My husband is a sourdough fiend. After I began making all of our bread (and other bready things), I decided to make sourdough. Just like that. Easy, right? RIGHT?!
And just like that, I tried, and failed. Many times.
Attempt 1. I was generously given a bit of a friend's starter. She gave me instructions on how to take care of it (you have to feed it...like a pet!), and how to make the actual loaf. My loaf flopped and I killed the starter.
Attempt 2. Consulted my Better Crocker cookbook. Spent a week developing a starter. It was a flop, and so was the bread.
Attempt 3. Consulted my Cooking Encyclopedia. Flop and fail.
Attempt 4. Consulted my Weight Watchers cookbook. Sorta better starter, but fail fail fail.
Attempt 5. Did a TON of research online. Found a decent recipe that seemed fool-proof. I gave it more like a week and a half to develop my starter (plus time later and other tweaks to perfect it). The first ten loaves I made had issues with texture, lack of sour flavor, rise and crust. So, I did more research. And then I went to San Francisco and picked up a hard-core sourdough book. When I came home, finally, I seemed to have got it right.
Fifth time's a charm, right?
Important lessons I've learned in this journey:
1. Sourdough is made with wild yeast (floating in the air), so it needs just the right exposure to the air.
2. Keep your starter at the right temperature. (I refrigerate mine until I need it)
3. Gluten is the holy grail of bread-making. It is what makes the bread rise. An extra kick of gluten flour can make a huge difference in the rise.
4. The crust of a sourdough boule should be crisp and golden brown. To achieve this, STEAM is the key (and a very hot oven).
5. Every good bread baker has their signature "score" on top of the bread. What do you think of mine?
6. No part of sourdough preparation is fast (it is not rare to take more than 24 hours to make it), but it is worth every minute. It is really a labor of love.
I now make sourdough several times a week (and more when treating special friends). I'm being stretched, challenged and grown as I learn the science and mathematics behind the art of bread baking in general. Nonetheless, I love every bit of it.
These lessons are just what I kneaded. (I couldn't help it!)