Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sourdough Bread

Baking sourdough bread is one of my personal joys. It is delightful to nurture yeast to make any sort of bread, but there is something especially wholesome about making sourdough. It takes longer to make a loaf of sourdough, true, but it takes precious little effort. Most of the time that goes into making this bread is simply waiting for the yeast, the wild yeast that you nurtured and kept alive in starter form, the wild yeast harvested from the air in your kitchen, wild yeast that has none of the chemical processing that commercial yeast hast, the wild sourdough yeast that your body is already familiar with and for most people is easier to digest; most of the time spent in making a loaf of sourdough is spent waiting for that yeast to grow. I usually make my dough up Saturday mornings and leave it to rise while I walk to the local farmer's market. When I get home after lunch it is ready for the next stage of development.

Sourdough has a different smell and a different texture to breads made with commercial yeast. Making sourdough bread begins with a starter. You can make your own starter, but it is best to receive some from a friend. The yeast in sourdough is very sociable. You can tell that it likes being around human activity by the way it reacts by having someone pottering away near by. The older the starter, the more yeast live within it and the better the bread will taste. Starters can be made and maintained with several different sorts of flour (mine is 100% rye). It's basically a fermented paste of flour and watter, kept under certain conditions, that captures wild yeast from the air.

This is the basic element that all sourdough (true sourdough) share. What happens next can be as varied as the person who bakes the bread. This is such a long standing and traditional method of bread making that there is scarcely a wrong way to bake sourdough bread.

If you are interested in baking with sourdough, I recommend Nigella Lawson's book, How to be a Domestic Goddess. It has a recipe for starting sourdough starter (in case none of your friends have any on the go) and a couple of basic bread recipes to make with it. After your starter is three months old you can leave out the commercial yeast entirely. The bread will take longer to rise, but it will taste a whole lot yummier.

I admit, I don't follow this recipe very much anymore; rather, I simply put in what feels right, or I follow one of my own recipes I've perfected over the year and a bit that my starter has been alive. But it's a great starting point. Also, I think the starter recipe calls for milk, but I remember I didn't put any in (if I remember correctly, there wasn't any milk in the house that day for some reason). That makes my starter 100% Vegan which is always a bonus when I have Vegan friends over.

On a side note, Nigella also has one of my most favorite recipes from that book online (although now I cannot eat any of the ingredients, life sure is a funny thing): Peanut Butter Squares . These taste fantastically good and far better than the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups she compares them too.

1 comment:

Josiane said...

I've got to try baking sourdough bread one day... Thanks for the book recommendation. Sadly, no one around me bakes bread, much less sourdough bread, so I'll have to make my own starter; but maybe I'll be the one who'll get to spread the love! I'm not even sure I'll find someone who'd be interested in getting some of my starter, but one never knows, and I'm looking forward to the day it may happen...