Something to wonder at

I made bread the other day. Two big, white, airy loaves, shaped like bakers' hats. They'd been stuffed into heavy bottomed soup pots, rising up in the living room in a parade of bottoms: carmine and orange, handles black.

They came out well, but almost disagreeably so. I'd been banking on sourdough; that's what they were supposed to be, according to the friend who gave me the starter. She'd gotten it from another friend, and had in turn grown enough to share her own and tucked it into the back of my fridge one day. I fed it and fed it and fed it and watered it a bit, and finally I had a fairly good sized hunk of my own. She'd checked me out some books, from the library, and I'd settled on a recipe for farmhouse style bread.

The recipe had promised crusty, earthy, pungent bread, but it hadn't turned out that way. It turned out more like Wonderbread, though I mean that in the best possible way.

It was good, very, very good, but it was not sour, not even in the most hinting of ways. I realized later the recipe wasn't to blame: We simply have mild yeast around here, my friend explained. And in fact, by the time the second loaf was nearly gone (in only a matter of days!), I was pretty much all in for this perfect sandwich 1950s-style bread. It made the lightest toast, and its sandwiches seemed to float around settling into lunch tins like clouds. Plus, I could divide the starter in two, I was informed, and add a bit of acetic acid or orange juice or cider vinegar to some, and develop a punchier strain. Then we could have Wonderbread, or sourdough, either one.

But before I get ahead of myself, I have a starter recipe for you to try. It comes from The Bread Bible, by Beth Henspergers, and it's pretty much a guarantee. It doesn't rely on wild yeast; instead it brings in commercial yeast and yogurt for a bit of a jump start, so it will be less mild than the wild one I inherited several weeks ago, and more reliable at the start. Eventually, I hope to have enough to share, but in the meantime, this will offer some advice on putting together your own. And of coures, I'll want to know how it goes.


adapted from The Bread Bible, by Beth Henspergers

2 cups lukewarn water (90 to 100 degrees F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast, or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, or 1/3 of a .06 ounce cake of fresh yeast*
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk, dry goat milk, or buttermilk powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 cups bread flour

Pour the warm water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle the yeast,* sugar, and milk powder over the surface of the warm water. Stir with a large whisk to dissolve. Stir in the yogurt, then add the flour and beat until well blended. Transfer to a glass jar, ceramic crock, or plastic container; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a double thickness of cheesecloth.

Let stand at warm room temperature for at least 48 hours, whisking the mixture 2 times each day, or up to 4 days depending on how sour you wish the starter. It will be bubbly and begin to ferment. A clear liquid will form on top; stir it back in. On the fourth day, feed with 1/4 cup water and 1/3 cup flour, let stand overnight, then store in the refirgerator, loosely covered. Feed the starter every 2 weeks with equal parts flour and water.

Bring starter to room temperature before using. Remove the amount of starter needed for the sourdough bread recipe. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water to the remaining starter, stirring to incorporate. Let stand at room temperature for 1 day to begin fermenting again, then refrigerate. The starter improves with age. If a pinkish color or strong aroma develops, indicating undesirable airborne pathogens, discard immediately and start anew (this is unlikely, but something to be very careful of).

*Alternatively, you could not add yeast, and wait to see what strains develop on their own. They will; wild yeast is everywhere, it just requires a bit of patience sometimes.


Anonymous said...

Can I make this with any kind of bread flour? i.e. not white bread flour?


Elspeth said...

i have tried with a lot of different variations, and you can definitely DO it with anything, it's just that different ratios change the texture a bit. obviously, the more whole wheat the denser the bread gets, but it is still delicious, so if i were you i'd give it a whirl.

all the best,


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