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Sourdough culture in easy steps w/ bread making formula

Already in my early years I was fond of baking cakes; an intrinsic urge that was nurtured further during my study years working at the local bakery during the weekends and holidays. It was in this period that I grew a deep love for the craftsmanship and a deep respect for the hard work of those that make sure that fresh bread is available when most of us come out of our beds. Even now, almost 30 years later, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, regretting the fact that I was only dreaming of being back in the bakery again.

After some years, having settled (wife, kids, house, dog), I started baking again. At first cakes only but quite soon bread as well. Using dry yeast there was little feeling of artisan baking, up till the moment that I build myself a wood fired pizza oven. Although its heat-capacity was a little under the limit for bread, I still managed to get great loafs out of it. Not to speak abut the number of pizza parties!

Sourdough bread made

A few years ago I started my first (and up to now only) sourdough starter. Baking with sourdough (or hybrid sourdough-yeast dough’s) really gives an artisan flavor to your own bread baking. Since I made my 100% rye starter, I never baked a loaf without it any more. Unfortunately, at this moment I bake them in my electric oven because I moved house and had to leave my woodfired oven behind. While waiting until I have collected all the materials for a new wood fired oven, with sourdough I still have artisans bread at the table!

Baking with the natural yeasts of sourdough starter requires baking with more feeling. One cannot simply follow the recipe, but you have to feel and sense your dough during kneading, rising and baking. But the same characteristics opens possibilities to ‘play around’ with the dough. I often put it in the fridge for the last rise, when the family decides that my bread-planning is not as sacred as I might think…

Sourdough breads already made

Making and maintaining a sourdough culture needs some attention, but in fact it is very simple. To make your culture, just mix 50 grammes of biological (whole) rye flour with 50% boiled and cooled down water. Keep it overnight on your bench, uncovered. Give it a stir the next evening and cover it with some cling wrap film. Repeat for 2-3 days, and you might see some bubbles appear in your mixture. At this moment add 20 grammes of rye flour and 20 grams of water, stir and cover again. This is what we refer to as the feeding of your culture. Feed every night, until your culture has become active and approximately doubles in size the day after it was being fed. At this moment your culture is ready to use. If you bake on a daily basis, you can leave it on your bench and keep feeding it daily. If you bake in the weekends, as I do, it is best to store the culture in the fridge and take it the day before you start making your dough. However, I always use my culture directly from the fridge, with great result (just adjusting the temperature of my water a little to account for the chill of the culture).

Baking only a couple of loafs each weekend, I replenish my culture only when about 50 grams is remaining. At that moment I feed it 50 grams of rye flour and 50 grams of water, and leave it on the bench for 24 hours. Then it goes into the fridge again, where it keeps perfectly healthy for 2-3 weeks (I once took it with me during a 3-week camping holiday to use in my occasional Dutch Oven baking, and put some in the freezer just to be sure – although the culture perfectly survived the camping-. Just thaw it, feed and keep on the bench for 24 hours and see how your culture comes back to live again!).

Making a few sourdough breads

Often you read sourdough instructions with large amounts of culture (100-250 grams per loaf). Perfectly OK, but instead of a small jar of culture in the fridge or on your bench, you need a small bucket to maintain your culture. I therefore make use of a sourdough starter, made the night before with only 20 grammes of your culture. With 100 grams of flour (often white) and 100 grams of water, you leave it overnight on the bench, and after about 12-15 hours you have a great starter for your dough without the need of keeping large quantities of culture in your fridge. If you like your bread sour, increase the amount of flour over water, as the acid producing bacteria like a less hydrated surrounding. Yeast to better in a more hydrated environment.

My favorite Sourdough bread is a San Francisco Sourdough bread. You make the starter on Wednesday evening, the final dough on Friday and bake on Saturday. In the mean time your dough is in the fridge. And while you take your sleep, your dough starts developing taste, taste and even more taste. And aroma! Never had a bread that smells as great as this, directly from the oven, but also on your plate the next morning! It is my preferred baking formula. Great way for anyone who loves artisans baking!

My families favorite is a hybrid sourdough. It gives the taste and smell of sourdough, but the crumb structure (and time benefits) of yeast. The second tutorial page containing all directions for how I make it – the sourdough culture and how to bake this bread.

PS. I’m excited as I’m going to help a french baker next Saturday with his ancient woodfired oven making ‘pain au feu bois’!

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