Sourdough

Sourdough By Mary Jo Hudson, Regular Contributor
 
Who would think that in the midst of a pandemic there would be a shortage of yeast?  As far as I knew, bread baking, or baking food that require yeast was becoming an archaic art.  In the days of bare shelves, I asked my husband to pick up a jar of yeast when he went to the store.  He was a faithful warrior and searched the aisles whenever he needed to go to the store.  None was to be found.  
 
It occurred to me that I could and should try my hand at sour dough. Years ago, I tried my hand at sour dough.  It was confusing and seemed a little wasteful in the beginning and then I took a break from making sour dough and I let my starter go.
 
But my recent efforts have been more successful.  When my niece inquired about starting a sour dough, I decided it was time to write about it.
 
Sour dough is a mixture of water and flour.  As the mixture sits and ferments, wild yeast spores from the flour and the air create the right home environment for the yeast to grow.  Once a ‘starter’ is developed, meaning the flour water mixture can act as a leavening, one never needs to buy yeast again.  
 
If you have ever read the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE series, you may recall that Ma regularly made bread.  She saved a little of the dough and fed it and kept it in a warm place to grow.  Then, she could use a portion of it to create the leavening for her next batch of bread.
 
There are some guidelines and tricks to it, though.  I’ll share with you what worked for me.  Most of my information came from these two teachers:
 
https://traditionalcookingschool.com/food-preparation/recipes/free-video-make-a-sourdough-starter-the-science-of-it/
 
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=jovial+sourdough+starter+
 
To start a sour dough, mix together ¼ cup warm water (about 100* F) and 3/8 cup of flour.    A glass bowl or jar works well because you can watch for the bubbles that indicate it is working. Cover.   Let it sit in a warm place.  I put mine in my oven with JUST the light on.  It was 90* in there.  I kept a measuring cup of water in there as well, which is what I used each time I added more flour and water.  Although I’m giving you measuring cup measurements, the greatest accuracy will be by weight.  If you have a kitchen scale, use it.  The Jovial address above gives all measurements in grams, which is what I used.
 
In 12 hours, repeat:  add 3/8 cup of flour and ¼ cup of water.  Mix it well.  Scrape down the sides of the container.  Leave it in a warm spot.
 
Twelve hours later, remove half the mixture and dispose of it. (The Pioneer Woman has a cracker recipe that uses the ‘dispose of’ quantity of sour dough, so it doesn’t really go to waste.)  Add 3/8 cup flour and ¼ cup warm water.  Mix.  Leave in a warm spot.
 
Every twelve hours, repeat this process of removing half; feeding the remainder with the  amount of flour and water given above.
 
On day 5, you can stop removing half of the mixture.  Just feed it morning and night and keep it in a warm spot.  The feeding can be just a tablespoon of flour and a little less of water.  It should develop lots of air bubbles.
 
You might want to put a rubber band around the outside of the container to mark the top of the dough level.  The mixture should bubble up and rise and then ‘fall’.  By scraping down the sides of the container well, marking the top of the dough when you have mixed it, you will see if the dough has risen and then fallen by any residue on the container walls.  Obviously, the mixture volume will increase.  I continued at this rate for about 2 weeks.
 
The evening before I want to make my first batch of bread, I make what is called a ‘levain’.  I mixed 2 Tbsp of starter (30 grams) with ½ cup water (120 grams), and 1 cup (130 grams) of flour.   Stir it well.  Cover and let it sit overnight.  In the morning it will be bubbly with lots of air holes in it.  
 
It is recommended that this be used for the leavening with ¼ tsp of dried yeast till the starter is really mature.  I did this the first few times I made bread with my starter.  I use a regular bread recipe and followed it.  Because the ‘levain’ is a liquid, you may need an additional tablespoon or two of flour.  Generally bread recipes give a range of flour needed.  It is likely you will need the full quantity of flour.
 
If you have never made bread before, the dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl without sticking.  If you are hand kneading, the dough should not stick to the surface on which you are kneading.  Those are signs there is sufficient flour incorporated.
 
Sour dough will take longer to rise than dry yeast.  Just plan for 3-5 hours of rising time, instead of 1 hour for the first rise.  I do like to let it rise a second time before shaping and a third time between shaping and baking.  Sour dough can rise in the refrigerator, too.  
 
The starter can be refrigerated if you only bake bread occasionally vs. every day.  Put a label on the container with the date it was last fed.  Once a week, take the sour dough out of the refrigerator and feed it a tablespoon or two of flour and slightly less water.  The sour dough is a living organism, so it needs to eat to stay alive.  I named mine, so I know when I need to feed my little guy.  
 
One word about flour.  Always when making yeast bread, I prefer bread flour.  It has a higher protein content than all purpose flour and gives a better result.  It’s a little more costly.  I would use all purpose flour for quick breads like baking powder biscuits or banana bread.  But for optimal results, bread flour is best for yeast products.
 
That said, we have learned that the gluten intolerant in our family can occasionally tolerate real wheat flour if it is the imported ‘00’ flour.  It can be purchased at a store that sells flour imported from Italy.
 
If bread baking has become something you do during the pandemic and shelter in place, maybe starting a sour dough would be a great experiment.  It takes time and effort to make and sustain living organisms.  Keep that in mind at the beginning.  If you grow tired of the experiment, just use up the starter in baking and be wiser for having tried it.

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