Sourdough became the buzzword of the pandemic in 2020. Everyone who was stuck at home decided to experiment with sourdough. Every one started a sourdough starter and baked sourdough bread.
As is normal in my life, I procrastinated for months before I came under the spell of this wond’rous beast.
For beast it is, seeking to be fed at a regular intervals with a regulatity that brooks very little leeway. Rather like that plant from outer space in The Little Shop of Horrors, your sourdough starter demands to be fed. “Feed me!”, it cries and you have no choice but to comply otherwise you become known as a murder and killer of living things.
But soft, what yeast does yonder go?
Yeah, what the heck is sourdough anyway, and why and how and when and who??
Sourdough goes back many, many years. Before commercial yeast was invented, humnankind relied on, gasp, natural leavening agents, not created in a lab! And now, we’re back being all organic and natural. Ah, progress! Thy name is backwards momentum. < And that is the end of the social commentary portion of our show, folks! You’re welcome!>
Sourdough uses a natural leavener, call the sourdough starter. It serves the same purpose as, yep, you got it, yeast!
The best part of sourdough is that it contains only (yes – only), three (3) ingredients viz. Flour, water and salt. And time. Lots. Also, money, a bit.
Time, however is an artificial, abstract construct and we can thus waste it anyway we want. Like, for example, reading this here blog.
Now, the voice in the back of your head is speaking urgently and fast. “What does he mean, 3 ingredients? How does the bread rise? Ask him, ask him!”
Don’t tell me there isn’t a voice in the back of your head…. Every one has one! Ask me! I have a voice and a song playing at the same time! As of this very moment, I can hear Dylan’s gravelly nasal voice lamenting that he “threw it all away”.
Let’s recount our ingredients – flour, water, salt. We also need something called a “starter”.
Aha! You knew it! And what is this starter? Hang on, read on. All will be explained! And yes, three (3) ingredients.
Remember when I told you not so long ago above ^^ that we need a leavening agent? It’s the thing that makes the bread levitate in a magical process called I forget what. Anyway, instead of buying yeast and wasting your money, you just waste some time. Money, though it is as abstract a concept as time, is worth more than time. Of course, time is also worth money and money is worth your time. We’ll take that whole thing up at a later date. Remind me…. <I delegate, which is considered a good thing for a leader. And we are all little leaders, yes?>
The business of creating a starter requires a bit of money to buy flour and water and a glass jar and loads of time. Let’s take a use case, shall we? Say, hypothethetically, you want fresh home baked bread on Saturday morning. Our process, thus, starts on the Saturday prior to the Saturday on which you want your loaf.
Let’s call this first Saturday, Day 1. The baking Saturday is thus, let me see, carry 2, divide by 9, add a slice of pie to the power of 6, uh..hmm.. Day 8. So, our sequence of events goes like this.
- Take a clean glass jar.
- In it add 30gms of flour and 30 gms of water. (Measure… oh, yeah, you’ll need a kitchen scale.)
- Mix it all up nicely.
- Cover and set aside in a nice warmish, not drafty place.
Day 2 – Day 4:
- Find out where you kept the jar from the day before.
- Remove 30 gms of the mixture and store in another container.
- The bit you removed is what we call “discard”. Do not, however, discard it. Store carefully in a sealed container in the fridge.
- To the remaining mixture, add 30 gms of flour and 30 gms of water.
- Mix thorougly, cover and set aside as before.
Day 5 – Day 6:
- Repeat steps for Day 2-Day 4 twice daily! Once in the morning and once in the evening. So simple!
You should start seeing bubbles by end of Day 4. By Day 6, you should see a lovely, bubbly, slightly frothy starter.
Congratulations! You have a healthy, bubbly starter. Keep it fed and watered and it will live on forever, for what you have created is life! Yep. You have a living creature in your kitchen. Think of a suitable name. For the naming ceremony, don’t forget to set your cats aside, cook okra and most importantly call me over to sample the okra.
You can see what mine looks like in the image gallery below.
Remember, you don’t need to wait seven days for your next loaf. Since your starter is well and alive and bubbling, simply feed and use ad infinitum, which could be translated as from “oven to your tum”. It isn’t translated that way, but it could be, no?
- In the evening of Day 7. Which, if your calendar is like mine and your weeks are like mine, will be a Friday. THE FRIDAY BEFORE THE BAKING! Find a bowl, a nice big one, preferably a glass bowl.
