Who sez we ain’t got cultcha?

Bubble bubble toil and trouble

For over two weeks now I have been cultivating a sourdough starter. Fussy stuff, that sourdough, especially if you follow this woman’s recipes. (And really wasteful, too: I probably had to throw out 2/3 of the flour I actually used to make this thing. Which means I won’t be doing it often.) I have had hand-me-down sourdoughs, with some success. This one? Well, it was…fussy!

Terribly fussy. But, as ever, I’ll first follow an unfamiliar recipe exactly as written and then, should the results prove less than satisfactory, I’ll mess with it the second time around. The starter is fine. Not super sour; not ridiculously active. Unfortunately, I did not have the 14-18 hours hours she required for a substantial, 4x rise, so I did make do with 11 and a 2 1/2x. But the bread was pretty good. Dense, chewy, faintly stinky.

Anyone out there have loads of experience with sourdough? (I know about you, Nada…) Do you do wet starters or dry? Always use the same flour? Have you had one die on you? Is all this effort really worth it, especially when my usual bread fits in very well with my lifestyle, or is sourdough a “special” bread only? Its attractions to me are 1. it’s somewhat magical, just water and flour and 2. the bread lasts a wee bit longer than “regular” home-baked bread. So I am wondering where this bread will fit into my bread repertoire.

We had a tiny salad out of the garden last night (yea!), along with sage/garlic baked cranberry beans from last year’s harvest, and this bread, and local wine. We’ll be trying to eat a lot closer to home this season, and I will probably document the process here. (If you would like any of the recipes, please email me and I will gladly pass them on.)

9 responses to “Who sez we ain’t got cultcha?

  1. Usually I try making sourdough starters every Spring and always fail. This year I’m not eating bread at all for a while but as soon as I go back to it it will be good sourdough I want.

    Yours looks good and healthy – mine just die – I can’t keep houseplants alive either.

  2. Hi there. Here’s a couple of sites that might help with the bread, or at least educate and inspire you:
    http://www.foodiefarmgirl.blogspot.com, go to her sidebar to previous posts: food stuff and look for 10 tips to better bread. Or..she also participates in http://www.ayearofbread.earthandhearth.com which I find has interesting recipies and tips and yummy photos.

    My brother works at Arrowhead Vineyards run by Jim & Dan Nitz. I’m not sure they have an actual winery yet, but when they do it will be in Glenn, MI. My brother makes his own wine, which is pretty good, and had the opportunity to go to work for those guys, putting in all new vineyards and growing the grapes and all for them, so he jumped on it. He loves doing that; we grew up with our family growing grapes for Welch. My mom lives off Red Arrow Highway in Benton Township. I’m in Mobile, AL but almost feel we’re neighbors!

  3. Jane, I hope you’re feeling okay if you are swearing off bread! (Staff of life and all that.) I am glad to hear I am not the only crazy person making her own sourdough.

    And Jules, how very interesting. I am in Hagar Twp., Exit 4 to your mom’s Exit 1! I’ve heard that most grape growers around her sold to Welch’s. Of course I think what your brother is doing is much more socially valuable than Welch’s… I have also heard that Two Buck Chuck’s/Trader Joe’s is also putting in a vineyard somewhere between South Haven and Glenn. So the next time you come home from Alabama, let me know!

  4. El,

    I use unbleached white bread flour for the starter. I’ve been using the same starter for 5 or more years – can’t remember. I used to follow the Ed Wood Classic Sourdough book method but I’ve changed from that.

    I use a wet starter. Have tried a dry starter but you probably need to bake more frequently – daily – for it to work. I’d heard you could freeze it but this dry starter freeze thing didn’t work for me. That one died!

    My technique has evolved to the 11 hour activate + 2 x rise. I activate it during the day and let it do it’s first rise overnight. Then punch down for rise #2. My recent baking trick is the cast- iron pot/super hot oven( from the no-knead bread). The slow overnight rise gives you a blistery crust and makes it faintly sour. The sweat + bake makes it crunchy. YUM!

