it thaw. I fed it, and 24 hours later it was bubbling.
That’s the first dough I made. I didn’t give it nearly enough rise time and it baked into a delicious smelling brick.
The second week I let the kneaded dough rise overnight. But it barely puffed at all. In the morning I folded dry yeast into it and kneaded it again. This loaf was edible, especially with home made jam. But it was still pretty dense.
The great thing about this hobby is it doesn’t require much. I just add a little flour and water a couple times a week, then do the kneading and baking on the weekend.
For my third loaf I acknowledged the sourdough starter needs some help. So I added bread yeast to the batter starter the night before, and kneaded and baked in the morning.
It looks great! I mean, it is great. It’s light and fluffy on the inside. But it’s not sour.
So I’ll try again. I think this weekend I’m adding the yeast AND all the bread flour 24hrs before baking. Then letting it ferment longer…