Sourdough

Sourdough

I’m going to start right out by saying that yes, there is a sourdough recipe in this post and I’m not going to force you to scroll through ten paragraphs of rambling to get to it. You can click here to jump down to it.

I enjoy cooking/baking, it’s somewhat of a hobby of mine. I say somewhat because I don’t devote a ton of time and study to it like someone who might, say, build model trains or collect stamps might to theirs but I do enjoy trying different things and experimenting with recipes I know well. The results are sometimes a bit mixed but in general things come out reasonably well; I have a good sense of what seasonings go with what foods. If I make a misstep and something doesn’t taste right, I have a good idea of what to try next time.

Although sometimes I can be surprised. For example, I’d have never thought to season red meat with typically sweet spices like cinnamon, allspice and clove but I have a stew recipe adapted from an ancient Roman recipe that uses just those spices with beef, and it’s really tasty. So I’m not afraid to experiment. Especially since I enjoy playing around with ancient/medieval recipes which very often make use of combinations and seasonings that have fallen out of use in modern times. I love history and I love good food. There are several books out there that make adaptations from medieval recipes such as A Boke of Gode Cookery, and a really fun YouTube channel (Tasting History with Max Miller). If you enjoy cooking it’s definitely fun to play around with trying these.

Medieval cooking is fun, but some recipes are really involved. A lot of them were developed by people who’s job it was to do this all day and that makes it somewhat of a weekend project, but one thing that tends to be fairly accessible is medieval baking. Baking is one of those things where it didn’t really matter if you are doing it now or you did it 500 years ago; a loaf of bread doesn’t take a significantly different amount of time to bake. What can take more time is the prep, depending on what you’re making. So it was out of my interest in medieval cooking that I decided to try my hand at sourdough.

Most folks associate sourdough with San Francisco and rightly so: the natural wild yeasts of the Bay Area lend themselves to a unique and really tasty sourdough. I grew up in Southern California where San Francisco style sourdough was readily available, so it’s a comfort food as well as just being really tasty. But sourdough bread dates back thousands of years which makes it interesting to me in terms of historical cooking as well. The problem being, I really didn’t think I was quite talented enough to manage a sourdough starter. My mom tried her hand at it a few times when I was a kid and it seemed like the starter would frequently either just stop growing or it’d turn black. I figured it was just really hard to keep one going and given that I work full time and have an hour+ commute each way every day, I didn’t have time to nurture what would amount to another pet in the house.

So like everyone else, with the pandemic sending us to work from home, I figured now I had the time and energy to try my hand at sourdough like everyone else in America. I bought a packet of dry sourdough starter from Breadtopia and followed the instructions precisely. And in no time at all, I had a robust starter going and as it turns out, it’s really not all that hard to keep it healthy and happy. I’m not going to go into a long discussion here about how, when, and how much to feed it to get it started and keep it going. You can find that info all over the web, and some good video tutorials right there on the Breadtopia site. I will mention three tips that I think are important, though:

  1. Use a good quality unbleached all-purpose flour to feed it. I use King Arthur and it works really well. This is more important than you think. I asked my husband to pick up some for me one time and he always buys the store brands of everything, so he came home with store brand unbleached flour. It absolutely did not work anywhere near as well, the starter didn’t rise much after feeding and it was definitely losing some of that good sour tang. Switching back to the King Arthur flour perked it right back up within about three feedings.
  2. Use distilled or drinking water. You absolutely do not want to use tap water that has chemicals in it. They’re fine for drinking but the living cultures in sourdough starter don’t thrive well in them.
  3. Invest in an inexpensive kitchen scale and measure your ingredients in grams. It really does make a huge difference in terms of how well your recipes come out. When I picked one up, I was kind of amazed by how much better my breads came out.

Otherwise, sourdough bread is surprisingly easy to make. And the starter is versatile – I’ve made sourdough waffles, sourdough soft pretzels, and sourdough bagels. Sourdough waffles with berries and berry syrup is a treat – the sweetness of the berries works really really well with the tangy waffles. I’ve developed a routine with mine – it stays in the fridge all week, and I take it out on Friday mornings and feed it twice a day Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday I get up a little bit early and make my bread, feed the starter, and pop it back in the fridge until the next weekend. Sunday night we watch a movie and eat soup with the fresh sourdough bread. YUM.

If I want to pull out starter to make something else I just keep the discard and use that – hungry starter works quite well for most recipes. This sourdough waffle recipe is really easy and the waffles are super light and fluffy. Added bonus: You can freeze them once you’ve made them, and pop them in the toaster later in the week.

As for the sourdough bread, I’ve played around and experimented with a few different recipes, and tinkered a little with the ingredients and I’ve hit on a recipe that works really well for me. It comes out soft and with a nice crispy crust, the bread isn’t too dense and it has nice medium bubbles evenly through it. Enjoy!

Sourdough Bread

Ingredients

  • 250g water
  • 160g sourdough starter (slightly hungry is just fine)
  • 25g olive oil
  • 500g Bread Flour (pref. unbleached)
  • 10g salt
  • Everything bagel seasoning or other preferred topping (Optional)

Instructions

In a good sized bowl, whisk together water, sourdough starter, and olive oil until blended.

Add in the flour, mix together and then squish together until the flour is completely absorbed in with the liquid. The dough will be rough and shaggy, that is fine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for about an hour to rest (autolyse).

Add in the salt, and work the salt into the dough using a series of stretches and folds. Once the salt has been worked all through the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, perform another set of stretches and folds, then re-cover and set in a warm place to rise until it’s roughly doubled in size.

  • Note: This rising time can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on how warm it is where your dough is resting. I usually check the dough in about 3 hours and then check it again every hour until it’s doubled. My kitchen is usually around 71 degrees and 4-5 hours is normal but YMMV.
  • I have also done this part the night before and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I take it out and put it in a warm place – usually by turning the light on in my oven and leaving it in there – to bring it up to a warmer room temp and let it begin rising. It comes out about the same either way so I use whichever method fits my schedule that weekend.

Once it has doubled in size, divide the dough into loaves (I usually make two, or if we’re going to use them as bread bowls, four small ones) shape the dough into the loaf shapes you want, and put it into whatever baking pan you plan to use. Cover, and let rise for 60-90 minutes until the dough has risen a bit and is puffy. It doesn’t quite double at this phase but it should be slightly risen.

  • Tip: I found that if I spritz a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray and lay it over the dough, that works perfectly and the plastic doesn’t cling to the dough and cause it to deflate when I pull it off.

Preheat over to 425. While it’s preheating, give the bread a warm water spritz or egg wash (1 egg+1 tablespoon likewarm water beaten together, gives the bread a nice shiny crust and makes any toppings stick better) and top with your toppings if you want to use them (seriously, everything bagel seasoning is TASTY AF on this bread). Slash the top with a bread lame or sharp knife, and bake for 25 minutes @ 425. When it’s done, let it cool in the pan for maybe 5 mins then remove the bread from the pan and put on a cooling rack to cool.

Give it a try! It’s easier than you’d think.

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