Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sourdough Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

Let's start with a confession: Sometimes I eat bread with enough butter to give the president of the FDA nightmares.

No, wait, wrong confession. (And yes, I do start an alarming number of my posts with confessions.) My true confession is that several weeks (okay, possibly months--I lost track) ago, one of my dear friends emailed me asking if I had a good recipe for sourdough bread. "I have a great one," I said. "I'll post it next week." And this is where we get to the confession portion of this because you may have noticed that there has been no sourdough bread posted to this site. What you will not notice because you cannot notice such things (unless of course you are an alien life form that has equipment or body parts that do mind reading) is that I didn't even think about that bread. I completely and 100%-ly forgot about it. Until a few days ago. When it suddenly occurred to me as these things do.

So, Amber dear, this one's for you.

The very things that are cool about sour dough are the things that are so intimidating about it. 1) It's sour (although not always crazily so). 2) It requires no yeast as we know yeast (the stuff in the little packets at Walmart). 3) It lives. 4) You can leave it out on your counter for a long long time and it gets this kind of dirty-looking watery stuff on top and that doesn't phase you at all because it's supposed to be there and when you want to make bread, you just go mix that in and then bake with this stuff. Whee! We live on the edge, we sourdough lovers (also, we cannot seem to decide if sour dough is one word or two). Seriously, though, some people struggle with the whole process of making sourdough bread because the starter just seems too gross. To that I would challenge us to think of the sources of our food--sources like dirt, manure, decayed matter, and perhaps Monsanto. Such sources can seem a little sketchy (and one of them definitely is), but we still eat a whole lot of food that comes from those places. Sermon complete. Enjoy your sour dough/sourdough.

Alright, sourdough has several steps. They're easy peasy, but yes, there are several of them. Originally, I was going to make this several posts, but then I figured what the heck if people want to know how to make it they probably want all the info at once. You want it, you got it. You don't want it, just skip to the end for the recipe.

1) To make sour dough, you must first have a starter. You can order this online or get it from a friend or make your own by using a recipe such as this. If you make it homemade it's going to take about 10 days before you can use it. Also, as a note, sour dough improves with age, so the longer you have your starter, the better it gets.

2) The night before you want to make bread, take 1 C starter, 2 1/2 C flour, 2 C water.

3) Let it sit overnight. The next morning, it will be bubbly.

This is how it looked after a good many hours longer than a night.

Here it is after a good stir. This is how mine usually looks in the morning:

4) Put 1 C of this back in your starter jar. Don't forget this or your bread will come out edible, but a little wonky.

5) To the remaining mixture, add the rest of your ingredients.

6) Let rise.

7) Shape it into bread, rolls, bread bowls, or make pizza crust with it (we're cuckoo for sourdough pizza crust around here)

8) Let it rise in bread pan or whatever pan you're using. (If making pizza crust you'll just top it and put it in the oven.)

9) Bake for 45 minutes at 375.

10) I love it hot and thick with butter. Oh yes I do. After it's cooled it is a lovely lovely bread for a meat sandwich or with reuben or spinach dip or soup. I even like it with peanut butter and jelly, but maybe I'm strange.

Now a few tips for your sour dough:

1) You might want to put your starter in a plastic container. Why? Because, not to point the finger or anything, but sometimes we're clumsy and if you drop and break a glass sour dough starter that you've been using for, like, 20 years, you will be very very sad. Drop the plastic, maybe spill a little, no big deal. Your posterity will still be able to use your starter. I use an old, but clean, quart container that once housed yogurt (and I change it out every once and a while into a new container).

2) The starters can get contaminated. If this happens, you'll notice a pinkish film on the top or the watery bit that separates out will get pink. Pink is bad. Greenish, grayish, or yellowish is just fine. Also, the starter should smell sour, but once you've gotten used to the sour smell, you'll notice if it starts to smell a different and ickier kind of smell. If it turns pink or gets an off (again, not a sour, but a truly wrong smell) throw it out and start again. I'm sorry, but that's the only way.

