I beg your forgiveness. It’s been four months since my last blog post. Mix getting laid off with a few family emergencies, then throw in the stupid virus…and here we are. But, sourdough was enough to bring me out of my funk. Seriously – sourdough! Somewhat makes sense: it’s sour, it’s bread (I’m Armenian. We’re bread people!), it takes patience and some attention, but then you get this great thing!
But, I have no patience. There. I said it. So why would I do this? When there’s a flour shortage. Don’t even get me started on yeast. Those who know me know that I’m a pastry girl — I’ll whip you a tarte au citron no problem. But, bread? Not my thing. Too much science, not enough patience.
I figure, what the hell. I’ve done croissants, baguettes and brioche. Everyone’s talking about sourdough and maybe I feel left out. People say, “it takes patience, you have to keep a starter fed,” blah blah blah. Having a starter is like having a plant – if you’ve been in my house, you’ll notice I don’t have any. I. Just. Kill. Them. That “feeding” thing. “All you have to do is keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week,” my friend says. Yeah, let’s see. She gave me some of hers to get, er, started.
I named him Ralph. Fast forward three weeks, and Ralph is miraculously still alive. I’ve fed him, sure, but have otherwise ignored him (plants!). Now he’s getting too big for me not to make bread – I’ve got Ralph Jr., Ralph III, etc. Out of the fridge, onto the counter overnight, and boy did that starter grow! Yay! Ralph not dead!
But…I didn’t get to him fast enough, and what was once big and fluffy is now deflated. (I know what your dirty minds are thinking, but let’s try to stay focused.) So, I’m trying the light bulb thing: put Ralph in the oven with the oven light on to create a warm and cozy place…like a New Englander coming out of hibernation. It’s been a couple of hours, and it seems like we’re in business. Ralph has increased in size and has some good bubblage on top. Time to bake while the bakin’s good.
I figured the only way to learn is trial and error. Plus, I have some salted butter standing by to slather on that warm bread right out of the oven (which is actually a no-no — who woulda thunk??). I read through a couple of sourdough-for-dummy-style articles online; however, as I have a tendency to overthink things, I’m just gonna wing it. That said, I did uncover some basics:
- Put your starter in a container with plenty of space to grow, and mark the container either with a piece of tape or a rubber band (this way, you’ll be able to see if it rises). If you don’t intend to bake right away, store your starter in the fridge and “feed” it once a week. After all, it’s a living thing. To do this, first discard half of it (smart people will use this “discard” for pancakes or waffles). Weigh the remaining starter and add equal parts flour and water (meaning, if your starter is 50g, mix in 50g of flour and 50g of water). Mix to incorporate. Back in fridge.
- If you DO intend to use the starter immediately (which, btw, does NOT mean you’ll be wuffin’ sourdough by dinnertime), feed it at the same time each day until you’re ready to finish the process. Keep it on the counter.
- Beware the hooch! If you see a brown liquid on the top of your starter, pour it off along with any of the starter that looks icky. Hooch doesn’t mean your starter is dead; it just means you need to feed it. However, if it smells like dirty gym socks, you may need to start over. You be the judge.
- Sourdough starter will rise and fall. That’s what it does. But, when it’s gassy and bubbly (it will be obvious), it’s READY. Those bubbles mean your yeast is working and will yield great flavor and texture (to hold all that butter).
With a sourdough starter ready to go, then all it takes is mixing up bread flour or a hearty combo of bread or all-purpose flour and/or other flours such as oat, spelt, whole wheat, rye, etc., along with water, maybe some olive oil and salt. It then needs an inordinate amount of time (think overnight) to rise before you shape it.
Do yourself a favor and find a couple videos on how to shape a sourdough boule. It doesn’t take a long time, but it is a technique. Once you shape it, you put it in a cast iron pot (or on a sheet pan) to rest and rise again, but only for a couple of hours. Then…bake! I’ll tell you this: if you don’t let it cool completely (here’s where the patience comes in), it will be somewhat gummy inside. So just wait. Plan that sandwich, soften that butter, make some strawberry jam.
If you liked what you produced, then maybe take the next steps. Learn more about things like baker’s percentage, hydration level, autolyze and fermentation (which you likely did but didn’t know), as well as delicious things to do with starter “discard” (English muffins, waffles, scallion pancakes, fry bread, oh my!). Check out this great video for beginners by some guy named Mike.
Here are a couple of beginner starter and sourdough recipes to try:
They key thing is don’t be afraid to just do it. You’ll likely turn out something that is delicious even if it’s ugly, or a beautiful loaf that may be bland. In any case, practice will definitely be a delicious experiment! Now, where’s that buttah?