Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Adventures with Sourdough

So my dad gave me a sourdough starter a few weeks before Thanksgiving last year and gave me strict instructions for caring for it and extremely vague directions for actually making bread out of it. The instructions included feeding it daily and weighing water and flour to do so. I immediately went off the grid on that. An overflowing scoop of flour, a scoop and a half of water, mix, call it good. It worked out okay.

I kept my sourdough in the fridge in a half gallon mason jar at first, but then I transferred it to a crock on the counter. I wanted to use the mason jar for something else. The crock has a lid that just kind of sets on top, so I put a cotton napkin under it as added protection from fruit flies who seem to love sourdough. This proved a bad idea, especially when the weather was warm (we have no air conditioner), so it went back in the fridge after a few weeks. When it lives in the fridge, it's a good idea to take the sourdough out the night before you want to make bread so it can wake up a bit before it needs to perform.

Baking Sourdough Bread

As for the actual making of the bread, that worked out fine. Here's how I do it:

First, I scoop out nearly all of the sour dough starter and put it in a mixing bowl. I make bread once a week and feeding it about a half cup of flour a day seems to give me just the quantity I need for two loaves and a pizza.

I add a cup of flour and cup of water to the stuff in the bowl and mix it up, then I take a cup out and put it back in my crock and put it to bed. Then I add another cup of flour and water to my mixing bowl and mix that up an let it set for a few hours. When I see active bubbles again, I add as much flour as the dough can hold. When it becomes difficult to mix, I turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it, adding more flour, kneading until its sticky, then adding more and kneading till its sticky again until it stops becoming sticky.

My Great Grandmother, who was much better at making bread than I will ever be, used to say that the dough was ready when it felt like an ear. So pinch your ear lobe. Ignore the lump from your piercing. When you pinch your ear it gives, but it maintains a few millimeters distance between your fingers. You should be able to pinch the bread without your fingers meeting. It should be dry and and flexible. When you get it to this point, you are done kneading.

Now I simply gather the bread together in a ball and set it right on the counter where I kneaded it and cover it with a damp cotton napkin and leave it alone for a few hours or until it's grown quite big. Then I knead it again for about five minutes. (It won't feel as dry anymore.) and shape it into loaves or pizza crust and then let it be again. (You'll want to start preheating the oven at this point 350F should do.)

My grandmother always called this rising "the proof". And one thing I've noticed about sourdough bread is that it doesn't "proof" as high as other types, especially her favorite potato bread, but it does tend to do more rising in the oven. So let it proof a couple of hours and if it is making a disappointing show of it, give it a shot in the oven anyway.

You'll want to bake it about an hour, depending on the shape of your loaf. Loaf pans about an hour, dinner rolls 40 minutes, pizza about 30. If you flick it with your fingernail, it should make a kind of hollow sound to let you know its done.

If your bread is in a pan, remove it immediately from the pan because it will get soggy if you don't. Then let it cool before cutting.

Sourdough Pancakes

First, I dump almost all of my sourdough into a mixing dough and add equal parts flour and water, mix it well and dump half of it back into my crock and put it to bed. Then I let the batter sit for awhile till it gets bubbly, you should have about two cups of batter. Next, I add a tablespoon of baking powder, an egg, some melted butter or oil and a little sugar and some finely ground walnuts. Mix it all up and voila! Pancake batter. Just make it as you would pancakes.

Personally, I am not overly impressed with sourdough pancakes. They are good. Quite tasty indeed. But I prefer buttermilk buckwheat pancakes. It's just a personal preference.

The Sourdough Verdict

I am not good at taking care of sourdough. I have nearly killed it and wondered if it was safe way too many times. In the summer, I don't make bread as often because it is just. too. hot. Also, sourdough has a texture my family isn't overly fond of. So, after the final death of my starter, I declare the sourdough experiment at an end. I can buy yeast. However, having had this particular adventure, I can rest secure in the knowledge that should the Zombies rise and packaged yeast become a commodity worth shooting people over, I can always make a sourdough starter.