Adventures in Sourdough: Introduction

This time last year, I was gallivanting through Europe with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. We were exploring The Netherlands, France and Belgium for a glorious three weeks, eating our way through fiery falafel, Nutella spin-offs, and vegan donuts.

But nothing we ate on that three-week trip was etched in my memory as strongly as one thing:

The bread.

Oh, the sourdough. Crusty boule loaves could be found everywhere, from small bakeries to giant chain stores. No baguette I’ve eaten in Canada compares to the Parisian baguettes we experienced. They were a satisfying meal unto themselves, served with a little hummus or other spread.

Now that time has spun its way to summer again, I find myself desperate for good European sourdough. To my knowledge, there are no local artisan bakeries, so the only way to satisfy that craving is to:

A)Go to Europe again (this seems perfectly reasonable to me)
B)Learn how to make it myself (my husband assures me that this is, in fact, the reasonable solution)

So I went ahead and picked up some Peter Reinhart from the library.

Reinhart has written a variety of bread books (all of which I want to hoard), but this one happened to be available immediately. I read it nearly cover to cover, and Reinhart’s love and devotion to good bread is infectious.

Determined to set out on my sourdough adventure, but a little intimidated by making a starter from scratch, I decided on what seemed like an intermediary step:

They started carrying a variety of cultures at my local health food store, including this sourdough starter. I know, I know, it’s ten bucks for something I could literally accomplish myself with flour and water. But using this felt like a nice crutch, like someone holding my hand through the process.

The Process of Making Sourdough

This is what I gleaned from Reinhart on the process of making sourdough:

For the starter:
1. Let some flour and water ferment for a day or so.
2. For the next week, add more flour and water (you need to feed the bacteria). But you need to subtract some of the existing starter first, or else you’ll end up with a giant vat of starter at the end of the week.
3. After a week, your starter should be ready for some breadin’.
4. The starter can be kept in the fridge, as long as it’s fed every few days. It also requires a couple of room temp feedings before you make your next loaf of bread.

For the loaf:
So now that your starter is alive and well, what next?
1. Make a pre-ferment (an overnight mix of some starter and some new flour).
2. Make dough (lots of flour and kneading).
3. Let the dough rise.
4. Punch it down, form into its final shape, and rise again.
5. Baking time! Use a thick baking stone (like a pizza stone) and a pan with a cup of hot water to steam. And the oven should be very hot.

Using the San Franciso Sourdough Starter will supposedly accelerate the process by a few days, but it’ll still be a while before I end up with a finished loaf.

The starter has been sitting on my counter for the last 12 hours or so, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated on this learning process. I fully expect to make a few terrible loaves before getting a good one, but it would be nice to discover that I’m a secret bread virtuoso.