Thursday, July 30, 2009

(Half) Wheat Sourdough Bread, from Scratch

I'm very excited about this post. I made my first loaf of sourdough bread today, and it turned out really good. What's really got me amped is that I made the starter from scratch too. For some reason, that just seems completely awesome to me because I always felt like sourdough bread would be something I had to have connections to get to make. Then I'd have a starter to take care of, and that would be an awful lot of responsibility. I might even end up having to find and hire a sourdough sitter if I wanted to go out or on vacation. I was pretty sure I didn't want all of that. Then I found out that I can make my own starter, and my curiosity teamed up with my unbridled enthusiasm to create and gave birth to my first loaf of sourdough.

I didn't get the idea for how to make a sourdough starter of my own out of a dream. In fact, I read it here. I even meant to poorly recreate the picture on his website, but then I didn't feel like doing it. Also, I'm not sure I did it quite right, though given the instructions, I'm not sure how I could have done it incorrectly. I mixed some unbleached flour with roughly an equal weight of water (yeah right, I used too much water... let's be honest here) and put in one of the outer leaves of a head of organic red cabbage. Then I covered it with another leaf of cabbage, finding the middle ground between the choices suggested in Ruhlman's blog, and let it sit for a few days. I didn't really have the faintest idea of what to do with it, so I fed it every morning when I got up and before I went to bed, hoping desperately that it wouldn't take off with crazy sourdough powers and make a mess of my kitchen while I slept or worked on my dissertation. After the forty-eight hours that are suggested, mine hadn't increased in volume at all but was quite bubbly and smelled rather strongly of sauerkraut with a reddish, purplish, slightly tan liquid on top that I dutifully stirred in every time I fed the starter. At that point, I took out the cabbage and decided that it was probably too thin to grow (I also realized that feeding it again was going to make it not fit in my container if it grew at all, so I composted half of it). I fed it, adding almost no water, and covered it with a towel. A day went by. Bubbly, stinky, not growing. Another day went by. Bubbly, stinky, not growing. Day by day, though, I increased the proportion of flour to water by just not adding water when I fed it. Then, I got up this morning and the container was almost full and had no residual liquid on top, indicating that it had more than doubled in size! Woohoo! It also had ceased to smell like cabbage gone funky and had obtained a mellow, subtly sour, very "make bread with me" kind of scent.

I was overjoyed. I was also scared. On the one hand, I wasn't sure if my baby starter was ready to make bread. On the other hand, I knew that if I left the container as it was, i.e. made no decision about what to do, it would outgrow its container within about three hours. Two and a half hours later, it reached the very top of the container (it was growing so fast I could almost watch it grow) and brought the decision to a point. I figured I should just try it. I was only out some flour and time if it went badly.

I split the starter in half since, once stirred, I had about two cups of it. Then I added two cups of flour, one cup being "white wheat" flour and the other being unbleached white flour. The first sourdough first rise and sourdough starterthing I did after that was feed the starter another half of a cup of flour, which caused it to spend the next four hours getting very big and then eventually shrinking back to a more manageable size (and delightful, more developed smell). Back to my bread, I put in a little water, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and some nice sea salt and worked it into a nice dough, which I kneaded duitifully and then covered and set aside for the first rise, which took about two hours because my starter is still a baby. Here's the result of the first rise posing with its "mother."

scored sourdough loaf before bakingOf course, I floured my working surface again, kneaded the dough again, and shaped it into an oblong loaf shape to prepare it for baking, putting it on my lovely pizza pan that isn't as good as a stone but is much easier to clean, lighter, and less likely to break. Then I scored it to help it rise, and it looked like this.

sourdough french bread fresh from the ovenI baked it in a 350 F oven for 35 minutes. Interestingly, I didn't know how long to bake a loaf like this, so I looked it up while it was baking and found out that 30 minutes is usually about right at the 35-minute mark. Since the page I looked at recommended 400 F for the oven, I figured I was okay. I was right on, actually. This is what it looked like when it came out.

sourdough french bread slicedSliced and served. I liked mine with fig preserves on it.

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