Sourdough - An age old Method
I get asked this question a lot, "What is Sourdough?"
Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation process of dough using naturally occuring lactobacilli and yeast. Did you know that natural yeast is everywhere? In the air, the soil, especially on the skins of carbohydrate rich foods like fruit and grain. When flour and water ferment it creates bacteria called lactobacilli. This yeast + lactobacilli give rise to the bread,and create that lovely bubbly starter naturally, without commercial yeast or chemical rising agents. 1 tsp of starter has around 50 million yeast and 5 billion bacteria. This method uses healthy bacteria found in the air all around us rather than only one variety of a yeast that’s been mass produced. It’s the difference between the diversity of a forest and a tree farm. This method of creating and baking naturally has been used for 5,000 years and I so excited to share a piece of my starter, named Sage, with you. To purchase yours, head here!
When I first began baking, I felt really intimidated, specifically by all of the flours available and which to choose. I knew it was important to choose a good quality flour. Many grains in our country are unfortunately sprayed with glyphosate, a pesticide to allow the crop to dry out faster. Choosing an organic, non-gmo flour is so important, ensuring it has been farmed with sustainable and ethical practices that are good for us, and the earth. The next component of flour is the protein content. The highter the protein in the grain, the more strength and vitality of the dough. For example, bread flour will yield a higher rise with less work on the dough due to the high protein content. But, if you don't have bread flour in the house don't worry, I have always subbed 1:1 with regular, good quality flour and built strength and vigour to the dough by doing frequent folds.
Two of my favorite flours are King Arthur and Central Milling. You can also do a little research and look to see if anyone is milling in your area; always support local and always support small. Farmers need us.
There are two camps on this one. Some say you must use filtered water as to not kill your starter. But, the science is limited on this subject. If you live in an area where you feel good drinking the tap water it should be perfectly fine. If you wouldn't drink your tap, I would opt for filtered or purified water.
The only important think I'll note here about salt, is that you must weight it, not measure. Whether you're using fine sea salt, or kosher salt the choice is yours and purely based on taste and using what you have. But, 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt is much more salt than 1 tablespoon of kosher. 10 grams of sea salt on the other hand is equal to 10 grams of kosher. If you invest in anything in this process, it should be the scale.
Speaking of investing , when I first began baking, I used an enamled pot I found at the consignment store, and a bowl with a flored tea towel. The whole point of sourdough and bread baking in general, is to use what you have, and get really good at making something out of nothing. Keep that in mind and be sure to first look through your kitchen before purchasing.
Over time, I did purchase a couple things to make my life easier. When it comes to a pot, I suggest a cast iron, enameled pot anywhere from 5-7 quarts for a full loaf to have space to rise. Round or boule shape is up to the baker. As we covered earlier, a scale is crucial in weighing all ingredients. I like to use a 6qt restaurant style tub to mix my dough. It's super helpful when youre baking 2 loaves at a time and has enough space for douh to rise. When you're working with particularly sticky dough, a plastic dough scraper is handy, but in full transparency, I have never once used one. I do though have this stainless steel scraper for cutting and lifting large amounts of dough, when making multiple loaves. It also really comes in handy when cleaning dough off the counter. For awhile I used bowls lined with floured tea towels to proof my loaves, but I do love using a proofing basket like this one if you can get it.
Keep It Simple
I said it earlier, but it's just so good, it's worth repeating. Sourdough is about using what you have to feed yourself and your family. It's the beautful art of making something out of nothing. Don't get swept up in trendy flours and expensive gadgets. Use your hands. Get to know your dough, share something nourishing that does more than fill a belly, but fills a soul. Let it tell a story.
Ready to get baking? A great recipe to get started with is my Everyday Sourdough.