Sourdough from Scratch

Inspired by the Netflix documentary “Cooked,” featuring Michael Pollan, this week I’m on a bread-making jag.

In this gorgeously filmed series, Pollen apprentices himself to masters in the cooking arts and learns how the classical elements fire, water, air and earth transform nature into food.

The episode titled “Air” includes visits to Morocco, food laboratories and master bakers to unlock the secrets of gluten, sourdough, and the art of baking bread.

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As my husband will attest, the results of my bread-making have been mixed, but this time, infused with the Pollan spirit, I know I can do it! Sourdough from scratch. No packaged yeast.

Equipment and ingredients:
• Clean glass or enamel bowl
• Clean spoon
• Clean dish towel
• 2 cups flour
• 1 1/2 cups water (optional: 2 T acidic juice, pineapple, orange or lemon)

Day 1: mix 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water in the bowl. Cover with the dishtowel.  Leave it out on a counter.

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The batter attracts wild yeast, which feeds on sugar in the flour. The process produces gas, which creates the bubbles that make bread rise. The resulting culture, known by sourdough officionados as the “mother” and referred to as “her,” might take a couple of days, but can start growing right away.

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Evening of day 1

Day 2: feed with 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. The batter will be lumpy but that’s O.K. The yeast will finish the job. If a clear fluid appears on top, stir it in. It’s alcohol, a natural byproduct that adds flavor and helps preserve the batter. A pinkish or moldy-looking fluid means you’ve attracted the wrong kind of bacteria. Discard the batter and start over.

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Day 2, before feeding

Day 3-7: repeat feeding procedure up to Day 7, then use or throw away some of the mother and keep the rest in a jar in the refrigerator. Batter that is ready to use is bubbly and has a nice sourdough scent. Mine might be ready by day three or four.

Or, it might not be ready—batter can be activated by the same bacteria that makes cheese ferment, making it bubble right away. Around day 3 or 4 though, this bacteria stops working. The batter becomes flat and dead-looking. This is the point where many would-be sourdough makers give up, when actually the yeast hasn’t started to work yet.

Yeast likes more acid than the almost-neutral pH combination of flour and water, hence the optional addition of an acidic juice listed above. If the culture doesn’t start to grow by day 6, add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar to the daily feeding.

It’s all right to leave the batter on the counter for an extra week or so to enhance flavor and texture.

Stay tuned for Part B: Sourdough Bread From Scratch. Maybe.

Are you a bread maker? Any tips on making sourdough from scratch?

For a trove of detailed instructions and recipes, visit experts like the Wild Yeast Blog, and The Fresh Loaf.

For more on this week’s WordPress Photo challenge: Admiration

Thank you Shawn Hoke for the featured image.

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