This winter, with very little "in season," I'm spending my time honing my bread-baking skills...
Check out Part I: "My Wintertime Obsession"
Having decided to embark on a sourdough adventure, I dove into research mode. Lucky for me, homemade sourdough is getting kind of trendy, so there are, if anything, too many resources.
A baker at a restaurant I worked at suggested I start with the Tartine Bread book, which is a beautiful and in-depth guide to the science and art of baking sourdough. When I got my copy I lay in bed each night, flipping pages, making notes, and dreaming of my first loaf.
FLOUR, WATER, AND SALT
At it's most basic, sourdough bread has only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. I think that's pretty amazing. You might be wondering, how does it rise? How do you get all that air in there?
Michael Pollan explains in the "Air" episode of his excellent four-part Netflix documentary Cooked,
As best as we know [bread] starts in ancient Egypt about 6,000 years ago. There was a bowl of pulverized grain with water... and it was off in a corner and neglected for a couple days, and some yeast from the air got into it, and it began to bubble.
It turns out there's yeast EVERYWHERE, and leaving your water and flour out to ferment will "capture wild yeasts," turning your simple flour and water into a magical sourdough starter capable of literally elevating your dough.
IT STARTS WITH A STARTER
When I took on this bread baking project, I wanted to make my starter from scratch. It's an easy process that really reveals the magic of sourdough.
As I mentioned, I was not the only one on this quest. In March of 2016 the NY Times Food Section's cover story was headlined "Sourdough Starter, America's Rising Pet." The article concisely describes the starter:
Sourdough starter is simply flour and water left to ferment, a medium that supports the wild yeast and lactobacilli that surround us all. Fed with more flour, and more water, a sourdough eventually achieves a kind of symbiosis that helps dough rise, without the use of cultivated yeast. That it delivers a pungent, slightly sour and deeply alluring taste to all that you cook with it is a happy side effect.
I followed the instructions from the Tartine Bread book and happily watched my bowl of soggy flour come to life with bubbles pushing their way up after just a couple days.
It's an easy project, but not actually a required one. It turns out you can buy starters (check out King Arthur flour's). Better yet, if you know someone who has a starter, you can get a tablespoon of theirs, feed and care for it, and turn it into your own. If you're near DC and want a piece of my starter, just let me know!
Coming up next: Loaf Anxiety