    I love it. I love the process… but I could be insane because I recently purchased a hand cranked grain mill….

  5. OMG, Nada, I covet this one hand mill but geez it’s something like $700US. I would love to have things like freshly-ground rice for cereal, etc. but I think that dream is going to be on hold for a while. But you can’t beat freshly-milled flour. Luckily, I know a grower who also has a mill. So I will just have to keep buying my milled rice from the food co-op. Oh well.

    Thanks for the how-tos, too. I’m kind of feeling my way through it now that I have the starters going (one dry and one wet). I have a loaf doing its last rise now from the dry starter. And it may go into the dutch oven.

  6. A local grain farmer with a mill….now that’s something to covet!

    I forgot to say that I use spelt flour + some wholemeal flour when making the bread but just the unbleached white for the starter prep. To use spelt now I will have to buy grain + mill it.

    My grandmother made bread using a dry starter all her life. She and a neighbour alternated baking days so the starter was used everyday. I’ve eaten Poliane’s bread in Paris which was beautiful but I think my grandmother’s bread was better 😉

    If you have any tips about the dry starter would love to hear them. Never asked my grandma – sadly. You may be interested in australian bread geeks, check out http://sourdough.com.au/ – professional of course!

  7. the Contrary Goddess

    I don’t have a sourdough starter now (mores the pity). And I’ve never captured my own (I think captured is more in the spirit that “made”). I hate fussy multi-step recipes and stuff.

    But I have baked a hhhmmpph load of sourdough bread before — I did it for the farmer’s market one year so was baking 30 to 50 pounds of dough every week for some time. The book that helped the most was The Bread Builders. I did 100% whole wheat, btw, and I had bought an excellent culture from somewhere — very sour yet active. I stored it from week to week sort of between wet and dry (if I’m understanding what you are talking about there).

    Wish I still had that starter but alas, it died in a fridge crash (along with my prized buttermilk culture that I did catch — and haven’t caught since in TWO years!)

  8. Nada, last time I was in Paris I brought back a boule from Poliane’s and got stopped at customs. I pleaded “but it’s Poliane’s” and another agent said “let her through that’s like gold in that bag.” But I can just imagine your grandmother’s bread. Between the gardening and sourdough stories, you are making me want to pull up stakes and move down there!! And sadly, the grower/mill is at least in my state, but I wouldn’t exactly call them “local” as they’re 2 hours away. Luckily, we have friends in the next town over so we just combine trips.

    And CG, I am LOVING the term “capture.” I will use it from now on. The dry starter vs. wet? Same starter, it’s just that the dry one has been jiggered to add more flour to it. Rose Levy Beranbaum calls them “stiff” and “liquid”, technically. I think the wet(ter) one will keep better if you are a slacker and aren’t using it weekly.

    I’m also familiar with The Bread Builders. I’ve helped out on building 2 brick (masonry) ovens, all back when I was a city slicker. We have plans to build one at my kid’s school this upcoming fall. My husband is all for building one on this place as he loves to see new projects, but I am being a killjoy by saying we need a new roof on one outbuilding and then fencing for our potential animals before we ever think about building one of those things. Did you guys build one, CG? With that lovely wood oven you have, though, I wouldn’t think you’d “need” one. But it might keep your kitchen more cool in the summer!

  9. theextremegardener

    I had a whole grains bread bakery many years ago and captured some yeast from the air in the bakery. That was about 25 years ago, and I still use it at least once every two weeks. It has been fed only freshly ground organic hard wheat and spring or well water in all that time. I keep it wet.
    Working with sourdough is great because it is so forgiving time-wise, unlike commercial yeast. You can feed it sometime the day or night before, mix the actual dough whenever in the morning (even into early afternoon), and loaf it later in the day when you get to it. Of course the timing has an effect on flavor…

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