sourdough bread with home grown starter; over 5 years old and still going

When I actually began my sourdough starter is a little sketchy.  My best guestimations are late summer in 2009 with grapes grown in the demonstration garden I worked in.  As we packed up the house in Nashville in preparation for our move to Virginia, I knew the starter was coming with me; a souvenir of time spent in the garden with friends.  Now that things have settled here, it was time to test it and see if it still could produce a loaf of bread.

Despite the fact that the starter is stuffed into the back of the fridge and neglected for months at a time, it still produces a nice loaf of bread!  As it is with any loaf of freshly baked bread in our house, most of it gets eaten by the slice, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt.  When it gets a little dry, it becomes toast, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt.  Is there anything better than that?  In my opinion, there isn’t much that can compare to a thick slab of freshly baked sourdough bread slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt…

To make some starter, follow this recipe on from Nancy Silverton, it is the one I used to get my starter going.  If you are successful, you can use it in any recipe that calls for a starter.  My favorite sourdough bread recipe is from Nick Malgieri’s wonderful book, How to Bake.  The easy to use recipe also tells you how to make and maintain a starter but I just substitute my own starter and proceed with the recipe.  This is a true sourdough bread which means that it can take several days to make not counting the time needed to make a starter from scratch, so be sure to plan ahead.

If your starter has been dormant, take the time to refresh and feed it and give it a couple days to become active.  Once you are sure that it is ready to go, mix up the sponge and allow it to sit for about 24 hours to develop the best flavor.

Nick Malgieri’s Sourdough bread
1 loaf
1 cup warm water, 110 F
1 cup active sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
the sponge
1 1/2 cups to 1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
additional flour and cornmeal for sprinkling
To make the sponge, whisk the starter and water together in a large bowl.  Stir in the flour and cover the bowl tightly.  Allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, and up to 24.
To make the dough, stir the sponge to deflate it, stir in 1 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt.  You can knead by hand or machine to form a smooth, elastic and slightly sticky dough for about 5 minutes.  Add additional flour as needed to make the dough manageable.  
Coat the dough in oil and rise it in a large bowl, covered with plastic, until doubled.  This can take an hour or more-the temperature of your kitchen will control this.  Most often, I let my dough rise in a cold oven(one that has not been heated) with the light on-you would be amazed at how much heat an oven light can produce!
When the dough is ready, first set the oven up, then shape the dough.  Place a rack in the center of the oven with your baking stone on it.  Set a rack below the stone and place a heavy pan on it-this will be for adding steam to the oven so be sure it is a heavy gauge metal pan that can handle a sudden addition of water.  Set a cup of water nearby.  To shape the dough, scrape it out of the bowl and deflate it.  Form it into and even round ball and be sure to seal the bottom seam well.  Place it seam side up in a well floured bread  basket or a bowl lined with a towel and is heavily floured.  Cover the basket with plastic and allow the dough to rise until doubled, at least 1 hour.
Thirty minutes before baking, turn the oven on to 500 degrees to heat the stone properly.  Invert the loaf onto a baking peel that has a generous sprinkle of cornmeal, slash the top and slide the loaf onto the stone.  Quickly pour the water into the tray and close the oven.  After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and continue to bake.  After about 20 minutes, check the internal temperature of the bread with a thermometer-it will be 210F when finished.  Bake the loaf at 350 for however long it takes to reach that temperature, it could be as long as 40 minutes total.  Remove the bread from the stone and cool it completely on a rack before slicing.
The bread will last a couple days at room temp but is best the day it is baked.  To refresh it, wrap it in foil and bake it at 350 for 15 minutes but keep in mind, it will be pretty crispy when it cools-use the leftovers for bread crumbs, croutons or stuffing.

sourdough starter; five years and counting

if you have been reading this blog, you know i am a bit of a gardener.  okay, i spend a lot of time in the garden.  more than once, i have spent entire mornings that stretched into the early afternoon working in a garden.  it isn’t hard to do if you have the right company and the ladies i work with out at the demonstration garden make it fun to be there-no matter how muddy and buggy it can sometimes be.

