Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Matt's Sourdough Experiements

Matt has been making sourdough.
Sourdough baguettes.  Sourdough rounds.  Whole wheat sourdough.  All white sourdough.  Sourdough pizza.  Sourdough french toast.  Sourdough bagels.  Sourdough, sourdough, sourdough.
He was inspired to try his hand at it by his reading of Cooked by Michael Pollan.  There was a chapter on fermentation that apparently piqued his interest.  (It also inspired him to try brewing a batch of mead, too, in addition to the beer he brews.)
Since then I couldn't begin to count all the loaves he's made and recipe variations he's tried.  He's been primarily working out of two books we picked up at the library:  The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens and Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart.  The latter he finds a bit pretentious.  The former he seems particularly taken with.  I wouldn't be surprised if it got added to our list of books we'd like to eventually purchase.  Our library, it seems, lacks any bread books specific to sourdough.
Its sure been an interesting, ongoing experiment.  Experimentation which I wholeheartedly support as its been keeping me well supplied with yummy, crust, fresh bread.
We've sure learned a lot and I am sure there is still so much more to learn.  I would say perhaps the best thing Matt's discovered is the secret to really thick, crusty bread.  The secret is to bake it at the highest setting of the oven (500 degrees F. in our case) with a pan of boiling hot water on the rack below the bread.  Oh, it makes for an amazing crust!  We did break one glass pan though during the learning curve though, I will admit.  Other than that it has been 100% amazing.  I love a thick, chewy crust.
Another thing we've learned is that its entirely unnecessary to use dry yeast.  A lot, I'd venture to say most, of the sourdough recipes we've found call for the use of both the sourdough starter and commercial dry yeast.  This didn't make any sense to Matt and I.  We'd always thought that was part of the charm of sourdoughs--you don't need to spend hard earned money on commercial yeast.  (I admit part of this presumption on my part was due to a passage I remembered from Walden by Thoreau where he remarks, "I have gladly omitted it since, though most housewives earnestly assured me that safe and wholesome bread without yeast might not be, and elderly people prophesied a speedy decay of the vital forces. Yet I find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without it for a year am still in the land of the living; and I am glad to escape the trivialness of carrying a bottle-full in my pocket, which would sometimes pop and discharge its contents to my discomfiture."
We wanted to make bread with only native yeast acting to raise it.  Turns out, Thoreau was right and that works just fine.  Commercial yeast is completely unnecessary.
But, just when things were going so well Matt didn't feed the starter for three days and whamo!  The starter has been struggling ever since.  There is very little bubbling and it lacks the tangy smell it had previously.  After trying to nurture it back to health for the last couple weeks I think Matt is ready to call it a lesson learned and start a fresh with a new starter.
It gives me a whole new respect for those folks who can trace the origin of their starter way, way back.  That's pretty impressive since just a couple days neglect can really do some damage.  Of course, nowadays one can always put it in the fridge for a bit if it is not actively being used.  Then it doesn't need fed every day.  Of course, that also means there is no fresh sourdough bread to eat every day either!
Another really interesting thing we found is how variable the sourness of the bread can be.  It seems like the taste develops with time in a number of ways.  One, a brand new starter doesn't seem to be as tangy as a more mature starter.  Second, depending on how soon you pull out some of the starter after feeding seems to impact the sourness.  Starter used more closely after feeding time seemed much tangier than when Matt poured off some starter to use much later in the day.  Third, it seems to me that the bread gets tangier when its had a day to cool and rest.  Bread eaten right out of the oven didn't seem to have as pronounced a flavor as it does once it has had a chance to cool.
I've also read, on the Root Simple blogNatural News, and others sources, that there may be additional health benefits to eating this sort of bread as opposed to that raised with commercial yeast--nutrients being more readily available for absorption, lowering glycemic values, and perhaps even reducing the amount of gluten in the bread.  And even if in the end that is all proven false, hey, its still yummy bread to eat.
When I first met Matt I wasn't convinced I liked sourdough.  But, like so many things, it sure has grown on me.  I, for one, am pretty content to be the taste-tester for all of these experiments.

9 comments:

  1. my mouth is watering ...

    Mom (sharon)

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  2. I love sourdough and have had up to three different starters on the go at any one time! If you are beermakers then you can make a lovely sourdough starter with the sludgy yeast by product (though the bread needs some honey or sweetener to take the edge off the bitter brewers yeast). Another book you might like is Bread Matters by Andrew Whitely.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I am sure Matt will jump all over trying the beer sludge as basis for a starter. That will be right up his alley. And I will see if the library has this book. Thanks!

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  3. Making sourdough has been the bane of my existence for several years now. I keep plugging away, getting several exceptional loaves, then too-many-to-count throw aways. It looks like Matt nailed it, from the pictures! I follow the recipe from The Urban Homestead. (Rootsimple) Their sourdough pancake recipe is wonderful!!!

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    1. Matt is a natural in the kitchen. (Huzzah!) So far we've only tossed one batch of starter (and no bread, so far) and that was unarguably due to neglect on our part. When Matt's starter isn't raising quite like he would like it to he just makes breadsticks with it since it doesn't matter as much to us how much they raise. We've yet to make sourdough pancakes though...for some reason. I will have to copy the recipe from the Rootsimples.

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  4. beautiful! I will have to check out the River Cottage book - my best friend loves it, too.

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    1. Matt is a big fan. I think it is one we will eventually purchase...I mean, I suppose the library will want their copy back eventually! :)

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  5. Wow, that's some nice looking bread. That fancy one with the square patches looks pretty awesome!

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    1. Cutting the dough is a fine art I have still yet to master. Matt is getting pretty good at it though. I never slice deep enough. They do look really cool though, don't they?

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