Sourdough revival

My poor starter, Stanley, had been sitting in the refrigerator neglected for quite some time. About a week ago I reactivated him only to bake a loaf which I left in the oven for to long. Said loaf resembled a rock or brick the next morning when I tried slicing it for breakfast.

Fast forward to now.


I baked this loaf in a loaf pan, which I generally don’t do. I usually just freely shape in and bake it on a cookie sheet. I kind of like the pan because ¬†coating the pan with a thin sheen of olive oil gives the bread a browner and more chewy crust. The dough also retains its shape if its more on the wet side, but I like the artistic aspect of freeform loaves better. Its a compromise I suppose.

Anyways, I bake my bread with 100% white whole wheat flour. (this is NOT refined white flour, but whole wheat flour made from white wheat). I don’t keep bread flour on hand (even though it does make a better loaf) because it takes up space and I am hesitant to buy an entire bag and there is no whole wheat variety. I did however want to increase the gluten content of the bread. Enter Vital Wheat Gluten! I had an epiphany while I was meandering through the bulk section of the grocery store to try “making” my own bread flour by adding VWG to increase protein content in the regular flour. So I got a small amount (cheaper and less bulky than an entire bag) and if it failed, well, it was only a few dollars.

The ratio is 1T of VWG to 1C of flour to make “bread flour”. So, in my recipe I use 1 and 3/4C flour added to the starter. Therefore I used 1T and then a little more VWG. Looking back, I probably could have used more because I forgot that my starter contains flour too. I could tell when I was kneading that the VWG was doing¬†something because the dough had more stringy strands form faster then usual. However, upon baking I am not quite sure if it made a huge difference. I think next time I will add 2T and then a little more and see if it is more noticeable.

In sum, VWG, I think, was a successful experiment which needs to be tampered with a little bit more.


although strikingly similar to the above photo, it is not the same photo. but, it is the same loaf of bread


more dough. and its sour

I went on a bread baking extravaganza about a week ago. I made a loaf. And another loaf. And some rolls. The loaves were successful. The rolls were not. Furthermore, I managed to break my ceramic muffin pan in the process. But lets back up.

First off, some great news…my roommate has a food scale! That means I can actually scale my ingredients rather then measure and guesstimate. Woohoo! But also, as i read more about sourdough from the book my mom got me, I am realizing that making bread is both an art and a science. Because once you know the role of each ingredient and how it reacts with the other ingredients and why, you can adjust ratios to meet whatever desire you have. For example, the “wetter” the dough, that is, the more water there is in relation to flour (higher hydration level) the final product will have bigger and less uniform bubbles. So even though I have a way to be exact and precise, there is always room for innovation.

Speaking of innovation…I added half a can of pumpkin to one of my loaves. This also meant that a lot more flour went into that loaf and I had mass amounts of dough. This is why I decided to turn some of the dough into rolls, which unfortunately failed, mostly because I burnt them. The pumpkin sourdough bread however, was lovely. It was not a sweetbread, rather sourdough with a pumpkin-y taste and an orange color. The pumpkin lent some density and moistness to the bread. It was not the light and fluffy kind of bread. I liked the dense texture because it was quite filling and satisfying to chew.

failed rolls, successful bread, broken pan

I put the other loaf (standard whole wheat) in the freezer because there was no way to get through all this bread without it going bad. I plan to take it out of the freezer tomorrow, let it defrost, and possibly pop in in the oven for a little bit before eating it. But, it was pretty, so here are some pictures!
my regular dough, pre-proof

whole wheat

pumpkin whole wheat

Sourdough Attempt #3=Success!

My third bread baking attempt and I can finally say it was successful and something that I would share with other people! Other than my starter, I used whole wheat flour for the entire thing. I like the flavor and texture a lot better than the while-ghost looking bread I had before. I was scared that not using bread flour would prevent it from rising and forming properly, but it worked great for an artisan loaf. Finally, I baked it “freeform” instead of in a loaf pan. Therefore, it was a little flatter but it made scoring much easier and it was fun to shape. Oh, and I managed to get a crust! Mind you, it wasn’t “golden brown” but it was definitely there, I could taste it, feel it, and hear it…a nice “thunk”. Below are some photos.

I was pretty happy. It tasted yum. 

Sourdough, attempt #2. And meeting Michael Pollan

My second attempt was much more successful. First, I tried a different recipe. Second, I think I got better at kneading dough. Third, I used a cup of whole wheat flour. Fourth, rising time was better.

Taste and texture was good, especially when warm! but the next day the crunchy crust was not as crunchy…everything was more chewy. Maybe this has to do with oven temp? I did spray the oven but possible not enough, or just to frequently…I don’t know and I have to read up a bit more on getting the crust right.

Problems: this time it rose to much and popped before I got it to the oven. Thats what I get for letting it rise while going to class and not getting home for 2.5 hours, when it was only supposed to proof for 1 hour. Also, as I mentioned above, I am still not able to get that golden crust.

But there are some pictures! And I removed Stanley the starter from the refrigerator to come back to life and I will bake again on Tuesday.

Above is my deflated, overly risen bread
This is the completed loaf. I had to pinch it together on top before baking because it was all over the place (in case you couldn’t tell from the above photo) This may have restricted some rising in the oven, I’m not sure. But it makes for an interesting looking loaf. 

A roll. With some bites taken out of it. My bites to be exact. 

I am really excited to be done with midterms tomorrow for a couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean the workload goes down, but I am better able to manage my stress when I don’t have things due or things to study for and its mostly reading. This means I can hop on my bike again, its been neglected for quite some time save the weekly grocery trip. I can also read more about bread.

