You know when you are hooked. The way your partner looks warily at the mad gleam in your eye when you are about to embark on an ode to the wild yeast or to the microbial allies in general. Your relentless attempts at conversations on the beauty of fermented foods. The rather brusque telling offs that you will be subjected to. While more playful souls assault you with shock tactics like an unmitigated bout of tickling to get the damn microbes out of your head. All this will happen. But you know there is no going back. That’s sourdough baking for you – at once addictive, magical, romantic, earthy, and not to forget, downright nerdy.
You don the mad scientist’s hat the day you mix two unassumingly simple ingredients and thus set about to make your great sourdough starter. A concoction of flour (whole grain flours have more wild yeasts in them) and water, at times kick-started with unsweetened pineapple juice (the method I followed). From here on it it is all about ambient temperature, the right pH levels in your jar, regular feeding, the vigorous stirring to provide oxygen for the wild yeast you are trying to bring alive, the telltale signs of lactobacilli, and the sheer joy of observing the bubbles. By the fifth day you will have a healthy sourdough starter rising to perfection and possibly a drink in your hand to celebrate the success of the first step. That is if all goes well with the fermentation process. (You may want to read up on the humble idli’s fermentation process. Suffice to say they are related). To get started or to simply enjoy the science behind sourdough here are a few links.
Some say that you never start off with sourdough bread. That it is the holy grail of baking breads etc. etc. There is a lot of daunting stuff that has been written about it, and perhaps rightly so, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find people who have jumped right in. There is a lot of scope of improvisation when it comes to the right equipment required etc., at least to get you started. And it is all about just getting started – that’s my lesson from this. Everything else you can figure out in due time.
Here’s what I feel is a good recipe for beginners.
For my first loaf of sourdough bread I used a clay pot as a Dutch oven and didn’t bother with the proofing basket. My dough turned out to be too watery (water requirements differ from flour to flour) and I ended up skipping the longer proofing and simply poured the batter into the pot after the first rise. The baked bread’s texture was absolutely lovely with a lot of holes and was characteristically chewy and beautiful. Although I could do with a lot less tang – a direct result of the temperature here in Bangalore most likely. The plan is to try with a much reduced bread proofing time. Or maybe there is more. Meanwhile here is a table I found that looks insane, but may help in the understanding of how to control your proofing time based on the ambient temperature.
And of course pictures from the great experiment itself – tracing the growth of the starter to the final bread!