Sourdough For Beginners

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Bake Inexpensive Artisan Bread At Home

I love bread. If I had to limit my diet to a few things, bread would top the list (followed closely by the cole family, the onion family, olive oil, apples, and cheese). Happily, our daily diet must (at least potentially) be the most varied in the history of humanity. I am deeply grateful that I can choose from amongst an incredibly enormous array of foods, including a zillion kinds of bread!

My housemates tend to follow a gluten-free regimen, which these days is a lot less punitive than in former times. Today we can easily find dozens of gluten-free forms of bread, from tortillas and tapioca spring roll wrappers to almond, hazelnut and rice crackers. Although all of them have their place, I must confess that for daily dining, I am sticking with my beloved sourdoughs.

Simple Sourdoughs

Not only are sourdough breads tangy, chewy, and toothsome, they remain fresh far longer than most yeast breads. This makes them especially welcome in single folks’ kitchens; if an aging loaf starts to get a tad tough, a few moments in the toaster restores its texture. Even truly stale sourdough makes fabulous French toast and bread pudding. Sourdough is also the simplest and most forgiving form of artisan baking. If goldrush miners kept sourdough productive in primitive wilderness camps, you can easily do it in a modern kitchen.

Many sourdough starters are passed along between neighbors but are easily made at home. If you don’t know any bakers who might share with you, here are my favorite recipes for wheat and rye starters as well as a few of the best of my sourdough breads. Purist’s Rustic Round is totally simple and can be baked in a loaf pan if you prefer. Ann’s All Rye produces a light, tender wheat-free loaf that’s fabulous for sandwiches or toast. Sourdough Waffles are just The Best!

Basic Sourdough Starter

1 cup water
1 cup flour (any)
1-1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast

In a bowl, vigorously combine all ingredients, cover with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 8-12 hours until bubbly and tangy-smelling.

Wild Sourdough Starter

1 cup water
1 cup whole wheat  flour

In a bowl, vigorously combine flour and water, cover with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 3-4 days until bubbly and tangy-smelling.

Rye Starter

1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 small (2-3 inch) onion, outer skin intact

In a small, deep bowl, vigorously combine flour and water, add onion and cover completely with flour mixture. Cover bowl with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 3-4 days. When bubbly and tangy-smelling, discard onion.

Starter Care And Feeding

Once your starter is ready (bubbly and tangy-smelling), you can use it right away and/or refrigerate it in a glass jar for later use. To keep your starter going, feed it weekly and always replace what you use.

Feeding schedule: Each week, pour starter into a bowl *, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, and stir vigorously. Repeat 8-12 hours later and leave on the counter overnight. The next day, feed again and wait 30-60 minutes before using. If you aren’t planning to use the starter, add smaller amounts of flour and water (1/4 cup each time). Always feed and let stand an hour or so before replacing starter in the refrigerator.

* Usually there will be some liquid on top of the starter after being refrigerated. You can pour this off or stir it in; both ways work fine.

Purist’s Rustic Round

1-1/2 cups recently fed sourdough starter
2 cups flour (unbleached and/or whole wheat)
1 teaspoon sea salt

If you have an electric mixer with a dough hook, combine all ingredients and process until dough forms a ball (add water or flour by the tablespoon if mixture seems dry or too soft). Otherwise, knead by hand until smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes). Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a plate. Place in a warm (70 degrees F) place until doubled in bulk. (1-1/2 hours). Form into a round and let rise again on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, covered with a damp towel, until doubled (about 1 hour). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake loaf at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and cook until done (internal temperature of 180 degrees F, 20-25 minutes more). Let cool before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

Ann’s All Rye Sourdough Bread

4-5 cups rye flour
1-1/2 cups recently fed rye sourdough starter
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups rye flour and 1 cup water and let stand overnight or at least an hour (this autolyses or tenderizes the rye gluten). Add refreshed rye starter, ginger (helps rye rise) and salt, blend well, then add 1+ cups rye flour to make a sticky dough. Put in an oiled bowl and let rise, covered with a cloth, in a warm spot for 1-1/2 hours (will not quite double in size). Gently knead for 1-2 minutes (rye is delicate) and put in an oiled loaf pan and let rise until nearly doubled (60-75 minutes). Preheat oven to 400 and bake for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until done (internal temperature of 180 degrees, about 20-25 minutes more). Cool before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

Sourdough Waffles

1 cup refreshed sourdough starter
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk (room temperature)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup safflower oil
plus 1-2 tablespoons more for waffle iron
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-2 cups blueberries or raspberries (frozen work fine) (optional)

In a large bowl, combine sourdough starter, whole wheat and unbleached flours, and buttermilk and let stand for 30-45 minutes (or cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator). Add eggs, milk, and 1/3 cup oil, then stir in remaining dry ingredients. Heat waffle iron and brush with oil. If desired, stir fresh or frozen berries into batter and pour into the waffle iron. In general, use a scant 1/4 cup of batter per 4-inch square of waffle iron. Cook for 3 minutes or until waffles release easily. Serve hot or let cool and freeze.  To reheat, toast for 30-45 seconds. Makes about 40 small (4 x 4-inch) waffles.

Three Hour French Baguette (Makes 2)

1-1/2 cups water (room temperature)
1 teaspoon or 1 packet yeast
3-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Combine all ingredients, blend well, cover and let stand 20 minutes. Knead by hand or mixer until firm and smooth (about 10 minutes). Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes at 70-75 degrees F. (will rise slightly). Flatten into a rectangle, fold like a business letter, flip over so fold is facing down, return to bowl and let rise, covered, for 45 minutes. Shape baguettes; Use a large sheet of parchment paper draped over 3 rolled towels to create long troughs for your baguettes. Divide dough in 2 pieces and shape them gently into 2 long, skinny baguettes. Dust with flour and cover lightly with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for 30-40 minutes until nearly doubled (press with a fingertip; the dough will spring back when ready). Preheat oven (and baking stone, if using) to 400 degrees F. when dough has risen for 20 minutes. Slash loaves 2-3 times lengthwise, remove towels and slide parchment paper onto a large baking sheet or directly onto your baking stone. Mist oven generously. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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2 Responses to Sourdough For Beginners

  1. Raven says:

    I made the bread today. It was great. Thanks for sharing. I also own two of your books that I read all the time.

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