Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Alt Sourdough Technique

Typical sourdough starter has many fine qualities, not the least of which is that it holds out the promise of becoming something that you can pass on to your kids, who can then pass it on to their kids so that 100 years from now your descendants can direct slavebots to make sourdough bread from a culture begun by you. But as thrilling as the prospect of becoming the progenitor of a such a warm and fuzzy family tradition might be, people like me think sourdough starter is a pain in the neck.

If you leave it out, you must feed it or it dies. If you freeze it, you have to remember to thaw it before you use it and make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to resuscitate it in case there has been a big die off of yeast and bacteria while the thing was in the freezer. But for selectively lazy folks like me, the biggest pain from traditional starter comes from having to keep it around: I can't be bothered, it's just too much to think about.

Yet I really like sour bread. So after a few years of poking around for a substitute, I finally found an alternative method of producing sourdough that does not require that I keep starter around.

Honestly, my method is not any easier than breaking off a lump of starter and mixing it into a new batch of dough. Neither is it any faster; in fact, it takes longer. Also, I imagine that sourdough starter purists would argue that my method is inferior because, unlike a traditional starter in which the microflora begin to represent the yeast and bacteria that are specific to one's home and geographic location, my method mostly reproduces the yeast and bacteria that are initially present in the flour at the onset of the process. But if my bread lacks terroir because it does not contain local species of yeast and acteobacteria, I take solace in the fact unless someone uses flour produced from grain near his home, his bread isn't going to have much more "local flavor" than mine anyway.

Considerations of ease, speed and potential opinions of terroirists (sic) aside, my method does produce a nice sour-flavored bread and it frees me up from having to be responsible for the health and well-being of yet another living thing that, unlike my kids and dog, cannot so much as offer the hope that it will return the favor by pushing me around the nursing home once in a while.

The method takes three days and will produce enough "starter" for one big loaf of bread. I'd like to say that I invented this method, but I cannot believe that I'm the first person to come up with this because it's just too logical.

Try to use organic flour. Since organic flour has never been treated with fungicide, it will have more yeast.

Day 1/ Hour 0
Mix 6 ounces/168g (by weight) coarse organic rye flour with 7 ounces/ 196g/196cc of water. Cover and let sit 24 hours.

Day 2/Hour 24
Add 6 ounces/168g of white bread flour and 7 ounces of water. Cover and let sit 24 hours.

Day 3/Hour 48
By now the mixture should be full of bubbles (See photo below right) indicating that the yeast and bacteria have grown. Taste the mixture, it should taste sour.

Now you can use this mixture to build a large hearth bread by adding flour, water and salt to it. There should be enough yeast in the mix to leaven the bread but it can't hurt -and it won't alter the taste- to toss in a bit of instant yeast to cover your er, ah, ego.

bread flour 20 ounces/ 560g
water 10 ounces/ 280g/cc
salt 0.7 ounces/19-20g
yeast, instant Big Pinch, about 3g


Kevin said...

I have a recurring Outlook appointment to feed my sourdough.{g}

I understand your comment about not using local flour, and, in fact, I bought my original starter from King Arthur about three years ago. Nevertheless, during the first six months I worked with it I detected a distinct change in the flavor of the bread over time. It became more sour and more milk-like.

I put this down to local yeast and bacteria taking over from the original critters in the starter. Further, I suspect that although the flour certainly brings its own fauna to the game such fauna can't really compete with the well-nurtured and vigorous yeast and bacteria in my starter.

Tags said...

Bob, have you ever tried bread by the guy in Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential known as "Adam Last Name Unknown?" He adds grape skins and other organic matter to "feed the bitch."

That chapter makes me want to set up a laboratory just to make bread.

Bob del Grosso said...

Adding grape skins adds yeast and sugar. Not a bad thing to do, but messy and not strictly necessary to get the job done -which I think was one of the points that Bourdain was trying to make with that story.

Bob del Grosso said...

I'm sure you are correct: your starter has many more yeast and bacteria cells per unit mass than any flour from a bag.

Linda said...

I have unknown starter. It came from a friend whose daughter-in-law, while temporarily managing a local B&B, was sent the starter by a customer from California who had been making the bread for quite some time. I just gave some to a friend who will be cooking for a scientific expedition in Greenland over the next few months. Ah, Tales of a Sourdough starter....