"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fermentation Files (Sourdough)

A couple of months ago, a neighbor gave me some sourdough starter that had been in her family for a very long time. The label on the container said "Skilly Dough, Alaska, 1890." While I can't vouch for the history, I can vouch for the deliciousness. 

For the first few weeks I used it only to make pancakes. I had never made sourdough pancakes before, but that was how my friend used the leaven, so I decided to try it. The pancakes were incredible, with a complex tang I had never tasted before. 

Next I tried making naan - Indian flatbread. That was a revelation, too. The flatbread went from being merely a way to convey curry into my mouth to being the star of the meal. The curry became merely a seasoning for the chewy, delicious bread. 

I made challah - sweet egg bread - for Easter, but I wasn't very happy with it. It was too dense, almost a kind of bread pudding, moist and rich with egg yolks and sugar. It tasted good, but it was not what I was trying to make, and nobody could eat more than a tiny bit of it. 

The same thing happened when I tried to make seeded rye rolls. I didn't get the lift I needed, and the bread, though flavorful, remained dense and wet, without the airiness I wanted. 

I let the sourdough languish in the fridge. A thick crust formed on top, and I thought that I might have let it die entirely. As a test, I took about a tablespoon out of the jar and mixed it with a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. The next day the mixture was bubbling vigorously, so it obviously hasn't died. 

Today, I took that mixture and mixed it with a cup of fresh warm goat's milk, a half cup of sugar, half a stick of melted butter, and more flour. I kneaded it for five or ten minutes and let it rest for a few hours. It didn't double in bulk, but it definitely grew. 

I kneaded it again, formed it into an oblong oval, places it on a greased cookie sheet, and let it rest another hour. Then I slashed the top, preheated the oven to 375, and baked it for 45 minutes. 

As you can see, it's freaking gorgeous. A little bit of the bottom crust stick to the cookie sheet and so I had to pry it off and eat it (I HAD to) with butter. It was perfect - shatteringly crunchy, slightly sweet, and toothsome. I am currently waiting impatiently for the loaf to cool and finish cooking on the counter, before j can slice it and slather it with butter and devour it. 

It smells so good in my kitchen I had to go disturb my husband, who was watching a movie, and make him come into the kitchen and smell the bread. He agreed with me that it smells heavenly and that furthermore I am a genius and he is a lucky man to have married a woman who can bake such a miracle. 


Maven said...

I've become quite addicted to making sourdough, and I'm always looking for new ways to use up my discard too. I'm an odd duck. I measure out my starter and add that to my recipe UNFED, as I view the flour etc to feed the leaven (rather, most recipes require you to feed then add to recipes). I find that my starter (which I hybridized with kombucha) to be nice and vigorous, and produces nice bubbles when dealt with this way. But, YMMV.

Rye is a toughie to begin with. Sourdough can be a pesky leaven, too. Combined, it can be a challenge to get a decent amount of lift. My first sourdough loaf I attempted was 100% rye, and I failed miserably.

In case you don't have my food blog url, here it is, and you can see the sourdough journey I've been on as pretty much that's the bulk of my posts as of late. I've got this week's loaf doing the bulk ferment right now, and I won't know until Friday evening how successful I was. That's one thing about baking with sourdough is, that no matter how many times you make a loaf, and it can be the identical recipe from one loaf to the next, and there is always an element of mystery as to how it will turn out.


Aimee said...

Thank you Maven I will certainly check out your food blog! I agree I can't make the same loaf of bread twice. But I'm used to that - I can't make the same cheese twice, either. My sourdough right now is a mix of white and whole wheat flour, with perhaps a ten percent admixture of rye flour. That's what's in my flour crock so that's what I both bake with and feed the ferment with. Next time I buy flour the mix will change again. You can tell consistency is not my strong suit - but, as my seventh grade English teacher used to say "consistency is hobgoblin of little minds."