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I just looked over the original article, Salmonberry Sourdough, or How Stupid Mistakes (sometimes) Equal Brilliant Discoveries, and thought I’d better update it.

Most excitingly, I have to tell you that although in the first article I said once you put a sourdough in the fridge and don’t use it for awhile it becomes a flavoring agent- loses all it’s rising power- this sourdough has proved me wrong! I’ve been putting it in the fridge for weeks at a time, then making bread and it’s working perfectly! I only have to feed it once and it’s back to full steam ahead.

And I did try freezing some too. Had to feed her several times to bring her back to life, but she came eventually. With no loss of vigor. I’m sooooo happy!

It’s making me so balsy I might even try converting it to whole wheat! (I’ll keep a whitey for good measure too)

I read somewhere, (maybe Wild Fermentation) that sourdough is both a bacteria and a yeast. The yeast rises your bread, and the bacteria gives it the tang. But only certain yeasts can coexist with certain bacteria. So in some sourdoughs the yeast will thrive, but only at the expense of the bacteria. I think I had one of those before, rose bread beautifully, but hardly any “sourdough” flavor. In other sourdoughs the bacteria will take over and it’ll be wowza-sour, but doesn’t rise worth a damn (this is the kind I think a lot of people have in their fridge and only break out once every few months for hotcakes, which works fine because hotcakes are leavened by a chemical reaction between the baking soda and the acids in the sourdough) But the best sourdough has the strains of yeast and bacteria that live well alongside each other.

Maybe.

I’m learning that what we call “sourdough” is so many things going on at once that it’s about as hard to understand as a woman. Every one will be different, and probably change over it’s lifetime as well. This is somehow so alluring to me. I wasn’t feeling any sense of commitment to my salmonberry sourdough before, like– well if it dies, I’ll just start a new one next summer. But she’s proved her vivacious will to live and it’s endeared me. I might be smitten.

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Salmonberries

The short story:

I left a jar of salmonberry juice on the counter. It went bad. Only, bad was good, and then I made sourdough.

The long story:

active, healthy sourdough

active, healthy sourdough

I’ll need to back up a few years, and explain my relationship to sourdough. I’ve been around great sourdough, even had some a few times—historic sourdoughs with names and stories. So I know what a good strong sourdough should look like, and how it should raise your bread right up, no commercial yeast needed. But sourdoughs in my keeping always met with sad fates. Mostly involving mold. I’ve tried starting sourdough several times, had fine luck with using commercial yeast to start ‘em, but where’s the fun in that? In a bread baking article in my zine years ago I promised a sourdough article in the next issue. Harvesting wild yeast from the air, how primal is that? Thus began a long bout of wild sourdough attempts. I tried in summer, in winter, with tap water, with spring water, whole wheat, white flour, at our house, at a lodge I worked at 50 miles down the coast….all my attempts produced the same bubbly, but gross smelling stuff. Not at all like yummy sourdough smell. Why? I couldn’t figure it out, except that since there are regional sourdough yeasts, maybe our regional yeasts just sucked.

The article never came.

I was so sad. I wanted a really awesome Wild Fermentation of my very own.

And then one day.

I left that jar of salmonberry juice on the counter. I like my salmonberry juice fresh, not cooked, so it was a live slurry in that jar. A few days later I spied it and cursed myself for wasting a half pint of hard won juice. I unscrewed the lid and it went PFFFFT! I instinctively gave it a sniff and then went to dump it down the drain.

Wait a minute.

Why does that smell so…..good? Why does that smell like…sourdough?

I brought the jar back up to my nose and narrowed my eyes. Hmmm…can’t hurt. I stirred in white bread flour until it looked like thick pink pancake batter.  Then I put it back on the counter and left it again. The next day it was deliciously frothy and bubbly looking. Could it be? I fed it every day until I had enough, then I made a loaf of bread.

It was fucking awesome.

And that’s how I came to possess salmonberry sourdough. I know ya’ll mostly won’t have salmonberries where you live. I suspect any wild or organically grown berry would work, Salmonberries though are one of those incredibly perishable berries, which might have helped. Try whatever you got and let me know what works. Raspberries? Blackberries?

So far I have kept using white flour. Whenever I have tried to convert sourdough to wheat in the past it has always molded. But moreover I have finally accepted the simple fact that I don’t really like whole wheat sourdough bread. I love whole wheat bread- make it all the time. And I love sourdough bread. But, unfortunately, I don’t love them together.