This past week I met Michael Pollan. He was very genuine and nice. One I introduced myself and started talking (telling him about alternative breaks) my nervousness seemed to dissipate. It was pretty awesome. He shook my hand. I have not washed said hand since. just kidding. But I am planning to go to his office hours in order to speak with him in more detail. It was really exciting to meet the person who got me interested in the food system a very long time ago. Also, since I have been reading lots of social theory, I can see it in the food industry in almost every sphere. Hegemony in GMOs, commodification in corn, rationalization in the fast food industry, reification in production. Theory is taking over my life.

sourdough, attempt #1

First, I would like to introduce Stanley. Stanley is my new pet. He is a sourdough starter. This is what he looks like up close:

He gets fed twice a day and likes to stay in the oven when its not on. I used Stanley to make my first ever sourdough loaf from wild yeast. I have made bread on a few occasions but it always used commercial yeast. Still tasted good, but I wanted to do the real thing. Like from scratch from scratch, not just from scratch. Anyways over a period of 24 hours I mixed and kneaded and punched and proofed and waited and ended up producing 12 sourdough rolls and a loaf of bread. And how was it? Well, the taste was delicious and tangy like one might expect. Also, my crust was a pretty good consistency, but I think a little longer in the oven would have been beneficial. It does “thunk” which is pretty cool. I have a lot more criticisms however. First, used all white flour (which I have not done in some time, I usually use whole wheat or half and half) and was highly disappointed and a little disgusted by how…white and pale my bread was. I want some more complexity so next time I am going to bake it with half whole wheat flour. Second, I did not use the “spraying technique” to get a golden crust. This consists of spraying the crust with water during the first 10 minutes of baking in order to give it that golden hue and crunchy texture most commonly associated with sourdough. I am definitely doing it next time. Third, the bread didn’t seem to rise enough. When it was proofing it rose a lot more than after I shaped in in the pan. I am not sure if this had to do with punching it down, or just being impatient. Fourth, it was a little to chewy for my opinion, I think mostly due to lack of crust. 
I do not have a food scale, so I wonder how weighing the ingredients versus measuring them would affect my loaf. Also, all the information I am gathering is from online, I think it would be nice to have a book with recipes and theoretical information so I can have everything in one place. If I keep consistently baking with Stanley, that is if this is not some phase I am going through, I will obtain a nice sourdough bread book. 
I have already started a sponge for another loaf of bread; it is sitting in my oven for 24 hours. Tomorrow evening this will be turned into a loaf, and hopefully one more reminiscent of real artisan bread than this first attempt. I am excited for this. I am sure you are all dying to see what my first attempt looked like, and its a little embarrassing to show as it is not very aesthetically pleasing. I suppose I can compromise and reveal the rolls: 

starter is here!

thats right, you heard it. My dehydrated sourdough starter has arrived in the mail today…see…

It is dehydrated in that little baggie. Pure sourdough starter goodness (with wild cultivated yeast, not the commercial strain). It was time to…activate!!! I mixed it with a tablespoon of lukewarm water to rehydrate…
I am hoping that my water wasn’t to hot. Temperature is important because the little yeast spores can die if the water is to hot, and not activate if its to cold. Picky little creatures. I don’t have a thermometer, so I hope that my wrist was an OK gage…
I added flour and water (1 cup of each) and mixed it in slowly. I am using all purpose flour, although some recipes call for bread flour. I figure an all purpose starter can be used to bake bread with bread flour. Also, I didn’t have bread flour on hand and was impatient.

And here is my sourdough starter in a sauerkraut jar. It is sitting in my kitchen until tomorrow morning when I will feed it. I will continue feeding it for the next few days and I am hoping that by Sunday I can have a go at a loaf of bread.  

I also hope that the conditions in my kitchen are ok. That is, not to cold. I am considering storing it in the oven if it gets cold and putting a sign on the door to take it out before baking. If I managed to kill my starter already, well, I can always get more for the price of 2 postage stamps. 

adventures in sourdough

Let the adventures of dabbling in sourdough begin! I was poking around websites last night and just reading about bread trying to understand what this process of yeast and fermentation was all about. In a nutshell, or at least what I understood is that its a process of yeast “burping and farting”. Let  me elaborate…(this is my non science mind understanding the science behind it)

Flour and water is mixed together to make a starter. Starter? So, the enzymes in the flour (lactic acid bacteria aka lactobacillus) break down the starches into sugar aka glucose. Yeast likes glucose, and there are wild yeast spores in the air that be harvested right in your kitchen. Yeast eats the sugars in the flour and releases carbon dioxide bubbles as a byproduct which help the bread rise. That would be called fermentation. The enzymes are what produce the sourness of the bread because they release lactic acid. The lactic acid lowers the acidity of the starter creating a habitat in which other bacteria cannot thrive. Yeast however, can handle it.

In the days before store bought yeast, this is how bakers captured the spores to make bread. Based on where you live, there are different strains in the air which is why sourdough may taste differently from place to place. San Francisco is famous for the delicious yeast spores. mmmm….taste the air!

Anyways, enough of that. I want to start making my own sourdough, but often starting a culture from scratch for a first time baker (well, I have baked bread before but always with store bought yeast) can be a little risky and tricky to get it started. So how is one to begin? The best way is to get a tiny bit of already started starter and feed it some flour and water and let the baking begin. So, thats exactly what I did! Carl’s Starter from Oregon Trail Sourdough gives away free starter for the cost of a self addressed, stamped, envelope.

Basically, someone named Carl (who has passed away) had been nurturing and using the same starter for about 165 years (since 1847). He would often give it away, and so to preserve his legacy, it is still being shipped across the world for anyone who wants it. Its really exciting to think that what I will be using to bake bread not only is extraordinarily old, but how many people are connected through spores of yeast and flour and water. I mean, yes the original start is probably highly diluted by now, but there is always a teeny tiny bit of it left which is now spread through the world into peoples homes all over.