Friday, January 9, 2015

Sourdough Adventures

Several years ago, I kept a sourdough starter for a while. I wasn't very good at making bread with the recipe that I had (I kept trying to add too much flour, and ended up with rock-hard bread every time), and eventually the starter was neglected into oblivion.

But recently, I started myself a new starter. I'm much more experienced with bread baking now, and have been turning out some lovely loaves of delicious sourdough bread. My kids really like having a sourdough starter, I've told them it's like "pet yeast" because we have to feed it and take care of it just as if it were a pet. But mostly they just really like all the stuff I make with it.

Before, I used to keep my starter in a pitcher in the fridge, and only pull it out to use every once in a while. Nowadays, fridge space is a valuable commodity, and there's just not room in there for a container of sourdough starter. So I keep it in an open cabinet, up high enough that the kids won't bother it, but visible enough that I can check on it and remember that it's there and needs to be used frequently.

See, there it is on the top shelf in the old ice cream bucket. Lots of people store their starter in a jar, but I like a container with plenty of space to stir the starter when I feed it. And I promise that someday I will get around to making doors for my cabinets. Let's just ignore the fact that this cabinet has been waiting for doors for over a year...

I'll share the same recipe I shared six years ago, just because. This particular starter uses flour, water, and yeast. I've seen starters that use only flour and water, taking advantage of the wild yeast that is found naturally in flour. But I didn't know about that type until I'd already had my starter for a while, and I'm not going to throw away a perfectly good starter just because I learned there's another kind. :)

Sourdough Starter
2 cups chlorine-free water (let tap water sit out on the counter for a while)
1 tbsp. yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour

Combine all ingredients. Use glass, plastic, or earthenware container. Metal is a no-no for sourdough starter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 48 hours, until it foams and develops a pleasantly sour smell. At this point you can cover loosely and store in the fridge, like I used to do, or just leave it at room temperature, making sure every 2-4 days to either use or drain some of the starter (I always use it, I'm too tightwad to discard perfectly good sourdough starter), and then feed it.

For feeding the starter, I use equal amounts flour and water. I add back 3/4 of the amount I removed. For example, if I remove 1 cup of starter, I feed the rest of the starter with 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour.

Sometimes the starter will separate, with a layer of liquid on top. That liquid is called the hooch. I just stir it in really well before using the starter.

Here's the recipe I've been using to make bread. It's simple, you don't have to make a sponge, it doesn't call for additional yeast. It turns out quite delicious.

Sourdough Bread
1 cup water
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups sourdough starter
4 to 5 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve the salt in the water in a mixing bowl. Add the starter, and then the flour (only as much as necessary to make a soft dough). Knead into a ball. Cover with a damp towel and let rise overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, punch down risen dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf, make an X-shaped slash on each top, and place the two loaves on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise at room temperature for about four more hours. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

I have also made this successfully in loaf pans (as shown above), and without the pan of water. Baking time and temp is still the same.

Sourdough bread is great and wonderful, but I don't need to make it every 2-4 days. So when I need to use/feed the starter, I have discovered several different things to make using sourdough starter. Isn't the internet awesome like that? Here are some of the things I've made since I started doing sourdough a few weeks ago:


I changed the recipe to use cinnamon chips instead of chocolate chips. I can't wait to try it with chocolate sometime. These cookies were very unique, and enjoyable. The texture was more bread-like than most cookies, almost like a biscuit. The flavor was sweet and tangy. If I weren't watching my calorie intake, these little guys could become quite addictive.

(recipe here)

I guess my starter is quite a bit less wet than the starter in the recipe, because I had to almost double the starter in order to go from crumbs in the food processor to dough. But once the dough was made, it was extremely easy to work with, and the naan turned out yummy. I made miniature naan, forming the dough into 16 small balls instead of the 8 called for.

English Muffins

I've made these sourdough English muffins twice now, and they've been delicious each time. I start the sponge in the evening, then mix up the dough in the morning to cook up the muffins for breakfast. They're delicious with butter and scrambled eggs, or topped with jam. Any leftovers are good split down the middle and toasted. They don't form huge nooks and crannies like store-bought muffins, but the flavor is wonderful.

I've found that pretty much anything you to which you add sourdough starter develops a wonderful flavor. It's tangy and rich, and downright awesome! That said, I have pinned several more recipes which I am eager to try. Pancakes, waffles, brownies, cake, donuts, cookie bars, muffins - the possibilities are endless! Here's my sourdough Pinterest board for anyone interested.

I do apologize for the poor quality of the pictures in this post. I admit that this post might have been an afterthought... And I can't find my real camera so for most of the pictures, I had to use my husband's little tablet to take some last-minute pictures in poor lighting.