Friday, June 22, 2012

Baking Sourdough Bread From Scratch

It's actually possible to bake your own sourdough bread from scratch. That means you grow your own yeast by merely adding water to some flour.

I got the recipe on the internet. I had no idea that it would be so easy. You let this mixture sit for a while, i.e. you let it grow the ambient yeasts from the environment. After about a week you divide the lump of dough in half and add twice as much flour as before and a little water to that half. You keep one half and discard the other. You can also give it away. You do this for several weeks in a row, and then you have the starter dough. During the process the dough has to be covered with a damp cloth and refrigerated so that it doesn't dry out. At first there will be a crust on the starter and it has to be removed before feeding the starter again. It's like feeding your pet. You can't forget. Otherwise it will die. Bread starter smells yeasty, and when you break it up, you can see where the yeast is at work. It's got little bubbles inside the dough.

The remaining activity around baking bread involves logistics. That part involves refrigeration and cooling and adding flour and water, and in the end you have to add salt to flour and water and allow it to rise again. It is a bit labor intensive. But it is not a difficult process nor does it take much time. To perform the whole feat takes time management. But the result is so satisfying because it is in fact easy enough for any child to do it. Just follow the recipe and pay very close attention to temperature and salt. Do not forget the salt. Forgetting the salt will make the dough a very sticky, glue-like, unmanageable substance.

Salt was so important in history because it is absolutely necessary for baking bread. The mythology of baking bread reaches far into prehistory. Some say that figuring out how to make bread from flour was the most important of innovations. It made it possible to settle and evolve from a hunter/gatherer society to a farming society. But that part is not nearly as important as the taste in your mouth of sourdough bread made from wild yeast. With some butter it is the most heavenly of foods, and you'll wonder why you have been eating store-bought bread all this time.