Thursday, 15 December 2016

Sourdough: Part 1 - Intro

Whole grain, the simplest beginning
A year or so ago, I decided it was time to start baking bread here on the homestead. We'd dabbled before, with tolerable if not conspicuous success, but only with yeasted loaves, despite a longstanding interest in sourdough.

What I needed was somebody to help me get started. Somebody to initiate me into the mysteries of baking sourdough bread. Happily such a person came along: good friend Lyn of the Logan Bakehouse. She, along with the invaluable published works of Scotland's sourdough guru, Andrew Whitely, taught me most of what I know about sourdough.

The first thing is to demystify the subject. There's a lot of odd 'folk knowledge' about sourdough floating around out there. The simple truth is that sourdough bread baking is no more difficult than using commercial bread yeast. It does involve keeping a starter culture in your fridge and the proving step does take longer but you end up with a better tasting, better keeping and more nutritious result AND you don't have to keep buying bread yeast.

A bit of exercise to get the freshest ingredients.
This is the almost magical thing about sourdough. All that goes into it is flour, water and a little salt. It's pure. It's fundamental. Wild yeasts and lactobacilli (the same sort of critters that produce yoghurt), found on the surface of the grains and thus in the flour, are what drive the fermentation and thereby leaven the bread. A starter can be made from scratch or, if you have a friend who already has a good one, you can pinch a wee bit to get yours going even more easily.

To keep things simple, stick with just a rye starter. It's the easiest to maintain and you can use it to start off wheat (or other more exotic grain) loaves as well. The whole process is amazingly flexible. Once you have a feel for it, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Rye starter: very liquid
There's a lot of confusion about sourdough starter maintenance. Several people have asked me, "How do you feed it?", or "Does it take a lot of looking after?" A rye starter, at least, will sit dormant in the fridge almost indefinitely. If it's been months or years since you last used any, it may take a little longer to revive, otherwise it's just a case of taking out 50 or 100 grams, adding some flour and water to it and then letting it sit for a while at room temperature. This is now your production sourdough. When it's all lively and active, you add a bit more flour and water, let it prove and hey: you've got a loaf.

Now, there's a loaf still warm from the oven. Time for dinner, I think.

Next time: Baking the loaf

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