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Today, President Trump extended the federally recommended period for isolation against the Wuhan virus until the end of April. In light of that extension, I’d like to share some personal and practical knowledge with as wide an audience as possible.
Ten years ago, I actively sought out a low-tech, hands-on hobby – something that I could do to fully unwind from a stressful day working in I.T. I eventually settled on baking bread. Two years into that hobby, I grew and used my first sourdough culture. I have never looked back.
Today, my bread is sought by family, friends, and a few loyal customers. I am occasionally asked by local colleges to give demonstrations on baking with sourdough. My bread even almost appeared in a movie once – another story for another time.
I’m pretty sure that most of the people who have bought bulk flour in the past few weeks aren’t bakers: they probably don’t have and were not able to find packaged yeast, they certainly don’t have a sourdough culture, and they most likely wouldn’t know what to do with either if they had them.
So, I’d like to help in what small way I can.
At the end of an initial Q & A section, I have included the text from the material I use when I talk on sourdough.
After that in the comments, I will answer whatever questions on the subject that you might have.
Q & A
Q) What is “sourdough”?
A) Sourdough is a method of leavening bread. It is what was used for millennia before factory-processed yeast became available in the 19th century. Sourdough is a mixture of flour and water in which naturally occurring yeast is enticed to grow. Along with the naturally occurring yeast, a second microbe, usually something in the acidophilus family, naturally occurs as well in a symbiotic relationship with the yeast: the yeast consumes the carbohydrates in the flour and then it excretes alcohol; the acidophilus consumes the alcohol and excretes a substance that skews the pH of the mixture to acidic. This skewing ensures that nothing but the yeast and the acidophilus can survive in the mixture – as a result, a “well-fed” sourdough culture is sterile and stable at room temperature. This skewing also gives sourdough its distinctive flavor.
Q) How long will it take to grow a sourdough culture from scratch?
A) If you are successful, about seven days.
Q) How will I know if I’m not successful?
A) The smell. After four or so days, the sourdough culture should smell pleasant: like beer, maybe even a hint of fruit. If the culture smells like acetone (nail polish remover), it needs another “feeding” immediately. If the culture smells bad or rotten, toss it and start over.
Q) What things can I do to have a better chance of success at growing a culture?
A) Use filtered water. Use wheat flour.
Q) What things do I need to grow a culture?
A) Flour, water, a half-gallon container – preferably glass and wide-mouthed, coffee filters or something else with which to cover the container that will allow some air transfer.
Q) What is meant by “feeding” the culture?
A) Flour is food for the culture. Once the carbs are extracted, they must be replaced or the culture will die. The carbs are replaced by feeding more flour and water to the culture.
Q) If you keep feeding the culture, won’t it get too big for the half-gallon jar?
A) Yes. By following the process of starting a culture, given below, the resulting culture will be just the right size for the jar. After that, the culture is ready for use: use half of the culture for a batch of bread, and replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water.
Q) Once the culture is established, how should it be kept?
A) Unless I am going to make one or more batches of bread every day, I feed the culture and then refrigerate it. Out of refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about a day. In refrigeration, unfed, the culture will start to turn in about two weeks.
Q) How do I use a refrigerated culture?
A) Remove it from refrigeration. Wait for it to come to room temperature – you can tell by the rising action of the culture. Take half of the culture and use it in a batch of bread dough. Feed the culture: replace the amount used with equal parts flour and water. Refrigerate again.
Q) Do I need any special equipment to make bread?
A) Bread pans and dough mixers are helpful but are not necessary.
Q) Are there any health benefits to sourdough risen bread?
A) Some recent studies have shown that, since the acidophilus softens the dough gluten, people with gluten intolerance may have an easier time digesting sourdough bread. However, your mileage may vary.
Sourdough Starter Recipe
- All-Purpose Flour (various amounts by day – total appx. 320g.)
- Water (various amounts by day – total appx. 390g.)
- Clean and dry a 1 half-gallon glass container.
- After each mixing, cover the container with an air-permeable covering.
- Mix 20g flour and 50g water. Stir two more times throughout the day to incorporate air.
- Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
- Stir three times throughout the day to incorporate air.
- Mix in an additional 20g flour and 30g water. Additional stirring is no longer required.
