Starting a sourdough experiment

As a kid, our annual trips West to see grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins were a special time of year. To me, California was an incredible place.

Bakersfield was a wonderland (ha!) where my Grandpa Gordon took me on rides in golf carts and I would spend all day playing in the pool with my cousins.Los Angeles was home to my Grandma Betty and her fantastical paradise of a garden where I learned about the natural world. From the squash she grew herself to the box turtle who lived in a corner of her backyard farm to the baby bird we saved (temporarily) and fed with an eye dropper…it was a miraculous place filled with discovery where anything and everything was a science experiment. And Cambria, where my Grandma Barbara had (still has) a magical beach house on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific was the world of….sourdough bread.

When I wasn’t busy creating pulley systems out of strawberry baskets and string with my brother to transport our stuffed animals from the entry way to the loft two floors up, I was begging my grandma to let me eat a piece of sourdough toast even though it was in between meals. I loved the tang, I loved the airy bubbles that soaked up the butter, and I loved that it was special because I only ate San Luis Sourdough when I was in Cambria (40 miles North of its origin).

To be clear, I’m not sure why we didn’t eat sourdough when we were at home in Arlington, Virginia. I am sure they had it. Hell, maybe my dad even had it in the house and I didn’t even know. But whenever we were on the Central California Coast, it was all I wanted.

Fast forward 15 years and I now am lucky to call California my home. While my sourdough consumption is no longer limited to one time a year, it still has a special place in my heart and every time I bite into a perfectly buttered piece of toast, I think of those summertime visits.

When I began baking bread last year, I knew that sourdough was something we were going to have to try! Especially once we started experimenting with kombucha and reading about fermentation and yeast – I knew it was the next project.

Starting a sourdough experiment

So now we’ve done it! We have made sourdough bread with a homemade sourdough starter. There’s a lot to read about sourdough – it is quite overwhelming actually. It was pretty intimidating reading all of the articles using lingo I didn’t understand and and the recipes that only make sense if you have a kitchen scale to weigh ingredients. But I struggled through it and gathered information and in the end realized that while it takes precision to make really good bread consistently, sourdough is also quite resilient and we have yet to completely mess it up…

Instead of writing my own complete beginner’s guide to sourdough – I’m attaching some links I found helpful. Once I perfect a recipe, I’ll post it, but for now I’m still experimenting and every loaf turns out a little different!

 

Recommended Literature

Sourdough Starter from King Arthur Flour – clear and easy to follow (not intimidating) directions on how to make a sourdough starter. King Arthur Flour also has a lot of recipes that are not as intimidating as the sourdough aficcionado bloggers, but I found that other recipes were more interesting and yielded better tasting bread.

How to Make Sourdough Bread from Kitchn– complete with definitions of terms (starter, leaven, autolypse, bulk fermentation, proofing, etc.), suggestions for kitchen materials you should get, a recipe including weight but also cups/tsp if you don’t have a kitchen scale, pictures of all the steps, and gentle encouragement not to get intimidated!

Tips

Sourdough Starter

  • Don’t freak out It’s hard to mess up your Sourdough Starter. We found it difficult to keep a perfectly timed schedule of feeding it, and it hasn’t died yet…It’s quite resilient!
  • We use mostly all purpose unbleached flour, but sometimes mix in half whole wheat.
  • Feeding it can be a hassle but you get used to it – our routine is to measure out about 1/2 cup to keep into a measuring cup. We throw the rest away (wasteful but necessary so you don’t drown in starter that grows exponentially) and scrape out the container. Then pour the 1/2 cup back into the container, add the fresh flour (scant 1 cup) and water (scant 1/2 cup) to feed it with and mix it up with a silicone spatula!
  • If you keep your starter in a mason jar, it’s fun to put a rubber band to mark the top of the freshly fed starter because then you can see how much it rises!

Recipes & Tracking

  • Try different recipes and keep a detailed written log of exactly what you do so you can track what works and what doesn’t. At first I was just kind of trying my best to stick to recipes (not my strong suit) and crossing my fingers that it worked but now I try to write down exactly what I did so that I can replicate if it turns out amazing!IMG_9367
  • Recipes that have a high proportion of water to flour yield a wetter dough (like the Kitchn recipe above). I find that it is harder to work with and way more frustrating because it gets stuck to your hands and is harder to shape…BUT it yields delicious bread with yummy crust. I’ve had great results with it when I put it in a loaf pan but have had trouble with high hydration dough when trying to bake a boule in the dutch oven.
  • Every kitchen environment and oven is different so your bread might need more time to rise or less time to bake than someone else’s. Be patient – it is so fun to watch your bread rise. I always get so proud when I watch it growing over time! AH amazing! 🙂

 

Baking Tools

  • Buy a cast iron dutch oven! It is so amazing to bake in! Mine is from Lodge and is 6qt. I dust the bottom with corn meal before tipping my bread into it and popping it into the oven. IMG_9754
  • I have yet to buy a proofing  basket – I use a mixing bowl lined with a kitchen towel and dusted with flour. I want to buy a proofing basket soon, I’ve just been lazy.
  • I bought a scale now ($25 at target) but I had fine results just measuring my flour in cups, so don’t be deterred by that. You can easily find conversion measurements online!

As we continue finding recipes and tips that we like, I’ll post more about our sourdough journey. 🙂 As always, my hope is simply to inspire you to experiment and have fun with your food. Cheers!

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