Bread Baker: Getting Psyched for Sourdough

In my occasional series, Dream Journal, I write about pie-in-the-sky goals (like roasting a whole pig or building a masonry oven) that I’d like to achieve sometime in my life. The first culinary goal I ever had was a more modest one I’ve already achieved: Create a sourdough starter and bake a loaf of bread with it.

I hope I can inspire a few others to set the same goal and try baking with a homemade starter.

I’ve avoided writing about baking with a sourdough starter because in some ways it’s intimidating. Cooking with a starter requires patience, and I don’t want to scare off readers. At the same time, I think baking bread with a starter you’ve grown yourself is a uniquely satisfying experience that’s worth promoting.

I’ve written before about the risks and rewards when baking bread. I think I’m qualified to write about baking bread for The Manly Housekeeper audience because I haven’t come close to mastering the medium. When you’re participating in a practice that’s been done for thousands of years, there’s a lot to learn.

I still make mistakes. For instance, the last time I baked two loaves of sourdough, they came out looking like two pale, deflated basketballs (they did still taste great). I was using a starter that had been in the fridge for awhile, and still hadn’t returned to 100 percent strength. Plus, the dough was too wet.

Even though I was a little disappointed, I still learned something new. Plus, now when I bake a successful sourdough loaf I’ll remember past failures and revel in the successes even more.

It’s time for The Manly Housekeeper to dive into the world of sourdough baking. As my wife likes to say, “If you’re going to get wet, might as well go swimming.”

Let’s start growing our sourdough starter, and I’ll be back in a couple days with more techniques and recipes (sourdough pancakes are fantastic).

Starter ingredients:

  • A little under 2 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) water
  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

Step 1: Combine the flour, yeast and water in a glass or plastic bowl, stir to combine, cover with a dish towel, and set aside. Stir every day, until the mixture stops making bubbles. By then it should have a sour smell, and we’ll be ready to move on to step 2.

You can grow a completely wild yeast by starting with just whole wheat flour and water. Letting a commercial yeast go wild (the method we’re doing) is at least twice as fast, and also more likely to succeed.

 

  • Lydia

    I didn’t know it was possible to grow sourdough starter. You don’t have to be in San Francisco?

    • http://themanlyhousekeeper.com Mark Evitt

      Nope, you don’t have to be in San Francisco. San Francisco sourdough is well known because the local strain of yeast is especially flavorful (and notably sour). Yeast grows everywhere, and breads baked from sourdough starters in San Francisco, Chicago and Paris will all be different.

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