- Mix in an additional 40g flour and 50g water.
- Mix in an additional 80g flour and 90g water.
- Mix in an additional 160g flour and 170g water.
- More water than flour is added at each step to allow for 10g of evaporation per day.
- When mixing, do not stir too vigorously (encourage gluten development).
- During the first 3 days, disregard odd coloring of the mixture.
- If at any time the mixture smells strongly of acetone, pitch half of the mixture and add the equivalent amount – half flour, half water.
- By day 7 the mixture should start rising. If not, it should at least have a healthy smell: fruity or beery.
- Adjust the size of the culture to what suits you best, but be sure whatever container you use can accommodate the size of a risen culture. I keep my culture at about 800 grams, which when risen fits well in a half-gallon container.
Sourdough Pancake Recipe
- 400 g. (appx.) Sourdough Culture
- 1 T. Maple Syrup
- 1 T. Vegetable Oil
- 1 Egg (Large to Jumbo)
- (Optional) up to 100 g. Water
- .5 t. Baking Powder
- .25 t. Baking Soda
- .25 t. Non-Iodized Salt
- 1 stick Butter or Margarine
- Preheat a skillet or griddle to between Medium and Medium-High heat
- Thoroughly beat eggs with the other wet additions in a large bowl. Water is optional. Less water (or none) will produce thicker, more cake-like pancakes. More will produce thinner, more crepe-like pancakes.
- Add Sourdough Culture and Dry Additions to Wet Addition mixture.
- Mix thoroughly but not vigorously (do not encourage gluten development) – mixture will immediately start to rise.
- Melt a pat of butter onto the hot griddle or skillet.
- Ladle enough batter for one pancake onto the hot griddle or skillet.
- Flip when almost all of the surface leavening bubbles have burst.
- Remove from heat and serve when other side has finished cooking (appx. 1 minute).
- Adjust heat to prevent burning either the pancake or the butter.
- Repeat from Cooking step 1 until all batter is used.
Sourdough Basic Bread Recipe
- 400 g. Sourdough Culture (risen and at room temperature)
- 250 g. White Bread Flour
- 115 g. Water (at room temperature)
- 9 g. Non-Iodized Salt (Do not use Iodized Salt, it will ruin the taste of the bread)
- Olive Oil
- Mix culture, flour, and water in a large bowl until dough is “shaggy.”
- Cover the bowl and rest the dough for .5 hour to allow dough to autolyse.
- Add salt evenly throughout the dough.
- Mix/knead the dough for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Rest the dough for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 until dough is smooth and pliable.
- Place dough in an oiled glass bowl.
- (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
- Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours).
- Removed dough from the bowl onto a work surface.
- Punch the dough down (press down on the center and work outward to force most of the air out of the dough).
Rise 2 – Ferment (Retard) – (This step is optional but will produce better tasting bread)
- Place the dough in an oiled glass bowl.
- Cover the bowl.
- Place the bowl in refrigeration for 24 – 48 hours.
- Remove the bowl from refrigeration.
- Allow dough to come to room temperature (or sit in a proofing box) and then to rise until doubled in size (Proofing box: 2 – 3 hours, Room temperature: 6 – 8 hours).
- Punch the dough down.
- Pan the dough (use oil or parchment paper according to form of dough).
- (Optional) Cover with a floured linen.
- Allow dough to rise at room temperature (or in a proofing box) until doubled in size (appx 1 – 2 hours – possibly more in colder temps).
- Score the dough to allow space for the dough to bloom.
- Place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 500° F.
- Place bread in the oven.
- Reduce heat to 460° F.
- Bake for 20 – 35 minutes (depending on oven, form of dough, and type of pan) (finished when the top of loaf is brown).
- Remove bread from the pan.
- Lightly tap the bottom of the loaf.
- If the tap does not sound hollow, return the bread to the pan and the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes.
- If necessary, repeat steps 1 – 3 until bread is done.
- (Optional) Coat the top of the loaf with melted butter or margarine, or other oil to soften the top crust.
- (Optional) Cool before serving. (Fresh bread is great, but doesn’t cut very well.)
Please ask any questions you have. And please share with whomever might find this useful.
And most of all, stay safe and stay well.Published in