3) Your starter will separate. You'll get watery stuff on the top that is greenish (usually from use of some whole wheat), grayish or yellowish. This is called, charmingly enough, hooch. I have a very scientific theory that this is where alcoholic beverages got the nickname 'hooch' because sour dough hooch--I'm betting is alcoholic. (Note: I have not, personally, tested this theory.) It is, after all, a fermented grain. And we all know what people do with fermented grains. Anyway, do not drink it. If you are inclined to drink it, you have a serious serious problem (even more serious than normal alcoholics who sneak the fairly pure looking rubbing alcohol, as this is greenish gray and sour smelling) and should seek counseling. Amen. Just mix it in with the rest of the starter (Note: Any alcohol will cook off in the cooking process; don't worry.) and use the starter. If you start to get a lot of hooch at the top of your starter, it's still fine, but if you wish you can pour a bit of it off and mix the rest in. Here's a picture of hooch with starter for the education of all:

4) I've tried 100% whole wheat sour dough and I don't really love it. (oh dear, there's another confession; what will the president of the FDA dream tonight) I do, however, add about 2 C (or about 10% whole wheat to my starter). This gives me a loaf that tastes like a standard loaf of white sour dough with a bit of extra nutrition. You can add more if you wish and see how you like it, but it might start to taste less authentic.

5) This can sit on the counter for weeks, but if it's going to be very long between uses, put it in the fridge. It'll stay good for approximately 70,000 years in there, or maybe a little less. Truth is, I don't really know. I've left mine for a couple of months and it's always been great when I come back to it.

6) If you need more starter, add flour and water in equal amounts to the starter you already have and mix it in (lumps are fine). You just need a bit of starter to get it going.

7) Sour dough likes the open air, but I generally store it with the lid on securely. I don't want contaminants, bugs, or cats floating into it. It gets enough oxygen to keep living even with the lid on. That said, when I first replenish my starter (with flour and water--see #6) I do generally leave it open for a few hours or a day to give it a nice breath. I don't leave it completely open, because heaven only knows what would land in it; I just set the lid on it and leave a small crack.

8) It doesn't like metal. Supposedly, lots of things that grow don't (yogurt, Amish friendship bread, stuff like that). Why? Because something terrible will happen? Duh. And also, per the highly reputable source of random people who give answers on the internet (you know, like myself right now), the reason is 2-fold. One is that some types of metal have mild anti-bacterial qualities and could thereby destroy some of the micro-organisms necessary for the sourdough to work. Two is that the acid from the starter can, over time, ruin or uglify your metal if allowed to sit in it. If you stir or mix your starter with/in metal, I expect you'll be fine, but don't store the starter in metal (like that old pewter beer mug you were going to use, okay).

Sour Dough Bread
makes 3 loaves or 5-6 pizza crusts
Prep time: 30 minutes
Wait time: 1 night + 2 hours + 1 hour = 15 hours. This can be stretched out if that's actually more convenient for you.
Cook time: 45 minutes
Cost: .50/loaf
(starter: nearly free--let's say: .03, flour: 1.30-1.50, oil: .02, sugar: .02)

The night before, mix in large bowl:

1 C sourdough starter
2 C lukewarm water
2 1/2 C flour

The morning of (or afternoon or whenever the heck you get to it):

*Return 1 C of the stuff in the large bowl to your starter.

Then mix:
1 1/2 C water
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp oil

To this add:
10-12 C flour, but good heavens don't do it all at once.

I start with 2 C of whole wheat flour and mix. Then I begin adding white flour in 2 C increments until it's stiff enough to knead. Take it out of the bowl and knead it, adding more flour as necessary until you get a nice big ball of dough. (For tips on kneading, have a look here. Seriously, it's therapeutic and great for your triceps. Give it a try.)

Let rise until doubled. Sometimes sourdough is slower than regular yeast doughs at rising. I noticed this at first with my dough. Now that the starter is older, however, it rises up nearly as quickly as a yeast bread. My rise time is usually about 2 hours. However, you can let it go longer if you need to. Just punch it on down when you're ready for it.

[Note: If making pizza crusts, divide it into 5-6 blobs, and roll them out into round pizzas. Then top and bake as you otherwise would. No second rise is needed. (Note: I usually make the equivalent of 3-4 pizzas and then make a loaf of bread with the leftover dough.)]

When ready, punch it down and divide into three blobs. Grease 3 bread pans and put the blobs in them in a loaf-like sort of blob. (Alternately, you can form it into 3 rounds and cook it on a stone or a greased cookie sheet.) Allow to rise for another hour or so. Allow to bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 180-190.

Have a slice hot. With plenty of butter (not margarine, for all that is right in this world). You won't regret it.



  1. Thanks, Jean! I am going to try it out tonight. You are AWESOME!

  2. So I have to confess that I really hate sourdough, and thinking about "feeding" a starter doesn't help, either. But your opening line made me laugh! He would surely have nightmares!

  3. I should eat raw butter to really get his goat.



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