Home All #RealityWednesday: Adventures in Sourdough

#RealityWednesday: Adventures in Sourdough

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Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 - The Dough | Jane Boursaw Photo
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My well-worn, duct-taped copy of "Laurel's Cookbook" | Jane Boursaw Photo
My well-worn, duct-taped copy of “Laurel’s Cookbook” | Jane Boursaw Photo

I used to make bread all the time. My go-to guide for all things breadmaking was “Laurel’s Kitchen,” published in 1976. Out of everything in that book, what I love most is when she writes about slipping a freshly-baked and wrapped loaf of bread under someone’s chair at a meeting. Making home-made bread and surprising some delighted soul with it has to be right up there in the essentials of sainthood.

But along came kids, work, house, mortgage, liver transplant, and on and on. Somewhere along the way, my bread-baking got relegated to the proverbial backburner. So I decided 2016 is my year to get back to bread-baking. Especially when bread – the locally-made good kind – is upwards of eight bucks a loaf! Knowing what goes into a loaf, they totally deserve it, but I can’t afford it.

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Plus, there’s just something about the artistry in making a good loaf of bread. The mixing, coaxing the yeast to bubble, kneading the plump dough, shaping it into a loaf, that lovely aroma while it’s baking, and then the warm, fresh loaf as it comes out of the oven. You can’t wait to slice into it and see what you’ve created with your own two hands. There’s nothing like it.

Remember that scene in “MASH,” where Charles Winchester leans close to the dying soldier to find out what’s going through his head as he drifts into the next world? “I smell bread,” says the soldier. Yup, that says it all.

One thing I’ve never mastered is the fine art of working with sourdough. Not one to be deterred by a challenge, I’ve spent the last week making sourdough starter, “feeding” it with flour and water every day, watching the bubbles finally form on the top, and then … making a spectacular failure of a loaf that not even the birds will touch.

If anyone can tell me where I’m going wrong with sourdough, I’d so appreciate it! I will not give up!

Here’s the sourdough starter on Day 5. Looks pretty good, yeah?

Adventures in Sourdough - The Starter | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough – The Starter | Jane Boursaw Photo

Here is the first loaf made with the sourdough starter. It doesn’t look TOO bad in the photo, but I can tell you, it tasted like a squishy, dense Saltine cracker. And the dough was not dough-like at all. It was more like the home-made playdough we used to make as kids out of salt and flour and water.

Adventures in Sourdough - The First Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 1 – The First Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo

Even the birds are questioning their life’s purpose when they look at this loaf. It’s like their monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “What is this? Do we eat it? Pray to it? Fear it?”

Adventures in Sourdough, Take 1 - Even the Birds Have Questions | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 1 – Even the Birds Have Questions | Jane Boursaw Photo

Here is Take 2 with the dough. It looks and behaves beautifully – like the best bread dough I’ve ever made. Soft, pliable, that coveted “baby’s behind” texture.

Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 - The Dough | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 – The Dough | Jane Boursaw Photo

But it doesn’t rise. Ok, maybe a little, but not plumping out of the top of the pan like my regular yeast dough. It does rise a little during the baking…

Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 - The "Risen" Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 – The “Risen” Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo

But there’s a giant hole in the side. We named this “The Submarine.”

Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 - The Baked Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 – The Baked Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo

It’s edible, but not quite there yet. I couldn’t charge eight bucks a loaf for this one.

Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 - The Baked Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo
Adventures in Sourdough, Take 2 – The Baked Loaf | Jane Boursaw Photo

Any tips or hints on this mystery called sourdough? Leave comments below!

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Jane: You’re on the right track. The starter looks good, but give it more time. The “goo” will get stronger as you feed it over time and will eventually be fighting its way out of bowls and jars with activity. With young starters I always add a tb of active dry yeast to give it a boost. These day I have two veteran starters going at all time; one for whole wheat, the other for white. I used to keep another spelt starter, but that was a bit more fragile.

    It looks like you may have under or over-proofed your dough. It’s also possible that your starter isn’t strong enough yet and reacted badly to the salt. Make sure to mix your ingredients separately from the salt, and only add the salt (dissolved in a 1/4 tb of water) after the dough has “autolyzed” for 30 minutes or so. This gives the yeast a chance to jump-start with the new flour before it meets the harsh salt.

    Your “submarine” may have been the result of aligning the seamed edge of dough with the side of the loaf pan. Generally, if you want to prevent blowouts, score the top of the dough just before it hits the oven.

    For a foolproof loaf you should try the no-knead method. The dough is much wetter, but no fuss – no muss. Plenty of online sources for that. http://breadtopia.com/sourdough-no-knead-bread/

    And remember, love the goo, respect the goo!

    Good luck,

  2. Thank you so much, Bill! I’m building my starter back up (that second loaf used 2 cups of starter!) and will incorporate your suggestions into the next loaf. By the way, for the first loaf, I used this recipe from Emeril:

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/basic-sourdough-bread-recipe.html

    And for the second loaf, I used this recipe, which includes milk, melted butter and a little sugar:

    http://www.food.com/recipe/basic-sourdough-bread-34753

  3. The problem I’ve always had is I just get sick of it and let it die. I don’t want to make bread all the time and then I forget to feed it. I had some of that Amish friendship bread stuff once and it almost killed me.

  4. Jane, it warms my heart to know that there are folks out there who are keeping an ancient tradition alive. One of the ways I’ve found to not only develop flavor but avoid over proofing is to use a cool, slow rise method with sourdough. It’s the one we use at the bakery when we are making our sourdough at Old Mission Multigrain. The only change you make in the process you’re currently using is to pop the shaped loaves in the frig for the second rise and allow it to do it’s thing over night. You might find it a workable solution and a fantastic flavor builder!!

  5. Sorry, Jane, no hints or tips except one: save me some bread! I love bread, but hands down, sourdough is my very fave. You have to have great unsalted creamy butter to spread on it, though.

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