Thursday, January 27, 2022

Making Sourdough Work For Me


As an aspiring sourdough bread baker, I am also a frustrated baker. Sourdough feels tricky to me mainly because it does not do the same thing every time and after flat loaves coming out of the oven, it is hard to stay motivated to continue! 

However, my family and I love fresh, warm, artisan sourdough and it is not cheap at the grocery store. After trying to be a sourdough purist, killing my starter, trying a dry starter, quitting and finally starting over again. I think we are finally on a path that feels sustainable and successful enough to press on!

A couple of months ago, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for some starter if anyone had any and I was immediately given three starters. This in itself felt a bit overwhelming because keeping a starter alive and happy has felt like keeping a human alive to me in the past and this was three of them! Then at Christmas, we were given an additional starter - so, we have an abundance of starter right now! 

In my frustration with sourdough, I turned to the no-knead dutch oven bread recipes that flood blogs and articles. The bread is consistently more successful but in my opinion, somewhat lacking in the flavor we so enjoy from sourdough.

(Insert lightbulb over my head!) Finally I had a thought that perhaps I could use a no-knead recipe which has consistent results but substitute sourdough starter for some of the water called for in the recipe to impart flavor. This makes it sort of a hybrid bread because it contains a very tiny amount of yeast and also a good portion of sourdough starter. 

This has proven to be a good choice for us, it has worked for both Rachel and myself, is a better flavor bread and we have also tweaked the timing of the mixing/baking to work for us and that has been great as well. We have made this several times with almost the exact same result each time. Whereas sourdough is highly affected by weather - temperature and humidity, this hybrid recipe seems to be less so.

I know what you are going to say - I've heard so many people say sourdough is so easy once you get the hang of it. And perhaps that is true for them, but it has not proven true for me - kind of like the time I grew the most amazing zinnias from starters and have not had much success in over a decade since then but everyone claims they are the easiest flowers to grow. In some ways, I know it is my circumstances which make the difference - I don't really want to figure out and calculate each time based on humidity, temperature, etc. I want to mix the same recipe each time and have the bread turn out the same each time. 

So here is what is working for me!

-sourdough starters are kept in the fridge and fed about every 5 days, we have three jars and three different kinds of lids and there seems to be no difference in any of them - one is plastic wrap, one fabric and one has a lid screwed on. 

-I start with this bread recipe and then substitute 3/4 c. starter for half of the water. Once I warmed the starter that I poured out so it would not kill the yeast but the other times we have just used it cold and it has not seemed to matter. Baking instructions we use are as written in the linked recipe.

-we have mixed our dough in the morning right around breakfast time, covered it with a towel and moved it away from the window to rise/rest. We usually bake around dinner time in the evening. 

-after mixing our dough, I feed the starters and put them back in the fridge. I usually use some from each one (I know, I should just combine them, but they each have kind of a cool story: one is from Hawaii, two from San Francisco from different friends) so that they naturally have some starter discarded before feeding and replacing in the fridge. 

We live on the coast, so our weather is considerably more moderate than other places, so keep that in mind if this doesn't sound like it would work for you!

This has felt like the best of both worlds - consistent bread with a yummy sourdough flavor. I hope it continues to work and I'm proud of the fact that I'm willing to say this is the way that works for me and pressing on to find a way that does feel doable. Perhaps this will encourage you in some endeavor that you desire but doesn't seem to be working to see how it can be adapted to fit your life and goals!

1 comment:

Mom said...

Good for you for persevering! I'm glad you've come up with a recipe/method that works for your circumstances and tastes. :)