- Whip out the kitchen scales.
- Weigh the bowl and reset the scale to zero. With the bowl on top…. so whatever you add will show up as the weight. Call me to explain this, if still confused.
- Put 90gms of your starter, Daisy, is that what you named her? Oh, you don’t have a name for her yet. Hmm. Into the bowl she goes.
- Add 385 gms of water. (Into the same bowl). Swirl it around to get a milky mix.
- Add 520 gms of flour
- Add 12 gms of salt
- Incorporate it all so you get a “shaggy, sticky, mix”.
- Cover the bowl with a shrink wrap or a wet kitchen towel and leave it to its own devices for about 30 mins. Watch a show, or a Youtube video of the Yorkshire Dales because you’re planning a trip there in the summer. I know, you’re not. I am! Yay!
- Next, get up, sigh deeply, wet your hands and do the first of the “FOLDS”. The fold is the process by which you push your wet hand down under the dough and pull the dough up and fold over itself. Turn the bowl a quarter and repeat until 4 turns. Cover the bowl and go away for 15 minutes.
- Do Fold 2
- Wait 15 minutes
- Do Fold 3
- Wait 15 minutes
- Do Fold 4.
- Make some green tea, sit down with a sigh and talk deeply with loved ones about politics, the state of the world, the imbeciles and scoundrels that inhabit it and go to bed, refreshed with the knowledge that when the dawn breaks, your ranting and raving will have solved all of the world’s problems.
The Shaggy First mix before folds
After 4 folds
Ready for overnight rise
Morning. After overnight rise
- Get up early and rush down to the see the result of your efforts.
- The dough should have grown visibly. Poke the thing. If it bounces back, it’s ready to move on to the next stage of the process.
- Find a cast iron Dutch oven with a lid (You should have read this whole thing through earlier and obtained one by now!)
- Shove the Dutch oven into the oven and set it at 500F. Let it pre-heat, preferably for an hour. (Yeah, yeah, I know)
- Meanwhile, take the bowl with dough and uncover it.
- Wet hands, pick up the dough with both hands, making sure your fingers are at the base of it. Pick it up clean and let it stretch down for 10 seconds or so. Place back in bowl. Repeat a couple more times and on the last time, pick it all the way out and place into a well-floured proofing basket (You should have got a banneton basket when you ordered the Dutch oven… seriously, folks, come on!) If you see any seams, pinch them close, using thumb and finger.
- Cover and let sit for an hour or so.
- Next, uncover dough in proofing basket.
- Quickly Open oven doough, uh,, door.
- Quickly take out Dutch oven.
- Quickly close oven door.
- Quickly take lid off the Dutch oven. (Needless to say, you should be wearing oven mitts for all this….)
- Quickly flip the dough from the banneton (proofing basket) into the Dutch oven.
- Quickly use a sharp knife or lame (Oh, one more thing you should have ordered), to score the top to let the steam escape.
- Quickly put lid back on the Dutch oven.
- Use mitted hands to quickly put the Dutch oven back into the oven.
- Quickly shut the oven door.
- Hope someone else will do all the clean up required. Sigh some more when you realize that someone has the same name as you.
- Let it do it’s thing for 20 minutes.
- Check on it after 20 minutes. It should have doubled!
- Take lid off the Dutch oven. Reduce heat to 450F and let it brown nicely for another 10 minutes or so.
- If the internal temperature using the cooking thermometer that you should have ordered with the other stuff shows 204F or thereabouts and the top looks nice and brown, it’s done.
- Flip the boule out onto a cooling rack (any raised grid that allows air to flow freely around it should do)
The finished boule!
You are done. Let it cool.
I find that the best way to test for taste is to take a small bit off and insert into mouth and chew. Your face should have that expression favored by those wine connois.. cons.. connos.. uh wine tasters.
Next try it with a dab of butter. Gently toasted over an open flame is one way
Send me letters of condemnation – no, no. I mean, commendation! I checked the thesaurus, which I don’t have together with the dictionary I do not posess, along with a stellar vocabulary.
Yeah – I was tested on the number of words I knew a couple of times and have always come out with a score in the bottom 30th percentile. Whatever a person’s tile has to do with all this. I mean.. yeah, whatever, Sandra.