One baking threshold I have not crossed is sourdough. Peter Reinhart gives detailed instructions for developing a starter in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but I’m intimidated by what seems like a detailed feeding schedule. Also, I’m put off by the idea of throwing away half the developing mixture several days in a row. Unfortunately, I’m getting the idea that there’s no getting around either of these issues. I scanned through the method in The King Arthur Flour’s Bakers Companion, and it was very similar to Reinhart’s.
Instead of following the seemingly complex no-yeast method for making sourdough starter, I tried a shortcut method that is essentially a dilute bread mixture, including commercial yeast. This is easy – just mix up the ingredients (I skipped the vitamin C) and leave it overnight. The longer you leave it, the more sourdoughy your bread will be.
The problem is that I never got a strong sourdough flavor from the bread I made with this mixture. I tried the recipe that goes with the starter, and it made some really tasty bread, but I had to use my imagination to taste any sourdough flavor. I tried it shortly after making the starter, and a few weeks later, and there was very little difference.
Trying to determine if the problem was the starter or the bread recipe, I also used my starter with Reinhart’s basic sourdough bread recipe. Same result – very little sourdough flavor, although otherwise a very nice loaf of bread. I’m visiting my mom next week and she usually keeps some sourdough starter in the fridge, which I’m almost sure is made with commercial yeast, so I might try to make a loaf of bread with that and see how sour it tastes. If it still has only very weak (if any) sourdough flavor, I’m going to have to admit that I need to do a real sourdough starter, without using commercial yeast.
Has anyone tried this? Is it easier than I’m making it out to be? I’m worried less about making the starter than I am about taking care of it afterwards. It sounds complicated and rigid, and I’m not sure I’m ready for the commitment. On the other hand, I want super tasty homemade sourdough bread!
One year ago: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese. Possibly my favorite meal ever. Except for sushi.
Proto-Dough (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)
Makes about 1 quart
1⅔ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
½ 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
2 cups warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)
Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Place 2 cups warm water in large clean sealable container. Add dry ingredients; whisk vigorously to combine. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hours.
Alton Brown’s tips for using proto-dough:
Afer 24 hours, you can use the proto-dough in a recipe. Or you can develop with flavor by adding a cup each of warm water and bread flour, letting it stand, uncovered, at room temperature until foamy (about 2 hours) and stashing it, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. An alcohol-rich liquid will rise to the surface every few days; just whisk it back in. “Feed” the proto-dough every time you take some to use in a recipe. For every cup taken add a cup each of water and bread flour, let foam, and return to the fridge. Proto-dough can last for years, as long as you keep taking and feeding. To use proto-dough in a regulr yeast recipe, replace the dry yeast and every cup of liquid (including dissolving liquid) with ½ cup of proto-dough, 5 ounces liquid, and ½ teaspoon instant yeast.
Country-Style Sourdough Bread (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)
AB note: The longer you wait to use the proto-dough, the tangier the bread will be.
Makes 2 loaves
1 cup warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)
¾ cup Proto-Dough
¼ cup buttermilk
¾ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3⅓ cups (or more) bread flour, divided
2 teaspoons salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.
Using dough hook, mix in 1⅓ cups flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten. Divide in half. Shape each half into 4×8-inch rectangle. Make 1 shallow lengthwise slash down each.
Sprinkle large rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Space loaves on sheet 3 inches apart. Dust tops with flour. Cover with plastic; let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Place 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan on bottom of oven. Position rack at lowest level of oven; preheat to 500F. Place bread in oven. Quickly pour ½ cup water into metal pan; close oven door. Bake 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water to pan. Quickly close door; reduce oven temperature to 425F. Bake loaves until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.