The Road to Sourdough

Around Christmas I became intrigued with the idea of making artisan sourdough bread. In a Facebook cooking group, members were posting pictures of the most exquisite loaves of bread that they were baking up in their dutch ovens. I had to have me some of that.

However, after investigating the process (the way we investigate everything anymore: online), I decided this little project would be much more time-consuming and complicated than I had anticipated. I mean, really, who has 2-3 days to make a loaf of bread? Especially when I can easily pick up bread (even pretty bread) from my local grocery store bakery. What was the point? What was I wanting to achieve here? And before you even begin the 2-3 day process, you need sourdough starter, which is about a week-long process on its own.

I wasn't so sure I really wanted to take all this on. I have plants begging to be watered each week. How was I going to add caring for sourdough starter to my daily life? Somehow, though, it began. I read and read and read everything I could dig up online and through books -- so much so that my head began to spin, and now looking back to just over a month ago, it is all too much of a blur to even give you a sense of what route I followed to get to a point where any of it seemed to make some sense. Truthfully, I followed many routes, and I still have a lot to learn. One thing I have learned so far in the sourdough process is that there is definitely not one way to make sourdough starter. And one more thing I learned is that getting a starter to the point where it becomes strong enough to bake with doesn't magically happen on Day 7. The whole process is really more about observation than a set time schedule. I am not going to delve into all the details here. I will, however, point you in the direction of some useful resources if baking with your own homemade wild yeast (sourdough starter) is of interest to you.

But first... WHY?

Because it really isn't so hard. Womankind (as well as a whole lot of men) have been making bread (and other baked goods) this way for thousands of years. The idea of mixing together flour and water and letting it sit out on the counter day after day after day seems a bit primitive and not particularly "safe" through our own modern lens. Making wild yeast seems so far off the radar for many of us. But once you have your starter well underway, there is very little maintenance, and you can bake all kinds of goodies.

Because it tastes so much better. Like most things you make from scratch at home, your own sourdough baked goods will taste so good that you might not want to go back to store-purchased baked goods again.

Because it is better for you. Your own sourdough baked goods will be free from preservatives and other added chemicals. As well, fermented foods produce more healthy bacteria for improved gut health.

So to keep a long story relatively short. I began a whole grain rye sourdough starter on New Year's Day. Every day for about two weeks was a process of "feeding" and "discarding" until I felt my sourdough starter was strong enough to go into the refrigerator where the feeding and discarding would then need to be done on a weekly basis rather than a daily basis. The daily feeding and discarding was a strange thing to get used to. It initially feels very wasteful to keep dumping flour into this mixture only to turn around and throw half of it into the garbage the next day. I add 60 grams of flour when feeding, which is probably around a half cup or so of flour, so I really wasn't wasting as much as I imagined.

Stanley the Sourdough Starter was born on January 1st, 2018. 
(Part of the valuable info you get from a Facebook group is that you are supposed to name your starter.) Of course, this photo is pre-conception. Stanley isn't invisible.

Stanley on Day 6. Bubbles and rise are two things that signal success.

As well, once your starter strengthens, you can bake with the discard. In the beginning stages (a week into the game), I began to use my discard to test its strength before delving into the longer process of baking loaves of bread. I first made biscuits, which came out a bit heavy but were edible. Not wanting to throw them away, I recycled the biscuits into a breakfast strata, which was delicious. I then tried brownies, which had plenty of rise but were a bit dry. I think I baked them too long. I then made banana bread, which was amazing and my first true success story.

I think this recipe for sourdough brownies came from Cultures for Health. 

I love this recipe for banana bread from The Perfect Loaf (a great resource, by the way).

I honestly can't remember which sourdough artisan bread recipe I followed here. I had looked at so many. This was my first semi-success story with artisan bread. Dense with a crust that was tough to chew, but a big improvement from my first attempt (also known as a hockey puck) that went straight into the garbage. Pictured with Tomato Basil Soup from Skinnytaste.

Now a month into the sourdough baking, I need to go back and attempt artisan bread. My first try was a complete inedible flop, and my second try was so-so. The bread was dense and chewy, but I was stubborn about admitting defeat once again even though there was the risk of actually pulling teeth out with each bite into the relentless crust. Sometimes small successes are everything.

If sourdough baking is something you would like to do, simply google "how to make sourdough starter" to find recipes. Just pick one that seems suitable to you. Some recipes use all purpose flour while some use whole wheat or rye flour. Some start with 40 or 50 grams of flour and water while others call for 100 grams. Some feed daily while others feed twice a day at a certain point. Again, what's most important is what you begin to observe in the process rather than a strict timeline. Most helpful for me also has been joining a sourdough bread making group on Facebook. Mainly, don't be afraid to just start. Although it initially feels like it will, maintaining a sourdough starter won't take over your life.

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