My sourdough culture turned three last November and I’m so happy that after three years I have made countless loaves with it and that with regular (and sometimes not so regular) feedings it is still alive and kicking. There was a time before its birth that I thought I would probably never make sourdough bread.
I had tried to develop a sourdough culture once or twice with poor results, mostly due to incomprehensive instructions. I would console myself that I really didn’t like San Francesco Sourdough that much anyway, so why would I want to maintain a culture to make bread that I wasn’t crazy about? And besides, didn't sourdough bread take hours and hours to rise? Little did I know then that sourdough bread made at home bears little resemblance to store bought sourdough, and that with the addition of commercial yeast the rising time wasn't more than bread made without a starter. It wasn’t until I purchased The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and read the lengthy and informative chapter on sourdough once or twice that I felt I had the confidence to try again - after all I really really wanted to make a bread with yeast that I cultured by simply allowing water and flour to sit for a few days. I set out my bowl of bait and hoped that this simple mixture of flour and water would capture the yeast around me. I watched it closely for the first few days for any sign that it had gone bad. Everything so far seemed to aim toward success; the scent of paint, the small bubbles forming on top, and the absence of colour that would indicate spoilage. I think it was on the third day that my culture more than doubled and I was so thrilled I felt as if I had actually given birth to a child that I would love forever. But it wasn’t done yet, I still had to continue feeding this lovely mass for a least a few more days. On the fifth day something had terribly gone wrong, or so I thought, because when I checked on it, it just wasn't as active as it had been the day before, even though I had fed it, there was no sign of life whatsoever. What had gone wrong!? I quickly went to Rose’s blog and issued an S.O.S (save our sourdough). She advised, "each sourdough seems to have a mind of its own so be patient and it surely will develop as it should", so, relieved, I continued feeding it and sure enough just one day later it was active again, it was so active that the first name that popped in my head to call it was Casanova. I thought that was pretty funny at the time but when I told my daughter she just looked at me and said, “that’s gross Mom”. My starter has remained nameless ever since. My baby may not be referred to by a proper name but it always responds enthusiastically to feedings. Sometimes I wonder if with all the feedings it has received if any molecules from the original batch are still present.
Nonetheless, I have made many loaves of bread with my reliable little starter and some have become favourites, but my all time favourite is the Sourdough Bread recipe from The Best of Better Baking.com by Marcy Goldman & Yvan Huneault. It is the first recipe I tried with my new starter and the one I make the most. It is truly exceptional bread. This recipe has some commercial yeast in it, but I’ve cut down the amount I use by half with very good results. I have even made it omitting the commercial yeast altogether - it just takes a little longer to rise and produces a slightly more sour loaf. I highly recommend this bread.
Sourdough Bread from The Best of Better Baking.com by Marcy Goldman & Yvan Huneault
1½ cups liquid white sourdough starter at room temperature and recently refreshed
1½ cups water
2 teaspoons (I use 1 teaspoon)
½ tsp. malt powder or packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. semolina (optional)
4 to 5 cups bread flour
In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir down the starter to deflate it. Stir in the water, yeast, malt powder or brown sugar, granulated sugar, olive oil, semolina if using, and 4 cups of the flour. Mix to make a soft mass. Let rest for 10 to 12 minutes, add the salt and gradually add more flour as required to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and form it into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until almost doubled.
Gently deflate the dough. Spray the top with nonstick cooking spray and return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until puffy and 75 to 80 percent larger in volume. Gently deflate the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a large ball. Place it on the prepared baking sheet and spray the dough with non-stick cooking spray. Cover with plastic and let the dough rise for 2 to 4 hours, or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Using a sharp knife make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes 1½ inches apart on the top of the loaf. With a spray bottle mist the dough with water and then dust it with flour. Place in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 450°F. Throw in ½ cup of ice cubes on a shallow tray placed on the oven floor. Bake for 10 minutes then lower the heat to 400°F. Bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, or until the loaf is well browned. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Instead or making one large loaf divide the dough in 2 or 3 pieces and form into a long loaf.
Note: You can omit the yeast, but rising time will be longer.