Saturday, May 26, 2007

Basic Sourdough Baking

Making bread from sourdough starter is so easy. I just take a cup or so of the (room temperature) starter and mix it with a cup each of flour and warm water. (Don't forget to feed your starter also--100 grams each of flour and water makes about a cup of starter.)

I let that double; it's called the sponge. Then I mix a teaspoon or two of salt into another cup of flour (the general rule is about 2 teaspoons of salt to a regular-sized loaf of bread), mix that into the sponge, and add more flour until it's a bread dough consistency. Add oil, herbs or sugar if desired--I like to add about 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup each of oil and honey.

You don't want the dough to be too stiff, but you can knead quite a lot of flour into it . . . I probably usually end up working a total of about 3 cups of flour into the sponge, including the cup I mixed with salt. The dough should still be just slightly sticky after kneading, but firm enough to hold its shape. If you get it too stiff, just add a little warm water or oil.

Next, flour and/or grease your bread pan (I use a baking stone, which I just flour) and put the dough on it. If you're using a stone, shape the loaf taller than it is wide because it spreads out to the sides as it rises. Sometimes I lightly slash the top of the loaf to allow it to rise without "exploding" unevenly.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap or something and let it rise till double, then bake it. I usually put the breadstone with the loaf in the cold oven, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees F and let it bake for 40-60 minutes or until it looks done.

I've been surprised at how un-sour it tastes; it's not nearly as sour as commercial sourdough. The longer it proofs the more sour it will be, and being refrigerated will give it a sharper flavor. If you find it too sour, you can always add a little sweetener or a teaspoon of baking soda to cut the acidity.

Depending on what you add to it, you can make many different types of bread, rolls, even cinnamon rolls. You can also use the sponge or fresh sourdough starter as the acid in quick breads, with no extra rising time. Mixed with baking soda it works just like baking powder. The general rule is no more than a teaspoon of leavening per cup of flour, but I usually use 1 to 2 teaspoons per batch of bread or muffins. I'll be posting a sourdough muffin recipe on Restricted Gourmet soon.

Sourdough Starter

I've found sourdough very easy to use, and it's completely free of most allergens other than grain and wild yeasts. I just found instructions online somewhere, probably here. This site has some photos of what starter looks like as it grows.

It's supposedly a myth that you are catching yeasts from the air. The organisms are actually in the flour itself, so the fresher and better quality your flour is the better it will work. Stoneground whole rye flour is supposed to be the best; you can always convert it to whole wheat or whatever you like once you get the starter established, just by feeding it with a different grain.

You'll want to cover it loosely to keep dust and bugs out, but it does need to be able to breathe a bit. I use a crockery with a loose-fitting lid or just cover a glass bowl or measuring cup loosely with plastic wrap. Make sure you have it in a large enough container that it can double (or, at the beginning, maybe even quadruple) without overflowing.

Basically I mixed equal parts (by weight, not by volume) whole stoneground rye flour with filtered water and kept that at warm room temp (75-85 F or 24-29 C) for several days. I fed it every 12 hours or so until it was well-established.

It's easiest to measure by weight if you have a scale, but if not use about 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour to start out with. Water weighs more than flour does, so you'll have about 1 and 1/2 parts flour to 1 part water by volume.

You can start out with a small amount and double the volume each time, but eventually you want to start taking out half each time you feed it, or it will take over the house. I just added another 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour the first time I fed it, and then I'd take out half and add 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour each time I fed it.

Now I try to keep about 2 cups of starter at any given time. Most recipes start out with a cup of starter, so you're taking out half each time you use it if you have two cups.

Mine started out with lots of bubbles but a very bad smell. That's from the wrong kind of bacteria growing in it, but don't give up on it. As the correct yeasts proliferate, they create an acid that kills the other bacteria. It may seem to have died for a day or two when this change in dominant bacteria is taking place, but it probably hasn't.

You just keep feeding it (but don't use it yet) until it smells more yeasty. That should happen in about 3 days . . . if it hasn't happened by a week or so I'd probably throw it out and start over. If it grows mold, you'll need to start over also.

It's ready to use when it smells right and it doubles in size within 12 hours. Mine usually doubles in 4-6 hours and then collapses by 12 hours, so you need to kind of watch it to see what yours does.

Now I just feed it once a day, or you can feed it and put it in the refrigerator and then it keeps about a week between feedings.

Each time you feed the starter, allow it to get to room temperature. It will probably start to bubble. I keep about two cups of starter going at a time. When I feed it, I usually take out one cup of starter and add about a cup or 200 grams each of water and whole wheat flour to that cup to make the sponge for my loaf of bread.

To the remaining cup of starter, I add 100 grams each of flour and water (about 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour, or a little less), which will bring the amount back up to about 2 cups. Let it sit at room temperature until it starts to bubble. You can then put it back in the refrigerator if desired.

If you keep the starter at room temperature it should be fed at least once a day. If you continue feeding it every 12 hours it will have a milder flavor, but it generates a lot of starter to use up. Most people probably aren't baking twice a day every day. :)

I've let my starter go 2 days or more at room temperature without killing it, but it seems to stay healthiest if fed every day. If at any time it grows mold, it should be thrown away.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sourdough Brown Sugar Drop Cookies

These cookies taste very "normal." The recipe uses sourdough starter as the acid, but nobody would ever guess they're sourdough. You can leave the dough to ferment at room temperature for a couple of hours without hurting it. Fermentation supposedly enhances the digestibility of gluten-containing grains. Use "fresh" sourdough starter that has been fed within the last 12 hours or so, or part of your sponge.

These cookies aren't particularly healthy, so they are for special occasions, but they are whole-grain and the sugar is not highly refined. I add a tablespoon of calcium powder so I can pretend they're healthy. :) They are also free of corn, soy, eggs, milk/dairy, oats and nuts. If you use vegetable gelatin they can be vegan.

The dough tastes just like cookie dough should. We like to eat it raw since it contains no eggs. You could add a teaspoon of corn-free vanilla with the wet ingredients if desired.

Sourdough Brown Sugar Drop Cookies

Mix 1 tablespoon plain unflavored gelatin with 3 tablespoons cold water. Leave it for a couple of minutes to soften, then stir in 1/4 cup boiling water to dissolve. I use beef gelatin, but other types should work as well. If you use a vegetable gelatin, you may have to adjust amount/temperature of the water.

Mix or sift together:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) (if you like denser, less cakelike cookies, try reducing to 1 teaspoon and adding a pinch more salt)
1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
1 tablespoon calcium/magnesium powder (optional)

In a separate container, blend until smooth:
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use safflower oil)
2 cups brown sugar (C&H/Domino's is a pure cane sugar that's corn-free and naturally brown)
Gelatin mixture

Stir into sugar mixture:
1 cup sourdough starter

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until blended.

If desired, stir in:
1 cup baking chips, raisins, or other mix-in of your choice. (An entire package of Enjoy Life Chocolate chips is perfect in this recipe--since they are mini chips, they seem to need more to taste right
You can also add rolled or puffed grains (quinoa, rolled oats, etc) if you like. I add a cup or two depending on the grain and the consistency of the dough.

(Depending on the type of flour you use and the consistency of your sourdough starter, you may need to add an extra 1/4 cup or so of flour or a few tablespoons of water to get the dough to good drop-cookie texture. If the texture is wrong, try letting the dough rest for 5 minutes before you make adjustments.)

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto non-stick baking dish. Bake at 375 F for 12 minutes or until solid and lightly browned. Remove from pan immediately for slightly chewy, moist cookies.

(I have in a pinch used an oiled glass baking dish and longer cooking time with some success.)

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.