Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sourdough Bread

In honor of the 35th running of the Iditarod I started my sourdough pot last Presidents’ Day and it has been bubbling away ever since. I started with a packet of real San Francisco Sourdough starter we had picked up on our visit to San Francisco for Christmas in 2004. The little beasties were still active and I fed them regularly for a week or two and then started making sourdough pancakes. I got the recipe from this book by Ruth Allman:
Alaska Sourdough Cookbook
Besides recipes, there’re lots of personal stories of life in Seward’s Icebox that make good reading.

The problem with sourdough is it has to get used. As you feed it it just fills the pot. Eventually you either have to take some and put it in the fridge (even here you’ll have to feed it on occasion) spilling the rest down the drain, or you have to do some baking. I chose to do some baking yesterday/this morning.

Allman’s recipe called for 4 cups of sourdough starter, 2 cups of potato water, and 10 cups of flour as well as various other goodies like sugar and salt and oil. I should have realized this was going to be a larger batch than I really desired but it was a way to use some of the bubbly goodness in the sourdough pot. Oh well, in for a penny and all that.

I folded all the ingredients together in the largest bowl I had and set it aside to rise at 6 PM. Well, it never rose properly last night. After two hours (6-8 PM) of sitting on the counter top, I put the bowl in the oven with just the light on. By 10 PM it had finally, after 4 hours nearly doubled in size. I punched it down as per instructions, covered the bowl with a towel and put it back in the oven before going to bed.

I awoke at 5 AM to check on my creation. It had barely doubled again so I dumped it onto the floured counter and divided it into four very heavy and nearly equal pieces. Rolled them around a bit to try and make them into a ball. I found the dough to be a bit moist where it had been in contact with the greased bowl so it was difficult to get it to hold as a ball. I Probably need to add another cup or so of flour to the recipe next time. I placed two of the dough balls on each baking sheet and popped them into a 400 degree oven for an hour. The two on top came out a little darker brown than the two on the bottom. None of them rose much in the baking and so I have four very heavy yet fairly flat loaves of bread.
Sourdough bread
It's certainly not the light and fluffy white bread that I used to make! They look a little like large discuses and they are about as heavy. After cooling for an hour I sliced one for my breakfast and found that the sourdough flavor was definitely there and the bread tasted great with just a smear of butter. It would go great with a bowl of venison stew and stands alone quite well (although the crust is very, very ...well, crusty).
Sourdough bread
Loaves are too flat for my taste and the core is very dense. I would guess that the little microbes didn't do their job too well. Next time I'll be sure to put the dough into loaf pans to force it to become more vertical. I won't give up on the recipe but will cut it in half the next time. I used 10 cups of flour this batch. Put a real dent in the bag of flour, that's for sure. I’ll also have to make sure to get the ascomycetes that make the active ingredient in the sourdough have got their game on. Or maybe I’ll bring a packet Fleischman’s in off the bench.
(Of course if it goes stale on me before I get to eating it, one of those loaves may just take out a whole family of squirrels.)

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