Sourdough and the sweet smell of success

You might have been watching from the sidelines for the past year, as friends, relatives and celebrities tweeted about their sourdough bread baking. We certainly sat out the fad. But then, we’re not new to baking our own bread, or attempting to coax the all-natural yeast to life.

Our previous attempts at sourdough, all in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to the quintessential wild yeast, were, for the most part, marginal successes. We tried another batch in Los Angeles, using already-made starter. For awhile that was working.

But still, the idea of invoking the rising power out of, well, thin air, continued to allure us.

Last week, we gave it another shot. I placed a little flour and water in a bowl and let it sit for five days. It was bubbling along nicely. And then I read that rye and whole wheat flour work best, because they contain more of the natural nutrients necessary to get the fermentation process going. So I added a dash of each to feed the starter.

At the end of the week, it was clear this stuff was ready. (It can take up to two weeks, depending on climate).

Below are photos of the end product. This bread was leavened with only the natural occurring yeast activated from the flour, water. No commercial agents were used. The trick is to take your time.

Ingredients are:

  • 1 cup of sourdough starter
  • 1.5 cups of lukewarm water (best to use non-chlorinated)
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons of salt
  • 0.5 tsps citric acid (optional)

Preparation work only involves about 30 minutes. But the dough takes about 24 hours to reach its true baking status. This recipe is a slight modification from one I found on the King Arthur website here.

One other modification: The recipe calls for misting the dough with water prior to baking. I chose to coat the loaf with egg yolk in French baguette style.

The end result has the true sponginess of a sourdough. It is not as tangy as some we’ve had, but over time the starter will undoubtedly get there.

For flour, I used Bob’s Red Mill bread flour. For more details on making your own starter, you can find it here. We will update you on future endeavors using the starter, which is now resting in the refrigerator, awaiting its next assignment.


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