Oh yes, I’m a “quarantine” cliche.
My Victory Garden is sown. I’ve drank my quota (at least!) of Quarentini’s. I question everything I touch or don’t touch outside of my sacred little homestead bubble. The pantry is full of rice & beans. I workout (and teach) online. My mask collection isn’t just for Halloween. I daydream of long, cramped flights to far off places. I’ve had my fair share of tears, miscommunications, Netflix binges, distanced socializing, and…
I’ve baked loaves and loaves of SOURDOUGH BREAD.
This is top of the list of most satisfying kitchen projects I’ve ever done.
I did the whole shebang, including starting my starter from scratch and diligently feeding it copious amounts of flour for 6 days, making English Muffins, pizza dough, and waffles with all the “discard” along the way.
Sourdough is a fermented bread that uses a “starter” rather than commercial yeast to provide the leavening and, of course, the sour flavor.
A starter is made from flour and water and gathers the “wild yeast” present within the air. Without getting technical at all, it’s not unlike the process of making lacto-fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, or pickles.
(Technically speaking, it is a different fermentation process, I am just making the connection between the two in creating a tasty, tangy, good for digestion ferment.)
I used the King Arthur Sourdough Starter recipe as my guide.
Making a starter from scratch isn’t complicated but it does take attention, a lot of flour, and can be a little confusing the first time.
The first several days I was obsessed with making timelines for myself, setting reminders to feed, rereading the recipe and cross-referencing it with others.
I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t trust myself to know what to look for or that I was doing it correct. By about the fourth day, out of six, I finally got the hang of it and started to understand what I was doing and what I was looking for.
Starter recipes are daunting because fermentation is variable; every change in ambient temperature changes the fermentation rate, every tiny variation in ingredients influences the fermentation rate. Every starter is super unique and so what these recipes and guides actually need to teach is nearly impossible, the innate understanding of what you’re looking for as your starter goes through its process of eating the fuel (flour), peaking, and starting to get “hungry” again.
I experienced the same process as I started making bread; from confused to empowered.
The first few batches I had no clue what I was doing, I felt fumbly and insecure, rereading the recipe 1,000 times. Even when I was pleased as a peach with my first loaf, I wondered if it was a fluke.
Several batches later, I am a bread baker!
I know my favorite recipe from heart.
I experiment with it, changing the flours (adding partial whole wheat or spelt), and, most fun, adding olives and herbs and cheese!
This mornings loaves:
Half Whole Wheat with Green Olives and Fresh Thyme
Half Whole Wheat with Yard Pesto, Roasted Garlic, and Asiago Cheese
(the yard pesto was made my a friend and I believe is a mix of chickweed, dandelion, and herbs with all the other pesto usuals).
A little bit more on sourdough starters; once you have a starter, whether you were given one of made it from scratch, you can keep it forever. It will need regular feeds (once a week, you can go longer but you’ll have to give it several feedings before using it again when you are ready).
What’s up with people giving sourdough starter away?
Every time you feed the starter (a mix of flour and water every time), it triples or even quadruples in volume, depending on the exact recipe/ratio you are following. In order to not always have to increase the amount of flour you feed it, resulting in buckets and buckets of starter, you only need to save about a 1/2 cup of starter. What’s left, beyond that 1/2 cup, is called “discard” and you use it for your bread dough, you compost it, or you give it away for someone else to use for their starter base and dough’s.
What’s starter look like? Does it stink? It looks like a very wet dough and when it’s good and ripe it does have a slight sour, fermented smell but I don’t find it strong or overpowering at all. I store mine in a glass tupperware in the back of the fridge between baking.
Making the bread.
I’ve read several recipes and tried a few. The one I now use as a springboard again and again is the Food 52 No Knead Sourdough Bread, it’s been perfection every time and it’s truly no knead (thank goodness, I suck at kneading). As I said, I now play with what flours I use and what I add into the final fold but I stick with the general guidelines of their recipe, with the exception of increasing the salt to 2 teaspoons.
What’s the most satisfying “quarentine” project you’ve done?!
(I’ve decided to embrace the incorrect usage of quarantine. I’m well aware that I am not actually in quarantine but it seems to be common vernacular for whatever variation of “hunkering down” we are doing right now.)