Monday, February 1, 2010

The Adventures of Sourdough (Volume 1: Pain au Levain)

New York City. Gotham. Empire City. The City so nice they named it twice. The Big Apple. And the big City of small spaces.
Our teeny-tiny apartment fits us, our small herb garden, and our sourdough starter.
Herbs as they appear closest to farther: rosemary, Duck (with grass hair), flat leaf parsley, curly leaf parsley, basil, oregano.

Sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, and sugar (molasses) that needs to be fed daily. There are a couple of different ways to start it up but I started with rye flour, water, and 1/8 a teaspoon of molasses. It's a better pet than a little dog or a cat (besides Andrew).

Basically, when you first become the proud owner of a sourdough starter you'll be enamored with it -- just like a cute new puppy. After a couple of days of pouring off half of your starter and "feeding" it all-purpose flour and water you'll realize this is a big responsibility. Then, after one particularly exhausting day with the 4's and graduate school, you'll come home to find your sourdough starter has exploded all over the apartment. You can't stay mad because it looks so cute. Plus, there is the promise of fresh Pain au Levain in the future. After one week, your starter should be established -- I have read depending on the warmth of your home this may take longer (patience is an ongoing lesson in bread baking/life) and you are ready to start using it to make breads! You'll know it's ripe when it looks something like this:

with lots of bubbles and creases. It will smell "winey" (especially if you start with rye flour).

I took the Sourdough Starter and Pain au Levain recipe directly from King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Both were very simple and easy to follow. I highly recommend them. If you don't own the cookbook the King Arthur Flour Baker's Banter blog has useful info for baking your own breads using pre-bought/borrowed starter and the website has an all-encompassing summary called Sour Dough Primer that gives a couple of options for growing your own starter.

Sourdough Slang: definitions are somewhere between Webster's and

Autolyse: Process that "gives naturally occurring enzymes the chance to untangle the gluten, so less mixing is necessary" -- Salt, yeast, sugars, etc if used in your recipe (or anything other than starter, water, and flour) are used AFTER you allow the starter, flour, and water to rest about half an hour.

Retard: Slowing down of your doughs fermentation. After the shaping of your boule, you pop your dough into the fridge (top shelf because that's usually a bit warmer) and retard it for 12, 24, 48.. How long can you wait?

Score: Sometimes called "slashing" this refers to the beautiful markings you'll make onto your dough before it goes into the oven. Maybe circles all around the loaf, maybe an "X" on top. This also aids the loafs expansion in the oven and prevents asymmetrical breaks/splits in the crust. Professional bakers use a baker's lame (pronounced "lahm") but super lame because I just used a sharp knife. Cuts should be about 1/4 inch deep.

Proofing basket: A cradle for your shaped loaf. As you can see, I used a pyrex and a cow-print mixing bowl. We should maybe invest in a proofing basket.. and...

Oven stone: Porous stone used for baking pizzas and hearth breads. The stone draws moisture away from the crust as it bakes making it crisp and crunchy. Upon contact with the oven stone the heat induces a feeding frenzy called an "oven spring" and the loaf rises dramatically.

My recommendations / "What I'll do differently next times"
-- A big, clear container with a tight lid. We transfered from an opaque small to a large clear tupperware after the explosion. This way, you can better track the growth of your baby sourdough starter.

-- A bigger proofing space (or maybe a proofing basket) because my dough outgrew it's space once...

And then twice...

I retarded it in the cow-print bowl and it got even larger in the fridge!

-- Understand autolyse better. I got a little crazy (as I can get when I am combining ingredients) and I started adding the salt before I realized it goes in after resting for 20-30 minutes. Although, looking back, I can't imagine this dough growing any larger. Less gluten formation early on might have been more blessing than curse.

The results speak for themselves:
Oh my Pain au Levain.
I just took a bite. This bread is divine.

I didn't go to yoga tonight because I was eager to finish up this week+ long bread project. Om shanti shanti shanti. Namaste, Sourdough.

- Sarah

1 comment:

  1. ok. #1: Loving the cow mixing bowls those were such a good purchase. #2: I once spoke with a man who was in love with sourdough. He had nurtured himself quite the little yummy cultures when he thought they were old enough, he went on vacation. He returned to a very happy, and usually filthy, roommate who explained to him that he had cleaned the apartment as a gift and he even got rid of some nasty smelling container - crushing my poor new acquaintance's heart. To this day he's never found such a starter as that first one. Lesson to be learned: get your roommate in on the break baking with you. Great job guys. Love, Nell