mud and bugs; sounds heavenly after all of this cold, miserable weather!  to keep busy until the season changes, i spend my time indoors baking.  one of my favorite things is sourdough bread, especially when it is freshly baked with some of my own organic grape starter.

making starter is a lot easier than you think.  the hardest part is finding organic grapes.  luckily for me, i was able to pick them off the vine in the garden and since i work in that garden, i knew exactly what the grapes had been treated with-absolutely nothing!  if you aren’t lucky enough to pick your own, you will have to source them at a grocery store that has a good selection of organic fruit.  you also want them to be as fresh as possible.  a really good starter recipe is the one attributed to nancy silverton.  to make my starter, i followed this recipe to the letter and five years later, it still works!

as a starter is fed and used, it needs to be replaced.  an easy way to do this is to measure your flour and pour it into a small bowl.  add your water and stir to form a thick dough.

this simple dough is all the starter needs!  usually a feeding is all you need to get it ready to make a loaf of bread.  a good, strong starter, like mine, can sit in the fridge for several months and still have the strength to leaven a loaf of bread.  my most recent loaf of sourdough bread was a pane pugliese.  the complete recipe and step by step photos can be found here.

so, until the weather shifts and it warms up, a lot, i will be in the kitchen tending to my starter and dreaming of muddy days in the garden with friends…

pane pugliese and a request to turn winter off

is anybody else as tired of winter as i am???  snow in atlanta and birmingham, single digit temps in nashville for days, when will it end.  as i look out the window this afternoon, bright sunshine and a blue sky greets me.  the bees, which thankfully survived the deep freeze, are all over the area around the hive and my teeth are no longer chattering.  one can only hope it lasts longer than a day but this is nashville and we aren’t known for having a steady forecast.  as the saying goes, give it ten minutes, the weather will change…
in my quest for warmth, i pulled an old favorite off the shelf, the italian baker by carole field, and decided that a loaf of freshly baked bread might be the best way warm up.  the scent of bread baking always makes the house seem warmer, more cozy and as cold as i was, i was thinking it would go well with the soup i had simmering on the stove.  and if i was lucky, i might actually feel a little less cold.
pane pugliese is a crusty loaf of bread traditionally baked in huge, 2-4 pound loaves.  the simple, rustic loaf is a blank slate in a way and it is easily paired with just about anything.  the loaf i made went just as well with soup as it did in a tuna melt.  and when i mixed up a green salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it was perfect for sopping up the last bits of the dressing and feta cheese in the bottom of the bowl.  the recipe calls for using both yeast and biga.  for those of you not familiar with biga, it is a traditional italian sourdough starter.  to make my bread, i used my five year old grape starter in an equal proportion with excellent results. 

the recipe cautions that the dough is a wet one requiring “incredible skill and an extraordinary amount of flour when done by hand” and i would agree.  use your stand mixer and make quick work of it.  of course, 5-10 minutes of machine mixing and kneading is nothing to complain about but the stickiness of the dough is, so just go ahead and use the machine.   mix the dough with the paddle until it comes together and starts to pull away from the sides.  after the initial mixing with the paddle, the dough is very wet and more like a thick batter.

once all of the flour was added and i switched to the dough hook, i could see that the dough was still very moist.  although i added additional flour, it never really came off the bottom of the bowl which is exactly what the recipe states.  the kneading time at this point is only 3-5 minutes and i am pretty sure i went the full 5 minutes which is rather short for most sourdough breads.  the instructions suggest scraping the dough out of the bowl and kneading it by hand with plenty of flour until it loses its stickiness.  do that, please.  that sentence in the instructions starts off with the phrase, “if you want…”  and i did not want to hand knead.  for once, i wish i had; the dough was so sticky that it coated my fingers and required a vigorous scrubbing to remove.

