We love sourdough bread but I’ve been a little intimidated to try to make it. The whole thing about having to feed the starter regularly or you’ll kill it has always been a little bit to much responsibility for me. Goodness, I have kids to feed each day, I certainly don’t need the pressure of keeping a starter alive.
Then I started the Family Herbalist course with Vintage Remedies last summer and one of the modules was on bread. Bread has gotten such a bad rap lately and yet I can’t reconcile this with the fact that most cultures ate (or eat) bread, and a lot of it, without having the kind of issues that many people in North America seem to have. Then I read The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread and learned so much about how ancients made bread, how our great-grandparents made bread and how we now make bread – the similarities and the differences.
One difference that seems to be a pretty big difference is that most bread baked before the late 1800’s was sourdough bread. The sourdough process is longer and that time gives the microbes time to eat gluten and sugars in the flour while releasing carbon dioxide to make the dough rise. I’m very intrigued by this and have been playing around with several sourdough recipes for our family.
Now, I am not a sourdough purist. Our family still eats regular pancakes, biscuits, muffins and quick breads. Maybe one day I’ll convert those recipes to sourdough but for right now it’s not a priority. Now if we had health issues caused from eating these things I’d be converting them or going without in a heartbeat, but we don’t.
Back to the whole “responsibility” thing. I’m convinced that people have made a huge deal about how time consuming and fragile sourdough is to make you think they’re doing something really amazing and special. In my experience (over the last nine months), sourdough is so much easier to work with than breads made with baker’s yeast…both in time and in hardiness.
I’ve managed to keep the same starter alive for nine months. I also have about 10 back ups that I’ve frozen “just in case”. I ordered my starter from Cultures for Health and just followed the directions to activate it. For the first several weeks I totally babied it because I was nervous, then I started storing it in the refrigerator so I wouldn’t have to feed it as often.
When I want to make bread I just take it out of the refrigerator a few hours before (or the night before) and add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water and let it sit out and get bubbly – sometimes I don’t even measure. Then I use whatever I need to for the recipe and feed it again with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water and put it back into the refrigerator. I know this isn’t really the “right” way to do this, but it’s working for me.
Originally I was hoping to get into a routine of mixing and baking bread each day (or at least most days) and it just didn’t work out. Then I came across a huge no-knead recipe in the bread book and have been tweaking it until it was just what I needed. The beauty of this is that I mix it in a big bowl and then store it in the refrigerator. When I want to make bread, I put some in a bread loaf pan, cover with a damp towel, let it rise for a several hours and then bake.
Before we get to the recipe let me share with you just how hardy sourdough is. The photos of the baked bread in this post were taken after I had two “mishaps” with the dough. On a Wednesday late afternoon I put dough in two loaf pans and was planning on baking them that night. I forgot and went to bed. When I got up Thursday morning I saw my mistake, the dough was all over the counter. So, I took the dough out, re-shaped it and put it back in the pans and put the towel on top. On Thursdays we have homeschool co-op and I had the intention of asking Gabriel to bake them for me.
I forgot. At 2pm we came home and I saw them overflowing the pans….again! The towel was dry and the dough even had a “crust” on it. If this had been bread made with baker’s yeast I would have ruined it but not sourdough. I just took the dough out of the pans, re-shaped it and but it back it the pans with a wet towel. Just before dinner, I took the towel off and the dough had risen enough that it was touching the towel and sticking a little. But the loaves didn’t deflate so I baked them. And they turned out wonderful! So yeah, sourdough is pretty hardy.
Right now I’m just using unbleached all purpose flour for this recipe but I’m playing with it using freshly ground grains and will share that recipe when I feel confident in it.
- 1 cup active starter
- 4 cups water
- 6 - 6 1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Mix all ingredients in large bowl (at least a 4-qt bowl). The dough will be wetter then regular bread dough - it's okay if it doesn't form a ball.
- Put bowl in refrigerator until you want to make bread for up to a week. It will continue to sour as the week goes along.
- Oil a 1 pound loaf pans and line with parchment paper and oil the paper. The parchment paper is optional but it helps to get the bread out of the pan easier.
- Cover with a clean, damp cloth for 4-6 hours, until the dough is close to the top of the pan.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 1 hour.
- Let cool on racks.
Your turn, what are some of your favorite sourdough breads?