Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our sourdough trial...

I get my hands dirty and knead up a loaf of homemade bread fairly often - usually they are recipes we've made before though and are really not too much work. However, every once in awhile I get ambitious and try out a recipe that is pretty lengthy and involved.

That ambition struck about a week ago when I began the process of this Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. I've never attempted a homemade sourdough bread, so I couldn't tell you if this was very authentic or stayed true to sourdough standards. I'll start off by saying that this bread was tough in the sense of difficulty, but there were just many steps and long resting times in between those steps!

I started this loaf about 7 days ago by making a viscous batter of all-purpose flour, warm water and just a pinch of yeast to get things movin' and groovin'. After a fairly lengthy wait, the mixture had tripled in volume as the recipe called for - at this point, it is stashed away in the refrigerator for 3 days to allow the souring process to begin. Three days later, we stirred in a bit more flour and water - this is again left in the refrigerator for 3 additional days. Now, I hadn't told Jeff what all this fuss was about yet, so after the 6 days, I asked him if he would like to be let in on what was happening. I let him open the container for a whiff, so he would get the idea, except he ignored my warning and put his nose right into the container of dough. I had to pull myself off the floor as I watched his face turn from giddy excitement to oh-my-god did my nostril hairs just burn off? Oops! Let's just say the smell was pretty strong!

Once he got over his full "sourdough" experience, he quickly recovered and could hardly wait to finish the process as he loves sourdough bread. Sadly, he still had to wait quite a bit of time before it would be ready! Half of the strong starter is used to create the bread while the other half is either tossed (don't do this!) or fed to keep the starter active. There are directions at the end of the recipe on how to keep the starter active so you can continue to make batch after batch of bread. Into the halved starter, warm water is stirred in until it is very wet and slosh-y. Enough strong white bread flour is stirred in, creating a thick, viscous paste. This is again set aside and left to rise for at least 12 hours (I told you it was a lengthy recipe!). At this point, we've used entirely white flour (all-purpose or bread), so to make this "whole wheat" we started mixing in whole wheat bread flour. I was able to find this at our local natural market - I'm not sure if using regular whole wheat flour would give you the same results or not, but I would probably try it out and think about adding just a little vital wheat gluten for lift.

More often than not, I'm using a loaf pan when we are making bread, but this recipe is shaped free form - shape it into a torpedo shape as we did for a long loaf or swirl it into a ball for a boule (round loaf). Once the dough has risen again(!), you'll want to slash it a few times to allow for expansion - I need to work on this part as I don't have a proper lamé to make those slashes, so I just had to use a sharp serrated knife. It did its job, but could certainly look better! To give the loaf color and shine, it is also brushed with a light egg wash before hitting the hot oven.

While it is wicked hard to wait for homemade fresh bread to cool down, we did manage to keep our grubby hands away so it would slice well. The baked loaf was crusty, the inside was delightfully chewy and it had that distinctively tangy quality that both of us love with sourdough. This made a huge loaf, but I'm anxious to get going with the rest of the starter and try this again so I can work on my shaping and slashing techniques (which need help!). Maybe it's just me, but homemade bread lights a little fire in my heart and I count down the time until I can use my hands to turn a simple mixture of flour, water and yeast into a delicious treat.


  1. You are just so talented. This bread looks perfect to me. I've always been afraid of starters, but I may just get my nerve up and try it now. Jancd

  2. That story about Jeff putting his face in the sourdough starter cracked me up! I've never made sourdough -- yours looks great. By the way, I've had good luck slashing dough with rasor blades.

    I wanted to let you know I left you a little award ...

  3. I agree, there is something so special about baking fresh bread. I smiled that you both managed to keep your hands off the bread fresh and warm out of the oven....ohh the waiting for fresh bread to cool down!

  4. I'm so impressed. I was already blown away from the time you casually mentioned that you threw together hamburger rolls for dinner. Because bread is a huge mystery to me. I suck at making it. The last time I served homemade bread (and it was THE last time) to guests, what a disaster. It was hard as a rock and someone asked about my homeowner's insurance. So now I go to Panera. It's safer!

  5. Jancd - What's to lose? Give it a try!

    Tracy - Hmm... good luck finding a "clean" razor blade around here! I think they are all stuck inside box cutters. Good idea though!

    Jeena - :)

    Quinn - Oh no! Sorry your experience in bread making didn't go all that well. Don't give up though, it IS worth it. That being said, I love Panera so I wouldn't turn that down!