it is a soft dough that seems incapable of holding shape.  but do not let that fool you.  this dough is about to undergo a major change during the first rise.

when the dough had tripled in volume, it was poured, yes, poured out onto a generously floured work surface to be shaped.  if i was skeptical before, i was certain at this point that the bread was going to be a flop and that i had just wasted my time.

you can see how bubbly and soft it is-the shine is part olive oil and part moisture level in the dough.

even so, i trudged on towards what i hoped was a respectable loaf of bread.  first note about shaping; do not punch the dough down, you want some of the bubbles to remain for the final rise.  to shape it, the instructions call for flattening the dough and rolling it up using your thumbs to make a somewhat tight roll.  the dough is so soft that it is a bit challenging to make the roll tight without tearing the dough or puttin your thumbs right through it so handle it carefully to prevent that.

after completing the roll, the dough is flattened again and rolled up a second time.  this time, it is a little less soft and it will actually resist the rolling a little.

after the second roll, the loaf is shaped by cupping your hands and smoothing the dough from top to bottom in a circular pattern.  the idea is to pull the dough tighter as you run your hands around it from the top to the bottom.  don’t stress on this, if the shape isn’t perfectly round, that is okay.  once it is baked, no one will ever know.

after the dough is shaped it is placed on a floured pan to rise.  after doubling, it gets a vigorous dimpling with your finger tips to control the oven spring.  the dimpling almost seems pointless because the dough is again allowed to sit for 10 minutes.

after 10 minutes, it is hard to see where it was dimpled-it has risen again in many spots.  at this point, i began to wonder if maybe my starter was a little too powerful.  the yeast in my starter came from grapes in the garden i work in and has proven itself to be rather potent in the form of leavening bread.

even after a good poking, the bread popped up into a nice round loaf.  the internal temperature is a good way to check for doneness and once it reads 205-210 degrees, the loaf is done.  allow it to cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.  one final note, i only made half of the recipe!

pane pugliese
one large loaf of bread
adapted from the italian baker by carole field
slightly less than 3/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 1/2 cups water, room temperature
100 grams of sourdough starter, about 1/3 cup
3 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour 
2 teaspoons salt
cornmeal for the peel
using the bowl for a stand mixer, stir the yeast into the warm water and allow to stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.  add the remaining water and the starter and mix with the paddle until blended.  add most of the flour and all of the salt and mix until the dough comes together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  switch to the dough hook and on medium speed, knead the dough until elastic and smooth adding flour by the tablespoon as needed.  the dough will never fully come off the bottom of the bowl so do not panic!  the kneading should take 3-5 minutes.  flour the workspace and scrape the dough out into the floured area.  knead it for a minute until it is not sticky and is soft and velvety.  place it in a well oiled bowl and let it rise until tripled, about 3 hours.
to shape the dough, flour the workspace well and have plenty of flour handy.  do not punch the dough down, just pour the dough out onto the flour and flatten it.  roll it up using your thumbs to make it a tight roll and then repeat this process using the photos above as your guide.  shape the dough into a ball and let it rise, covered with a towel on a well floured board or pan until doubled, about 1 hour.  at this point, get your oven ready by preheating the baking stone if you use one to 450 F.  ten minutes before baking, sprinkle flour over the dough and dimple the entire loaf with your finger tips.  let it stand for 10 minutes.  sprinkle cornmeal over the peel and turn the bread out onto the peel, flipping it so that the bottom is now the top.  slide the loaf onto the heated baking stone and bake until a deep golden brown and the internal temperature is between 205 and 210 F, about 50 minutes.  cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.
look for additional posts for the starter and the soup including recipes and links.  and one final note, i may be dating myself here but do any of you remember way back when on general hospital when mikkos wanted to control the weather and freeze the world?  while i never watched the show, but i heard all about it (how could you not-the world was in love with luke and laura and they were all you heard about) and just wanted to suggest that someone go ahead and build that machine and tweak it a bit so we can turn off winter, please…
and just in case you have no clue what i am talking about, here is a link to explain the plot line from general hospital and how they planned to control the weather.

