Sunday, July 13, 2014

kitchen adventures: sourdough!

I've just eaten the first slice from my first loaf of from-scratch sourdough! This feels like a big accomplishment even if the technique for future loaves could use some refining.

I started this project about two weeks ago, when I collected a bag of hard red wheat flour from a local farmer (wheat they grew over on the Olympic peninsula, their own milling). I cultured the starter from scratch, following the instructions in Wild Fermentation to feed and coax and fuss over the flour soup until its yeasts developed enough to make it thick and bubbly. Yesterday I had a fluffy, rising jar of starter, so I figured it would be a good time to give the rest of the process a shot.

So in the morning I mixed one part starter, one part water, and two parts flour (more of the same bag) into a sort of porridge ("sponge"). The bowl got covered with a damp towel and ignored all day, 12 hours or so. Last night I took it down and added another two parts flour to make it a stiff bread dough, then kneaded it by hand until it had some spring.

At this point I diverged from instructions. It was bedtime, and we're having a heat wave, so very early and very late are the most comfortable times for baking. The book's instructions for the most basic sourdough loaf call for a double rise, first in a bowl/bucket to +50% bulk, then punched down and given a second rise in loaf pans. I just dumped the oiled dough into a loaf pan to leave it overnight.

And I think I can blame that for the ultimate texture -- well, that and the use of all whole-wheat flour, probably. But what I have is denser and flatter than commercial sourdough; it doesn't have the airy interior texture that I'm used to. When the weather is cooler sometime I'll try switching up the timing so I can do the double-rise and see how much that changes.

And the flavor? Pretty interesting! Less tang, less sharpness, than I expected, probably because I started it pretty much as soon as the starter seemed willing to play along. A sweet graininess in there somewhere from the whole wheat. The starter smelled, well, weird, and I wasn't really sure if I liked it, but that note has backed off a lot in the finished product.

It's not a perfect product by any means, but for a first attempt at a completely new process I'm pleased.


  1. 100% whole wheat bread is a bit of a challenge, especially in a home kitchen setting. And sourdough can be pretty dense besides... But I definitely want to try this now. Maybe with someone else's starter at first. I'm seriously considering starting my own yogurt, and they probably need similar fermentation conditions.

    1. Oooh, I would be interested to hear how your yogurt experiments go! I can vaguely remember "helping" Mom make some once when I was little, but I've been intimidated by all the instructions that insist you need precise temperatures to make it work.

      And yeah, the density of whole wheat + sourdough together is... well. It's definitely a peasant loaf! But in a way that I think will probably be really good for sopping up the dregs of a bowl of stew, when the weather turns....

    2. I bet it'd make a stellar bread pudding, too - storebought bread isn't always robust enough to do the job. Or maybe as the cheesy bread lid in French onion soup?

      I think we had a yogurt maker when I was very young, but I can't remember if anything ever came of it. Lately I've been finding posts by people who moved here from India and make it all the time with minimal tech. With that in mind, I've just got to try it... I think I'll start once I'm mostly finished the current storebought stuff. I can't wait :D

    3. oooh, yeah, that tang against the sweetness of caramelized onions and creamy cheese? Definitely worth a try!

      And it makes *sense* that it must be possible without fancy tech! People have been making yogurt for centuries (millennia?) and presumably did not have thermometers to let them know when they were failing to hold the milk at exactly 140 degrees, or whatever it is. I look forward to your results! (Do you blog about these adventures anywhere?)

    4. I write up my recipes sometimes if they turn out well - if you track your username on Tumblr, I can tag you on the yogurt post if you like. (I've thought about doing a just-food or just-plants blog, but so far it's all in the same place with the rest of my Tumblr nonsense.)