I have not been writing much lately, been busy with life and projects for future posts. One of these projects is fermentation; sourdough and kombucha to be exact. Today, I would like to share one of my current obsessions: sourdough breads.
After hearing about benefits – easier to digest and lower blood glucose impact – of sourdough breads, I have been baking them occasionally for the last four months. Well, more like practice.
You do not need much. For instance, I use a toaster oven because my oven is not working. Neither do I have a dutch oven small enough to fit inside said toaster oven, but the close proximity of the coils does help – that is what tell myself, anyways. Nor, I do not have a proper proofing basket or banneton – I use a plastic oval bowl and tissue paper.
The point is, you do not need to have every equipment to start. The key is to just start. The sourdough breads still turn out delicious, regardless. You can slowly obtain more bakeware as you go if you enjoy baking breads or just make due with what you have.
Starting Your Sourdough Starter
The first step is starting your own sourdough starter. Add equal parts flour and water in a container with porous top like a small kitchen towel – I use a reused jam glass jar with two sheets of coffee filter paper and a rubber band.
I started with half a cup of whole wheat flour and water, but all-purpose flour works as well. The yeast and bacteria you need are already on the flour and in the air. I also use bottled water, as tap water may contain elements that are harmful to your wild yeast and lactobacillus colony.
After that, about three tablespoon of whole wheat flour and two tablespoon of water every day for three weeks; you will see tiny air pockets forming. You might want to move the starter to the refrigerator after 1-2 weeks during the summer, I started mine during winter.
Keep the starter in the refrigerator and fed once a week after the initial stage. However, if you plan to bake a lot, you can keep the starter at room temperature and feed daily.
Watch out for signs of molds. Discard and start over if molds develop on the starter. My starter once had black specks on the side of the jar. The main mass was fine so I carefully extracted the starter into a new jar and placed it in the refrigerator. This solved the problem. I could probably avoided the whole problem if I scraped down the sides better but keeping them in the refrigerator was a better choice.
The starter should smell like fade vinegar, or sour smell, after two weeks. You might even see liquid on top of the starter, this is normal, as I am told. I only saw this when stored my first starter in a jar with a loose lid; I switched to coffee filters since then.
Using Your Sourdough Starter
To use, general wisdom suggests that you discard about 3/4 of the starter a day before then add enough flour and water to fill 1/2 of the container again and leave overnight at room temperature.
I usually just take out the starter from the refrigerator and give a normal feeding then leave the starter at room temperature a day before. However, I let the dough ferment a bit longer during bulk fermentation to make up for my laziness. And no, I do not bother with the floating test.
[Summer Update: Reduce the time of bulk fermentation during the hotter summer days. The dough loses its elasticity, becoming very sticky.]
If you need to get rid of some starter, you can use the starter to make scallion pancakes and sourdough biscuits. Throwing portion of the starter away seems like a waste.
As for sourdough bread recipes, I like these two recipes the most so far: my best sourdough and tartine’s country bread. Both will provide more in-depth look into making sourdough. Oh, I half all the ingredients since the recipes are for two loaves. Currently, tartine style is my focus to master, the famous bread by Chad Robertson of San Francisco.
Working with the wet dough to create a tight ball and scoring the surface are currently my weaknesses. I think I might need a marble working surface. The dough sticks too much on my wooden surface. Here’s a video on sourdough techniques that like to reference.
Some More Tips
Due to humidity and other factors, I find that using less water – about 1 oz or 30g less – works better for me. Following the recipe completely, creates an unworkable sticky dough and cannot hold its form during baking. You will have to make a couple breads to figure out if you need to add or subtract some water.
Do not let the dough ferment for too long and consider shorten the fermentation timing during hotter days. Besides a stronger sour flavor, huge air pockets might form on the inside. The dough also loses its elasticity; it basically becomes a sticky mess.
Use parchment paper to easier clean up and removal of the bread but aluminium foil works too. Baking directly on the bake surface can cause the bread to “stick” to it.
Also, from experience, over baking is better than under baking the sourdough breads. The best part of sourdough to me is the nice crispy crust. You can pop them back in the oven if needed but this tends to dry out the bread more quickly.
I like to store my bread in a brown paper bag. You can warm up the bread any way you want but I really like some butter and grilling the slice on a hot pan. Add on an egg and/or avocado and you have yourself delicious breakfast or lunch.
My next sourdough project is to try pizza sourdough.