For the Love of Sourdough
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I am not a baker. In fact, until very recently when asked I would say I greatly disliked baking. Sure I would do it when asked, or I had to bring something some where but it wasn’t my idea of fun.
Maybe I’ll Make Something New
When I had to bake something I would spend time scouring the internet searching for recipes with beautiful pictures (my finished products never looked like theirs, ever), or I would go to my shelf and dig out my cookbooks and browse through. It was very formulaic. I would follow the recipe and in the end hopefully, and I do mean hopefully, something delicious would be pulled out of the oven.
I have forced my family to eat their fair share of my baking flops. Loaves of bread that were as solid as a rock, cakes that could be used to build a foundation or were fluffy little clouds that dissolved under the weight of the icing. There was always some trepidation when mom went into the kitchen to bake.
Growing up my mother is an excellent baker. Most of her skills did transfer down to me. Baking is more of a science than an art, and I would often try to experiment to turn baking into an art, completely ignoring the science! May of her baking recipes I use very regularly but when I try to venture out into territories unknown the results are, well, unknown.
When Flora was born I discovered Pinterest. It was relatively new at the time and a wonderful way to explore different recipes and whatnot while I spent hours on the couch nursing a new baby. One day I came across blogs talking about “Traditional Foods.” You know the foods our ancestors ate while trying to come to North America.
I was hooked. I read every single thing I could get my hands on, and the one thing they all seemed to have in common was the eschewing of commercial yeast products, instead preferring to use their own captured wild yeast as a natural leaven. Intrigued, I leapt in and made my first sourdough starter. That was 2012.
I carefully captured the “wild yeast” in my home, followed all the instructions for bread and made a giant loaf of stone. After numerous repeated attempts I gave up. Oh I would dabble here and there over the next 5 years but nothing ever came of it. The result was always the same, stone.
This past fall, I achieved a moderate level of success. I finally had a starter that was a little bit bubbly. My loaves were not quite as stone like. I even had enough leftover starter to make some crackers. Well let me tell you those crackers went like hot cakes. That right there was enough to encourage me to keep trying.
As the fall wore on, life got in the way and my starter ended up in the back of my fridge. We weren’t eating much bread and I lacked the time to make crackers every other day. (I have a family of monsters it seems). And basically I forgot about it. I put aside my ideas of being a completely self sufficient family who made their own everything and did our best to survive. But life has a way of figuring itself out and what seemed overwhelming at the time became our new sense of normal. We settled into routines and I got the itch to try again.
In March, I pulled out some of my starter that had been hiding in the fridge. I fed it and what do you know, it bubbled. And bubbled. And bubbled. I had never seen anything like it before. So I quickly whipped up a batch of bread before the starter could decide that it didn’t like living in my house any more. What came out of the oven was a wonderfully light loaf with a taste of heaven.
Of course I just assumed this light loaf of magic was a fluke. I couldn’t have made something so wonderful. Where was the brick of bread I was used to pulling out of the oven. I did the next logical thing, I made more. And more. Soon we were drowning in bread. I was ecstatic. It has been months and I’m still enamoured with this leaven. I’ve read books about it, I’ve watched countless videos and still I’m constantly learning.
This wonderful creature, who we’ve named Joy, has changed my love of baking. I’m learning how the science works which then allows me to change baking into an art or a pleasurable experience.
Sure it has taken me a while to develop my skills and love of this simple creation, but I would encourage you to give it a shot. What could go wrong?
A simple beginning to "catch" your own natural leaven.
I've started quite small as you have to continually feed the starter to encourage it to get going. Once established you can add as little or as much "food" as determined by how much starter you need for your recipe.
- 2 tbsp flour any kind, I use plain old all purpose
- 2 tbsp water
- cheese cloth, paper towel, cloth napkin, coffee filter, etc
Select a clean glass jar and for most accurate results place it on a kitchen scale.
Add in the 2 tbsp of flour. Add in equal weight of water (may be a bit more or a bit less than 2 tbsp depending on your flour).
Mix together and cover with a coffee filter, and secure with an elastic band and set somewhere moderately warm. (Mine lives on the back of my stove)
Feed your starter: Add equal amounts by weight of flour (roughly 2 tbsp) and water. Mix together. It will be thick like pancake batter.
Don't worry if it looks like nothing is happening. Depending on the temperature, time of year or other mysterious factors it can take a while.
Repeat feeding procedure. Hopefully today you have a few small bubbles.
Repeat the feeding procedure. It should be pretty bubbly now or have a much lighter texture when mixing it.
Your starter should be ready to use. It should be pretty bubbly and have doubled in size from yesterday. Find a recipe that grabs your interest and get baking.
The feeding schedule continues on like this in perpetuity. Once it is established you will "discard" some of the starter before feeding it again. Now discarding doesn't mean throwing it away. Maybe you use some of it to make a recipe, share with a friend, stash it in the fridge, dehydrate it to store for later or maybe it ends up in the compost.
When the starter is established the feeding schedule depends on your schedule, if it is hot you will have to feed it every day or sometimes twice a day, if its cool you can feed it every other day, and if it lives in the fridge you may only need to feed it once a week.