More than two months ago, I got myself a new book specifically geared towards making bread. The book is called Bread Making: A Home Course: Crafting the Perfect Loaf, From Crust to Crumb by the wonderful Lauren Chattman. This amazing lady is my current bread muse, and her book Bread Making is a valuable resource, providing practical and scientific knowledge behind bread making.
One of my favorite chapters in this book is dedicated to the wonder that is Sourdough Bread. Sure, sourdoughs need more time and attention compared to straight doughs (it will literally take days before you can bake your first loaf of bread), but if you’ve taken the time to really compare the flavors of a simple white sandwich loaf and a sourdough baguette, you’d realize that there is incredible depth to sourdough bread.
First things first, I think it’s necessary to share a bit of the knowledge that I learned from Bread Making:
- Straight Dough – This is the type normally recommended for novice bread bakers, and what is most commonly used for bread recipes. You can either make a sponge first (where you bloom the yeast with the wet ingredients) before adding the dry ingredients, or just combine everything. Either way, the method involves a single bulk fermentation step, followed by shaping, then proofing. The rise is provided by using commercial yeasts in fairly moderate amounts to ensure that you’ve got a large yeast population to start with.
- Yeasted Pre-Ferment Dough – This type features a pre-ferment, or a part of the dough that is typically prepared 6 to 12 hours before the main event. It uses much less amounts of commercial yeast to start with (even as small as 1/16th of the amount you’ll use for a straight dough). The yeast is allowed to multiply in the pre-ferment, allowing more time for the dough to develop additional flavors from acids produced by Lactobacillus (a type of bacteria) which grow alongside the yeast. After the pre-fermentation, the rest of the ingredients are added, followed by a single bulk fermentation step, shaping, then proofing. There are a few types of pre-ferments which I’ll discuss in a separate post.
- Sourdough – This type relies solely on a sourdough starter–similar to a pre-ferment, but richly populated by wild yeasts. No need for commercial yeast with this one. Definitely needs more time, but in bread making, more time means more flavor (extended fermentation). It requires a final build, which in my world is similar to making a pre-ferment beginning with a sourdough starter (8 to 12 hours), bulk fermentation (slower than straight doughs at 1 to 2 hours), shaping and proofing (45 mins to 1-1/2 hour).
So, if it takes more time and effort to make sourdough bread, why bother? Well, as I mentioned above, you can get a ton of flavor from sourdough breads. Whereas straight dough breads taste of nothing but flour, sugar and salt (unless you put in fruits, nuts or other sources of flavor), sourdough breads will give a range of it–notes of banana, pineapple, nuts, etc. It’s very much like wine in that regard, owing such benefits from fermentation. You’re also guaranteed to get crustier breads with a wonderful moist crumb. Most importantly though, sourdough gives you bragging rights because you then have the opportunity to name a sourdough after yourself!
Just kidding. (NOT kidding.)
But before we can actually bake a sourdough bread, we’ll start first with our very own sourdough starter. No need to be nervous about it. The first 3 to 4 days will require merely 30 minutes of your time, and then you can store it long-term in the fridge, requiring only 30 minutes of your time per week.
- 1/4 cup distilled drinking water (room temperature)
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1 tsp whole wheat flour
Combine all three ingredients in a medium bowl or in a resealable plastic container. Cover the bowl or container and leave on the kitchen counter for 24 hours. Stir the dough halfway through to introduce oxygen into it.
This sourdough starter begins with rye flour because rye flour is richer in starches compared to wheat flour. Those starches will provide the food the yeast needs to grow and multiply.
But where exactly is the yeast? That’s the beauty with sourdough–the yeast comes locally. It comes from the flour and from the atmosphere in your kitchen. Whatever yeast population you end up with is characteristic of your local environment and is guaranteed to be unique to you. It’s also the reason I added some whole wheat flour into the mix. I wanted to make sure that I was raising the types of yeast that grow well in wheat, as well as the yeast types from rye, especially since most of the breads I will make from this starter will be wheat based.
It’s incredibly easy to start making sourdough. I will give everyone a status update, as well as signs of life, in my Day 1 post. So keep yourself updated. 🙂