02 January 2011

Sourdough is Hard, Let's Go Shopping

My sourdough starter decided it was mature enough to enlist in the bread-making army a few days ago. For a fresh recruit, it didn't do a bad job. Now, sourdough starters are hard work. Not in a prison sentence, manual labor kind of way; it is more like taking care of a small child for the first week. You have to stir it a few times a day, feed it every few days, and keep a careful eye on it. It took about 8 days to go from a small pile of flour and pineapple juice to a mother starter that now sits in my fridge, to be picked apart and used in any future sourdough breads.
On top of that first week of twice-a-day checking, the bread involves much more waiting than any of the other loaves. I went with two recipes - San Francisco Sourdough (fitting) and 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough. Both were purist - that is, they contained no yeast beyond what I captured in the air for my starter. This meant making a bread-specific starter [few minutes of mixing, 6-8 hours of waiting], making the dough itself [few minutes of mixing, 40 minutes of stretch-and-fold, 2-3 hours rising that night], and letting it rise yet again before the baking [4 hours of rising]. I can't imagine cooking this bread having to work that day.
Going for the purist version, especially for my first sourdough, was probably a mistake. The San Francisco loaf did not rise the least in the oven and I undercooked it - it became a somewhat doughy, very dense mass of sourdough. Still tasty, mind you, but nothing like the lean bread in airiness. Next time I may have to add in some instant yeast after the starter to get those pockets a-forming. The Whole Wheat fared much better, as evidenced by the photo above. Neither loaf really had much sourdough tang; I will assume this is due to my starter being fresh.
 Now that I have the starter, I can try some fancier recipes without worrying about subbing in instant yeast for the starter - Pain au Levain might come next, or possibly even a panettone-based recipe (though the one in my book needs 12-16 hours to rise, which would be difficult to fit into any schedule).

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