Friday, March 02, 2012
Years ago when my daughter was very young, I baked bread every weekend. And every weekend I baked sourdough bread. You see, I have this starter that my mother has had since I was a kid. It was given to her by this old man in Placerville in the mid-1960s. As he told my mother, it was already a really old starter. I was about 8 years old at the time and believed that meant it was starter from a 49er, as in Gold Rush, as in 1849. My mom made bread with that starter sometimes. Sometimes she made sourdough chocolate cake. The best things she made with that starter was biscuits. I, however, cannot make sourdough biscuits. Mine are like hockey pucks. Smell wonderful, total inedible. The dog seems to like them though.
So earlier this week, I hauled out the starter that lives in my fridge. It was nasty looking. Gray water with heavy sludge in the bottom of the jar. Opening the jar emitted a powerful whiff of alcohol. No wonder it's claimed somewhere that the 49ers drank the watery stuff when better alcoholic beverages were in short supply. The smell like to knock me over and I wondered if I'd neglected my ancient starter too long.
I was determined to bring it back to life. I left the jar out on the counter overnight so the poor starter could get warm. Or at least warmer than it is in the fridge. Although, I was certain at the time that my kitchen was just as cold as the fridge since we were having a rare cold snap in the Bay Area. The next day I dumped it in a bowl gave it a wee amount of water and flour to start it's feeding. Yes, you feed a sourdough starter. It's kind of like having a baby that needs to eat every few hours. Then I fed it again and then one more time that day. It had some life!
The next day I fed it two more times and left it overnight. The next morning it was lively. It had small bubbles that are characteristic of sourdough starter. It had a lovely smell. It poured from a ladle like silk. It was beautiful.
The time had come to make bread. I decided on mixing half white and half whole wheat flours since my boyfriend is partial to wheat bread. Using all whole wheat flour produces a loaf which is heavy and dense and has a texture that I can't abide. The actual physical effort involved in making bread is pretty slim. You spend a whole lot of time waiting for the yeast to do it's thing, which is quite magical when you really think about. The yeast give the bread its lightness and flavor. You spend a couple of days waiting for sourdough yeast to do its magic. It ferments in a bowl after mixing and kneading. You punch it down and let it ferment again. This takes four to six hours depending on the temperature. You then take it out of the bowl and slap it on your board. (At this point, I kneaded in some olives into half the dough.) Then it's roughly shaped and allowed to rest. After its nap, you shape it into its desired shape.
I use willow baskets that are made for proofing bread, so I put the loaves in there. They proof at room temperature for about an hour and then go into the fridge overnight to retard. Retarding slows down the yeast and allows for more flavor to develop.
Anyway, I made bread.