Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sourdough Success!

I am pleased. I brought out the sourdough starter from the fridge, inspired by several regular bakers, to have another go.
Years ago, I baked with a mix of white and whole-grain flours, and used packaged yeast instead of wild. I was confident that when I embarked, the process would yield satisfying results. I made tasty bread ~ pita, calzones, focaccia and pizza crusts, and rounds. These days, I don't even eat bread regularly. And in the past few years since I insist on using 100% whole-grain, freshly-milled flour, and a sourdough starter, I have had mixed results when I did feel the urge to bake. But the ritual of the stirring, the kneading, the sensuality of the flour on my hands, the push-turn folding, the pungent wheaty yeasty fragrance of the dough, and of course the gratification of pulling a loaf out of the oven, cracking it open and feeling the steam, and devouring a crusted spongy piece as melting butter drips down my fingers...Well, ok; I love it.
In my fantasy kitchen I'd bake a loaf every week.
And this morning I baked one. Earlier in the week I scooped some starter out of the sleeping jar in the fridge and fed it daily freshly-milled spelt and filtered water. Left this new jar out on the counter to warm, and it happily bubbled and expanded. So last evening I had probably a cup and a half of very active starter: time to make bread. I set a spoonful or two of it aside to feed the jar in the fridge, and poured the rest of the bubbling liquid into my bread mixing bowl. This is the extra-exciting part for me: I didn't use a recipe ~ even for salt; I did it by feel. About this much flour? About this much salt, and that much molasses, and some butter. I have heard that true Skill is not in avoiding missteps, but in reacting appropriately to them. Well I chose not to add water, because it didn't feel like it needed any ~ according to my package-yeast-trained hands. But when a few hours passed and my shaped loaf looked and felt exactly the same as it had when I placed it in the pan, I intuited that I needed to add liquid; sourdough loaves should feel a bit sticky and soft compared to package-yeast loaves. Kneaded again, shaped, slashed an "X" in the top, covered it with a towel...and went to bed. When I entered the kitchen this morning, what did I find, but a perfectly-raised loaf of whole-grain sourdough ready for the oven in time for breakfast! Delight!
The result: A tiny skillet full of crusty chewy-dense sour bread that we thrillingly piled with butter and ate by the chunk. With the final spoonfuls of the homemade apple butter from last season.
Um, yes. I'm quite pleased!