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My First Sourdough Bread

January 26, 2009

Sourdough, sliced

Several weeks ago I teased you all with mention of my newly acquired sourdough starter. I nursed it back to health, waiting patiently to make my first loaf, and of course, the day I was all set to make it I read through the instructions and realized that you have to feed a starter before you use it, so that it’s fresh and active. I fed the starter, and then unthinkingly put it back into the refrigerator, where I suspect it promptly went back to sleep, or whatever it is that sourdough does that makes it less useful. So my project was delayed. I tried to do a little research so I might have a better understanding of my starter, but the interwebs were full of conflicting information. Shocking!

Well, this past Friday I finally got around to baking my sourdough. I remembered to feed the starter Thursday evening, and let it sit near the radiator Friday morning to ensure it was fully lively and ready to go. Then I got to messy work. And you know, even though the loaf didn’t turn out as sour as I hoped (it’s not San Francisco, after all), it is easily the best loaf of bread I’ve made yet. The crust is lovely and chewy and the texture is just right, not too soft or too dense. Next week I’m definitely trying out the extra-tangy version of the recipe that came with my starter.

Fed sourdough starter

That is some active starter right there! And it smells wonderfully sour and slightly yeasty. It doesn’t taste so good, though.

It’s recommended that you feed the starter at least 4 hours before you plan to bake bread, and I’ve read that upwards of 24 hours is best. Remove and discard half a cup of the existing starter (or however much you plan to use in your recipe), and add to the remaining starter half a cup of flour and a bit less than half a cup of water (or however much you took out). Mix well and let sit, loosely covered, for 4 to 24 hours.

I used the King Arthur Flour Rustic Sourdough recipe that came with my starter, halved because I don’t need to make two loaves of bread for the week. I love that on the KAF website you can view recipes either by volume or weight. I got a new kitchen scale for Christmas and I’ve noticed that paying attention to weight does seem to produce better bread.

Weighing ingredients

Most of the recipes I’ve seen call for about half a cup of starter per loaf. Now, this stuff has the most unusual texture: It’s really sticky and kind of reminds me of this goo stuff I used to play with as a kid. It’s like it wants to stay together in one wet, sour mass, and removing just half a cup can be a little tricky.

A scoop of sticky starter

I tried to get a picture of its clingy behavior, but this was the best I could do. Let me just say that this gets ALL over the place, so be careful.

I know it’s possible to make bread that is entirely leavened with a starter, but for this, my first sourdough, I decided to use active dried yeast, as well. Even so, I had some problems during the first rise. Our house has been remarkably cold lately, and I was worried that it was thwarting my bread. It didn’t do that deflating thing it’s supposed to do after the initial rise, when you punch it down, but I went ahead and formed it into a loaf for the second rise, anyway.

I was also surprised by how much extra flour I had to use to achieve that nice, smooth, pliable, not too sticky texture during the kneading process. I read that during the winter you usually have to use less flour than during the humid summer, but not I, not this time. I probably ended up using close to 12 ounces of flour for this loaf (I started with 10).

Smooth ball of dough

All in all, an excellent first sourdough experience. My plan is to try to learn as much as I can before writing a real, useful sourdough post here, so I guess this is just a tease, as well. Sorry about that. In the meantime, I found a few great resources while I was waiting for my starter to wake up: The Fresh Loaf is always useful when talking about bread, but I also discovered Breadtopia, and the video on feeding a starter was really helpful. AND I finally got my hands on a copy of Peter Reinhardt’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I am very excited about and which I hope will make me a much better resource and a much better baker.

At least for now, I have my first loaf of slightly sour sourdough. It’s excellent for toast, and grilled cheese sandwiches, and for eating with just a little butter. I love sourdough.

Sourdough Loaf

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