what’s growing on?

the more you listen, the more you hear in regards to knowing where your food comes from.  hardly a day goes by that we are not reminded of how much harm we inflict on the ecosystem with our insatiable appetites.  luckily, the movement towards growing your own is catching on.  for the last 8 years, since we moved into our home, we have had a vegetable garden and growing our own produce has been a goal but not for ecological reasons; plainly put, it is a lot cheaper to grow your own vegetables and herbs.  over the years, we have branched out and have added things like honey bees and fruit trees.  we compost everything we can in an open pit composting system out back and we gather all of our leaves each fall too.

recently, a good friend convinced me to try my hand at a few new things that can be made at home:  kombucha tea and kefir.  the kombucha is fermenting on the counter and the grains for the kefir are ready to go as soon as i get myself some raw milk.

when i read the instructions that accompanied the kombucha, i was intimidated-they seemed so technical and unforgiving.  then i found instructions online from the website  how simple!!!  that is as long as you have a friend, like anne, who is willing to give up a scoby so that you can brew your own batch.

this is the scoby pancake anne was kind enough to share with me.  she also gave me enough of the finished beverage to start/inoculate my first batch.

and here it is, the scoby in it’s new home.  i plan to flavor mine with some fruit juice and most likely, i will not let it ferment as long as anne does.  the longer it ferments, the stronger it gets and that means it gets more sour with each day.  today is day 3 and i still have a few days to go.

another of my favorite things to grow at home, sourdough starter.  i started my original batch 2 years ago using grapes from the demo garden where i volunteer each sunday morning.  from that original starter, i have a plain starter and by feeding a small portion of it with rye flour and caraway seeds, i have a rye starter too.  periodically, they get neglected and i recently had to resurrect them.

with a cup of plain starter, 2 cups bread flour and a cup of water, i had a bowl of sponge to make bread with.

there is something so satisfying in taking a bowl of goo and after a minimal amount of effort, receiving something as tasty as this loaf of bread!

and for those of you that know my husband, you know this is all his!  he is obsessive about mushrooms and we have inoculate logs around the yard which currently produce shiitakes-aren’t the gorgeous?  he recently inoculated some logs with oyster and reishi mushrooms.  
who knows what will be the next addition.  in the mean time, we’re having fun and eating lots of good stuff.

sourdough rye; bread baking day #37

sourdough bread has always been one of my favorites.  as a kid, my grandmother took me to san francisco and i have been in love with the flavor since then.  with a slightly tangy flavor and a thick and chewy crust, authentic san francisco sourdough bread has always been the bread of choice for me.  of course, if you do not live there, you can only savor the memory once you leave because finding the same bread outside of the bay area very rarely compares.  the naturally occurring yeast in the starter has unique qualities much like a new york pizza-nearly impossible to duplicate once you leave the region.

over the years, it has been 16 years since we left san francisco, i have experimented many times with starter but never had much success until one day when our daughter needed to do a project for the science fair at school.  i suggested natural yeasts and several different types of starters and thus began a trial and error project that produced one of the best loaves of sourdough bread we had eaten in years.  we used grapes to make the starter and for several months, the starter lived in our fridge until i neglected it and it died.  years later, i found myself working in a garden as a volunteer for the local master gardeners association and in this garden, grapes were growing.  more importantly, organic grapes that i could use to make a new starter.  using a recipe that has been credited to nancy silverton of la brea bakery, i proceeded to use those grapes to grow the best starter i have ever had and a year and a half later, it is still going strong.  the starter worked out so well that i split it and i now have a jar of white starter and a jar of rye starter.

