There is a right of passage in the Jewish religion known as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. When a young boy turns 13 he has a Bar Mitzvah and we say “Today you are a man.” For girls the age is 12 and it is called a Bat Mitzvah (we mature faster!). I feel that making sourdough bread for the first time is a right of passage for a baker. This was my virgin sourdough. Although I have created 29 other breads in this challenge, not until I reached the Basic Sourdough did I feel that I had the right to declare myself a bread baker. However, with my first sourdough under my belt, I am proud to shout, “Today I am a bread baker!”
If your bread knowledge is limited you may be wondering what all the fuss is about? What exactly is sourdough bread is and what makes it so special? As Peter Reinhart says, “What we call sourdough bread should more correctly be called wild-yeast breads as it is natural wild yeast that leavens the loaf and not all wild yeast breads taste sour. By wild yeast we are referring not to commercial yeast that you buy in the supermarket, but a homemade starter, which begins with flour and water. As this mixture sits at room temperature it picks up natural yeast spores from the air and the mixture begins to ferment and a wild yeast starter is formed. A portion of this starter is used in the making of sourdough bread and this starter dough acts as the leavener in the dough so you do not have to use any commercial yeast.
This is a very rudimentary explanation of what sourdough is. If you are the type that needs a deeper scientific explanation (and you know who you are) check out this web page on the Bread Baker’s Forum. This wild yeast starter takes about 6 days to make and then you can tuck it in the fridge and basically ignore it, except for a weekly feeding where you add more flour and water to it to refresh it. When you’re ready to make sourdough bread, just scoop out some starter and go. Starters can live and thrive for years. In fact they get better with age (just like women!). Many people even name their starters.
I have named mine Phyl, in honour of a fellow BBA baker. With his guidance and detailed instructions, I made my own starter. He has idiot proof instructions on his web site. I followed the steps, day by day. When I arrived at day 4, Phyl said to wait until the starter doubles in volume before proceeding. He said it may take quite a while. By the next day mine still had not doubled. I was convinced it was no good and e-mailed Phyl for advice, asking him if I should chuck it out and start again. He advised me to goose it with a tablespoon of rye flour and see what happens. Sure enough it doubled within two hours. Here is a picture of “Phyl”. He is 4 months old now.
Be sure to use a large enough container to allow the starter to grow and thrive. If you don’t you will end up with starter all over the inside walls of your fridge when it outgrows it’s home.
To make the sourdough bread 2/3 of a cup of the starter are mixed with bread flour and water. This is then left on the counter for several hours until it doubles.
Once it has doubled it, into the fridge it goes overnight to allow further good flavours to develop. The next day, this stage 2 starter is mixed with more flour (I used 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 high gluten bread flour), salt and water. You will notice that commercial yeast has not been added at any point. Phyl (my wild yeast starter) is going to do all the heavy leavening. This is a very sticky dough.
Since today is the day I have declared myself a bread baker, I decided to be even more authentic and knead by hand. I figured out how to add video to my blog, so here is a short video of me kneading by hand. Please ignore the music in the background. It is my son’s “Jazz and Jam” toy and it is the most annoying toy in the world.
Inspired by a sourdough bread I recently ate on my trip to Jerusalem, I added dried blueberries and toasted pecans to my bread. Additions are best kneaded in during the last 2 minutes of kneading so that they do not get too crushed.
The dough is set aside to rise for about 2 hours until doubled. Then it is divided in half and shaped into boules (balls) or batards (ovals). The boules are placed into bannetons (special baskets) or a stainless steel bowl. lined with an oiled and well floured cloth, for their final proofing. The batards are placed on a stiff cotton or canvas cloth with the sides built up around the dough so that the oval shape holds and does not flatten. I made one boule and one batard. After about 3 more hours the loaves had finished their final rise and were ready for the oven.
The loaves are baked on a baking stone in a hot (500 degree F) oven for about 20 minutes.
I had to slice into the bread before the recommended 45 minute cooling waiting period was up because someone was impatient.
The sliced bread was quite beautiful studded with pecans and blueberries.
The bread was even better the next day with butter for breakfast .