I don’t mind eating some white flour in my life, and I have read that sourdough bread is healthier because the enzymes predigest the flour, but I don’t want to replace all the good wholesome wheat bread in my diet with white– good enzymes or not. And the thing about sourdough is, you’ve got to use it, the more the better. The most active sourdough I’ve ever been around got fed twice a day! That makes a big bucket of sourdough and fast—that was at a bakery, where they could use up that much. I’ve found, even at our house, where the average temperature is a mere 60-65, that I need to feed my sourdough every day or it loses potency. The acids take over the yeasts. Of course you can put it in the fridge to “retard” (hey, that’s what bakers call it) the process, but I can barely remember to feed it when it’s sitting prominently on my counter and I have the force of daily habit to rely on. For me at least, put it in the fridge and it’s toast. I’ll remember it three months later when I’ve got a hankerin’ fer some sourdough bread. You can neglect sourdough like that, but it won’t be the thick, rich, bubbly slurry that rises bread. It will be a flavoring agent, period.

I haven’t solved this problem. Maybe it will just be a seasonal thing. I’ll start a new batch every summer (assuming the salmonberries are always so gracious), feast on white sourdough bread for a couple of months, then let it die till next year…? I’ve read that you can freeze sourdough. This might figure into my “occasional” approach. Hopefully you won’t have this problem. Hopefully you, like my friend Sierra, think whole wheat sourdough is the bomb (and don’t live somewhere where EVERYthing molds), and you can live happily ever after and never buy yeast again.

However you wanna work it, here’s my recipe for salmonberry sourdough bread.

Run ½ cup salmonberries (or your most perishable local berry) through a fine mesh sieve to make approximately ¼ cup juice. Put juice in a clean jar, cover and leave on the counter, at room temperature for a few days, until it’s full of tiny bubbles and smells good and yeasty. Those are your sourdough yeasts! Harvested free from the wild.

see all those bubbles?

see all those bubbles?

Now, mix in ¼ cup flour and let sit on the counter again. The next day it should have risen in the jar, and look big and foamy – full of bubbles of all sizes. (If it doesn’t, let it sit another day or two till it does. If it still doesn’t — dump it out and start all over again, somehow you lost the yeasts) Move your sourdough to a quart sized jar, to allow room for all the rising and falling! Add ½ cup water and ½ cup flour, and let sit again. Day three add 1 cup each, flour and water. Day four move sourdough to a big bowl (you’ll have outgrown the jar) and add 2 cups each, flour and water. Day five you’re ready to make your first loaf of Salmonberry Sourdough Bread!

Always remember to save a little starter back, pretty soon you’ll have legendary heirloom!

To make bread:

3 cups very active sourdough (fed yesterday)

2-4 cups flour, preferably bread flour

2 teaspoons salt

First prepare your “banneton,” which is just a fancy French word for a bread rising basket. You’ll need a medium to large sized mixing bowl and a tea towel (any flat cloth will work). Lay towel out on countertop and dust evenly with flour, then carefully place in bowl and set aside.

Stir flour into sourdough a little at a time until it becomes to stiff to stir, then dump out onto a well floured counter, sprinkle salt on top and continue working in  flour (this is a sticky, messy job, so– no answering phones or dealing with kid crises for a few minutes) until you have a very soft dough, it will be too sticky for proper kneading. Do the best you can. This very wet dough is what gives such an open, bakery quality crumb, so don’t be tempted to add more flour. Fortunately the long rising time helps work up the gluten, so you don’t need to knead much. Plop the dough into the floured towel/bowl setup, it might look a mess, but it will be ok. Leave on the counter to rise, which will take 5-10 hours. Or put in the cold garage or even in the fridge to rise for 12 to 24 hours. Longer rising times make a sourer bread.

Once the dough has risen (doesn’t spring back, or barely springs back when poked) preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large cast iron skillet with a lid, such as a dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. If you don’t have any such pan, you can use a 9 inch cake pan (put the oven at 400 instead) or if it’s really all you got, a plain old cookie sheet. The purpose of a lid is to keep the moisture in, giving you a nice crispy crust, and also a slightly better rise. The purpose of a pan with sides is to keep the very wet dough from spreading out into a low, flat loaf. It will be good bread in any pan, but it will be impressive in a covered cast iron.

salmonberry sourdough bread

salmonberry sourdough bread

When the oven’s fully preheated, take the pan out. Quickly dump the dough out of the towel into the pan, shake the pan a little to get the dough roughly in the middle (it’s ok if it looks like hell at this point, even ok if it slightly falls), put the cover on and return to the oven.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until nicely browned. Cool on a wire rack. Restrain yourself from cutting into it for at least 10 minutes. Then devour!

And once you have starter, you gotta make hotcakes, round here they’re called:

Sourdoughs

Feeds 2-3 hungry bellies

2 c. sourdough (fed yesterday)
2 eggs
2 T. oil
(apx, I never measure)
½ t. salt
¾ t. baking soda, dissolved in 1 T. water
1 T. sugar
(helps ‘em brown)
whole wheat pastry flour
, just enough to thicken batter to right consistency

Throw everything together, beat good, fry on a hot cast iron griddle in organic butter. Serve piping hot with blueberry maple syrup. Gnosh. Go about your day.

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-David Harris

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