Sourdough Bread

My first foray into the crazy world of sourdough. # 163: Sourdough Bread

Bread is so immensely cool, and I’m falling more in love with it the more types and recipes I try. These past couple weeks have been a leap into sourdough, and I have to say, it’s worth the few extra steps. There’s a certain magic in turning the weirdness of sourdough starter into the deliciousness of freshly baked bread.

Growing up, I ate a lot of sourdough toast. The tang of it, mixed with melted butter was just perfect. I’ve always liked bread with a bit more flavor (marbled rye over white bread any day!) I ate almost a third of my first loaf with just olive oil, balsamic and sea salt – side effects of doing a bread photoshoot.

Sourdough seems to be as old as bread itself. From what I read, it was most likely discovered by happy accident when some wild yeast got into bread dough and the bread turned out lighter and yummier than past loaves. Like yogurt starters, a sourdough starter can live on forever if fed and watered even amounts of flour and water.

I’d been pushing sourdough down my baking list for months since it seemed labor-intensive and even a little icky. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with a starter that gurgled away on the counter and looked like a gray blob. Luckily my friend Lauren isn’t half as squeamish and had an established starter that she wanted to share. I got one of her weekly starter discards and name it The Blob. (Very creative, I know, you’re jealous.) It already has a special place in my fridge and is now on the level of my houseplants – watered and worried about once a week.

So I had The Blob in the fridge and was feeling disproportionately proud of every bubble it made, but had no idea how to make it into actual bread. Do you have to do anything special to it before adding it in to dough? Is it just flour and starter? Do you need other ingredients? And so on. My internet searching brought me to The Clever Carrot and her post is so thorough and encouraging! Plus you know I’ve got a soft spot for alliteration.

Her recipe called for olive oil, which is apparently not as common in sourdough loaves. From online research, it seems that adding oil will turn out a softer loaf with a more close-textured crumb. Most of the hardcore sourdough bloggers out there look down on adding oil to the dough, but I personally really love a softer crust. Also these loaves turned out just like the Colombo ones my mom used to buy, and a little nostalgia never hurt anyone.

Most of my pictures are from the first loaf that I made, and it was a little shaggier than it was supposed to be. Now I know to work it a little longer so no raw flour is left!

Otherwise you end up with hard flour rocks in your rising dough. C’est la vie. I managed to pick most of them out, but still.

This is my tiny first attempt loaf (pre-sauna) which didn’t rise as much as it should’ve, but I wanted to show the baking set-up. The dutch oven I borrowed is cast iron and the lid is just a shallower cast iron pan flipped over. Love a two-in-one!

Here’s my second loaf after it’s bulk fermentation – look how much puffier it is!! I was shocked and awed at this glorious poofy bread pillow. (I let it proof just a little bit longer and it did the trick.)

Post-sauna. Say hello to my little loaf friend! It was quite a saga getting this tiny loaf fully baked . . . A huge wind storm hit Oakland that weekend and my power went out after about 20 minutes in the oven. PANIC. So I drove my 400-degree dutch oven over to my friend’s apartment swaddled in a beach towel and commandeered their oven in the name of sourdough. There was no way I was letting 2 whole days of dough prep go to waste.

Didn’t get much of the seam on the top where I’d scored the dough, but that’s a problem to work on in dough attempt number 3 or 4!

The second attempt was had a similar lack of a defined seam, but I’m so happy at the size and texture of the bread and crust that I don’t even care.

And what would good bread be without butter? I’m reading a book right now that is literally called: Butter. How could I not buy a book with that title? C’mon. It also has the most adorable hand-written inscription: “Because you love butter and I love you” – buy more used books, friends! You never know what you’ll find inside.) It’s by Elaine Khosrova and it’s delving into how butter’s history goes hand in hand with our society’s development through the centuries. Udderly fascinating.

(Feel free to skip this part if you don’t want to geek out about butter!)

I’m only on the second chapter, but I’ll never look at the refrigerated butter selection at a grocery store the same again. Did you know that the color of the butter has to do with amount of beta-carotene that a cow gets from fresh grasses? One of the cow’s stomachs pairs the beta-carotene with fat molecules which translate into butterfat molecules by the end of the 4-stomach digestion process. So the deeper the yellow color, the more fresh grass the cow got to eat, and the higher the butterfat content of your butter.

Also that some countries in Europe have placed regulations (called PDOs, or protected denomination of origins) on what dairy animals are allowed to be fed (such as no fermented hay feed) to ensure quality throughout the butter supply.

The best butter I’ve ever had was in Iceland – it was rich and creamy and I slathered it on any piece of bread or cracker I could find. In my butter explorations through various Bay Area grocery stores, I’ve found Kerry Gold and Plugra are the best-tasting. They’re both apparently from Ireland, so now I just want to fly out to an Irish farm and eat bread with fresh butter all day. I’m super excited to try Isigny Sainte-Mère butter next! It’s French and apparently has a specific mineral-y taste due to their PDO for the area – butter cows can only graze near briny marshes.

Happy munching!

Recipe from: