Loving the Sourdough

fourth and success

Here it is, so beautiful!  The crust is crispy, the crumb is well structured but not gummy or stiff.  This morning it was the same, no overnight morphing to tough leather like the last loaf.  I think my recipe is solid, but will do it a few more times to make sure.

Toast this morning was only one slice (instead of my usual two) and the crust baked under the oven broiler to a light crispy, interior of bread was heated through but not hard.  Lovely!

I can’t believe how satisfying one slice of bread can be.  I’m sure it’s the sourdough difference.  I feel nourished and full with only half the amount.

There have been times when I’ve been lazy.  I would go through phases of  just picking up a loaf of bread at the store – just trying to get the best I could afford without going crazy.  I always read labels and could not accept high fructose corn syrup.  Other than that, I just tried for being able to pronounce ingredients.  The most remarkable thing about using commercial bread is that, for me, I could go through a loaf in two days – by myself!  Not only that, I would still feel hungry.  What is going on with commercial bread?

At least making my own bread gave me a pause.  It has been more filling than any commercial bread, but I still eat too much of it – my body searching for nutrition.  It’s like being thirsty and trying to slake that thirst with fizzy drinks.  Doesn’t work, does it.  You just end up more thirsty.

Now, with sourdough, I’m finding a serene satisfaction.  A half slice with a tablespoon of mascarpone and that can be lunch.  Hunger is gone for an appropriate amount of time.

Sourdough is touted to break down flour and make the nutrients available to human bodies in a way that commercial yeast home bread-making cannot do or does very incompletely.  Certainly the mysterious process of commercially baked bread with all its chemical dough conditioners and such and the for $ profit emphasis of those selling such bread is not even worth the time it would take to read the label.   Sourdough – worth a try, I said to myself.  The long run will tell, but it looks promising.  So far I’m loving the sourdough for everything it brings to the table.

I’m in love with the basic sourdough bread, but I’m an experimenter.  So, onward.


Free Range Yeasties

third sourdough

This is my third try.  A bit dense, but great flavor and crust texture.   A little chunk of heaven with butter on it.  After cooling this loaf down for an hour, I sliced off the end piece and buttered it.  The crust was delicate and crispy, the bread was tender and springy and it made me happy to chew it.

But, still work to do.  The next morning the crust was a bit less crispy and the loaf was an exertion to slice.  Looking at a lighter loaf,  I adjusted the recipe in two ways – one by accident and one by plan.

As i weighed the starter, 150g became 178g.  I thought, divine intervention!  Then I thought, uh oh, this will make the dough too wet.  So,  I adjusted the water by half the difference.  Explaining – starter is roughly half water and half flour (in my inexperienced estimation), so reducing the 250g of water by 14g might work to keep the moisture level right.  This all remains to be seen.

The intentional planned adjustment was as follows: instead of 250g of white flour and 250g of whole wheat flour I added 15g of gluten, 135g of whole wheat, and 350g of white flour.  I always think I need to put at least a little whole wheat in a loaf of bread; otherwise, it’s just cake.  I’m hoping this will lighten the loaf a bit.  It is proofing now;  I’ll give it an hour then drop it into my cast iron dutch oven, give it a small slice on top and put it in my 450degree oven with the lid on.

So, now you’re wondering why is this post called “Free Range Yeasties” anyway?  Well,  this morning as I reached on top of the fridge to get my starter, I found a huge overflow of the wonderful stuff having a big ol’ time across the front corner of the appliance.  I’m not sure why, but I felt exhilarated as I gathered the starter up onto my dough scraper and rinsed it down the sink.  I think it just felt like success knowing how happily bubbling and frothy my starter had become.  I need a bigger glass jar or decide to ask it to live in the fridge instead of on top of the fridge.  It sounds weird, even to me, to think that I’m going to make the starter less happy if it has to be subdued.  I think I’ll go in favor of give it more room to roam – my free range yeasties.




Feeeed Me, Seymour, Feed Me!


Sorry.  When I saw the loaf of bread, my second try, that slash in the center reminded me strongly of Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Seymour texture

This loaf is dense, chewy, very heavy, not as risen as I hoped.  Not very much like my commercial yeast loaves.  It did smell great as it baked and it does taste pretty good.  But, My third try is autolysing as I write this.

So, what happened here?  I did not follow the suggested, very precise recipe amounts.  After all, I’ve been making bread for a very long time;  I know what a bread dough is supposed to look like.  Right?  Well, this was humbling.  I went back to the internet for more tutoring.  Ah, I didn’t scroll down far enough.  There it is, the perfect combo in grams of everything to put in the bowl first.  Yay!  I’ll give it a try.

I like to learn new things and especially things that transfer to learning other new things or perfecting skills that I’ve only half learned to that point and so on.  For example:  learning patience as I perfected my glass-working skill sets (subtle and profound) became a skill (yes, for me , patience was and continues to be a learned skill) that transfers to many other aspects of my life.  Come to think of it, patience is included in just about every skill set I’ve acquired in my life – customer service, natural and cultural history interpretation, cooking eggs and so on.

Preparing and baking sourdough bread is all about the bread.  There may be transferable skills that are being learned in acquiring the skill set of making sourdough bread (I will know them in the fullness of time), but what I am seeing most strongly is that I need to apply universal skills that have been learned in other ways to reach the desired level of expertise I am seeking.  Maybe that’s what my unwitting mentors mean when they say sourdough bread is the “holy grail” of bread-making.  Maybe what I will learn is that there is only the making of sourdough bread and no further to go, nothing that is transferred to other tasks.   Uh oh, there’s the Buddha floating in light above my eyes as I feel my mortality looming just ahead.  Enlightenment is a perfect loaf of sourdough bread.

Mending My Bread-Maker Ways

My first effort at sourdough baking.  Looks very flat, but tastes good.  It can only get better (I hope).

My first effort at sourdough baking. Looks very flat, but tastes good. It can only get better (I hope).

I’ve baked bread for 37 years and always used commercial yeast for leavening. I make lovely, high-rise, whole wheat loaves that have great texture and slice well for sandwiches.

Then, one day, I stumble on a series on food history by Michael Pollan called “Cooked.” I am astonished that the bread I’ve been making for years has no hope of providing health and vitality. Not only that (if it weren’t enough of a jolt), it, by my own calculations knowing a bit about the role of sugar in obesity, has probably played a part in my own struggle with extra pounds. The bread I have made is only the home-made version of balloon bread. Sure, it doesn’t contain the chemical soup of commercial food-like substances, but it misses one crucial process required to break out the nutritional value of wheat and make it available to human bodies – fermentation.

Not one to dwell (very much), I am on a new bread-making path. This is a story that I’d like to share not only because of the importance of spreading the enlightenment I’ve stumbled upon, but also to encourage anyone looking on. I read somewhere on the internet that sourdough bread-making is not for beginning bakers. But, I disagree. If one is to bake bread, one must start doing it correctly from the beginning. Or else what’s the point?

On to my next try. With my first try, one of the mistakes I made (which my second try will bear out I hope) is that I worked the dough too close to baking time. I got impatient with the process, decided to change the shape of the dough, then, as soon as the oven was hot, I put the dough in the oven. Result: it stayed flat, spread out a bit, baked to a hard flat “paddle” shape (as you see above).