Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sourdough Part One

All of life is an ongoing experiment, and not everything that we try is going to work the first time. After all, even Thomas Edison is known for saying that "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." in reference to the light bulb. Today, I want to tell you a bit about my current, ongoing kitchen experiment: Sourdough.

I've been having quite the time with sourdough. The first time, I killed the starter. It grew pink and moldy, and disgusting before I even got a chance to use it. Gross. And it smelled terrible. So I tried again, and the same thing happened, and therefore decided to give up for a bit. Fast forward in time about three years, and I decided that I wanted to try again, but this time I would get a bit of starter from somebody and just try and keep it alive. Wouldn't you know it? Success! Turns out that if I have a live starter I can keep it that way! Who knew? I will probably eventually try to start my own again some time, but for now, this experiment has taken another step forward. It is taking time, but that's okay. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. I have plenty of time.

The next step in this experiment has been trying to figure out how the heck to bake with this stuff. I could keep it alive, but I couldn't seem to get the starter to bubble like all of the pictures I had seen on the internet. I fed and watered it mostly regularly, but it just seemed to sit there. It smelled good, and looked okay, so I knew it was alive, but it just wasn't bubbling. And I found out that no bubble=no rise. Great. So I used it in my regular yeast bread recipes for some flavor, and that just didn't work either. The bread tasted like normal yeast bread. Yummy, but not sourdough. Time to take a step back, so into the refrigerator the starter went. 

And there it sat for almost two months. It separated, and looked weird. It wasn't fed. It wasn't stirred. It just sat there, all four cups of it. Turns out that is quite a lot of starter. I just didn't know it. I knew that it was okay for this weird looking black liquid to sit on top of the starter in its hibernating state, thank you internet, but what I didn't know was for how long it would be okay. I decided not to chance it, and so I asked for help from a friend who makes sourdough regularly. I should have done that WAY earlier. I could have saved myself a lot of time with this experiment, but then it probably wouldn't have been as much fun. Turns out that you have to feed the starter a lot more flour and water than it already contains. Basically, I had just been giving it enough food to survive, but not to grow or be healthy. I was almost starving it. I had been adding a quarter cup of flour and water to the whole mix every day. What I needed to do was throw all but a tablespoon of it away, and basically start over. And so I did. I saved one tablespoon of starter and added a quarter cup of flour and water to the starter the first day, and a half cup the second day. It was nice and warm the second day, over 80 degrees in fact, and the starter bubbled. It wasn't quite as dramatic as pictures I'd seen, but it was bubbling, and it smelled good, and I didn't want to wait any longer. It was time to bake.

That's m'bread. It isn't pretty, and frankly, it tastes kind of horrid, but it worked. The sourdough starter rose the bread! Now the trick is to make it taste good, and for it to not be hard as a rock. It rose beautifully overnight, and so I treated it like I do for my yeast breads when it comes to rising. I let it rise overnight and then punch it down and let it rise for a really short time while the oven is preheating, and then I bake it. Evidently that doesn't work with sourdough. That's okay! I also need to work on the recipe. Rock hard bread is one thing if it tastes good, it is another if it tastes horribly. I was going for simple: starter, flour, water, and a teaspoon of salt. Yeah. Makes a fine yeast bread, not so good with this. But, I will figure it out! And when I do, I'll post a recipe for you! 

In the mean time, do any of you bakers have any suggestions for me?