my fascination with bread also led me to bread baking day.  each month for the last 3+ years, the followers of bread baking day pick a host who choses a theme or a specific recipe and everyone bakes bread and posts the results on blog pages worldwide.  at the end of the month, the host of the month posts a roundup of all of the breads produced by the participants.  over the last year or so, i have sporadically participated in the monthly event.  when i saw that this months theme was a bread that used a sponge or ferment, knowing that my rye starter needed a feeding, i baked a loaf of sourdough rye.

freshly mixed sponge

first i took a cup of the starter and placed it in a bowl with some water and flour.  it makes a soft dough when it is mixed and this is then allowed to sit and age to develop a sour flavor.  on the left is what the sponge looked like in the bowl and the right is a close up view-you can see the caraway seeds and the bits of the rye grains in the flour.

after 24 hours

it has been cold here and as a result, my starter grew very slowly.  so slowly that i decided to let it go an extra day.  here it is before i stirred it(on the left).  after sitting out for 24 hours, it became rather runny but it still had some structure from the plain bread flour that was mixed in.

after 48 hours                                                        

on bake day, i added some salt and bread flour and prepared to knead the dough by hand.  using a spatula, i mixed in as much flour as i could and at this point, the dough had the consistency of a soft biscuit dough.  i turned it out onto the tray and started kneading.

after 3 minutes of kneading
the dough is beginning to show some structure and it is still a bit sticky and soft.

 after 7 minutes kneading
the dough is no longer soft-it has definite structure and is just a little sticky from the friction of kneading.

after 10 minutes kneading
the dough holds its shape and is elastic.  the grains from the stone ground rye prevent it from looking smooth but it is ready to rise in an oiled bowl until about double in size.

remember what i said about the kitchen being cold? well, i do not have a gas range in my kitchen and i cannot use the heat of a pilot light to rise bread.  however, my oven does have a light in it and it is the perfect place to rise a bowl of dough.  since it is in the closed oven, there are no drafts and the light quickly heats up the space.

to give the finished bread a textured surface, i like to do the second rise in a floured basket.  it makes a unique pattern on the surface of the dough during the rising and that pattern is retained after baking.

after the rising, i turn it out onto my peel and slide it into the hot oven where it was baked on a stone.

the finished bread-ready to eat
Sourdough Bread
adapted from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri
1 cup water
1 cup starter-any kind but preferably a rye sour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup stone ground rye flour
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
combine in a bowl and cover it. allow it to sit and ferment for at least 8 hours and as long as 36 hours at room temperature.
to the sponge, add:
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups to 1-3/4 cups bread flour
mix together and turn out onto a floured surface. knead the dough by hand adding flour as needed for at least 5 minutes and up to 10 minutes. place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to rise until doubled, at least one hour.
preheat the oven and baking stone if you have one to 500 F. at this time, place a baking pan in the bottom oven if you want to have steam during the baking process. turn the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a tight ball. place the dough, seam side up, in a floured basket or a cloth lined bowl that is also floured and allow it to rise until doubled-about an hour. turn the loaf onto a pan or a bread peel that is sprinkled with cornmeal. place the bread in the oven, toss some ice cubes on to the pan, reduce the heat to 450F and bake for 20 minutes. reduce the heat again to 350F and bake until a thermometer reads about 210F, this could take 20 minutes and as long as 35 minutes. the bread will be nicely colored. cool completely on a rack before slicing.
notes:  whole grain flours make dense breads so use them with bread flour to make them a little less work on the jaws.  the recipe is very flexible and it is possible to start the sponge with up to 1 cup of any other flour and 1 cup of bread flour.  in the past, i have used whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal and semolina to make tasty loaves.  once, i even made it a little sweet with brown sugar and cinnamon and stirred in some plumped raisins-now that was some awesome cinnamon raisin bread!  if you choose to bake a loaf, follow along and submit your recipe to bread baking day, the deadline is march 1.

Sourdough Rye on FoodistaSourdough Rye