During this Season of Quarantine, people are discovering and devouring bread baking. Is it because carbs are comforting? Or because baking takes time and presence and is, therefore, a welcome distraction from the news? Whatever the reason, the trend is clear: Flour and yeast sales have risen 647 percent, according to the Business Insider; sourdough Facebook groups and Instagram photos proliferate, and Twitter jokes capture the mood:
“I know prison changes people but I was not prepared for how quickly everyone would drop their gluten-free/low-carb lifestyles in favor of opening French bakeries.”
“Sourdough wars” have even broken out, in which some people on social media poo-poo the idea of novice bakers tackling something as challenging as sourdough bread.
I imagine you know what all the fuss is about. If you have ever tried real sourdough bread from a bakery that cares about both the ingredients and the bread-making process, then you probably hold sourdough bread in high regard. I have some good news, even if your experience of bread is from a world-class bakery such as Tartine in San Francisco, because you can still bake that quality of bread at home.
First, some basics. Sourdough bread is composed of four main ingredients; flour, water, salt, and leaven. Each is critical to great bread. However, the defining characteristic of sourdough bread is the leaven, also known as the starter. A starter is a culture of wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria (usually kept in a glass jar or dish) and maintained and fed regularly to use for bread. You can add such things as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, any type of fat but the presence of a live wild culture of bacteria and yeast cannot be substituted with powdered, store-bought yeast. Dr. Cowan’s Garden powders make excellent additions as well.
To make your own starter, gather all of the ingredients and begin. There is no risk, even if you aren’t ready to dive into baking loaves yet, as the starter can be stored for weeks or months. You will need 2 lbs white bread flour and 2 lbs whole wheat flour, a scale that shows grams, a bowl or large jar, a mixing spoon and a bread towel to keep your starter covered.
First, combine the whole wheat and white bread flour in equal parts, In the jar or bowl, combine 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour mixture, and stir to completely combine. Cover the mixture with a dishcloth or bread towel for up to three days at room temperature, or, better yet, outside in mild temperatures during the day. Once the mixture starts to bubble, take roughly 80 percent and throw it out. Then, add 100 grams each of water and the flour mixture and leave overnight, repeating this process every 24 hours until you get a very consistent bubbling and rise followed by a decrease in size after roughly 12-16 hours depending on ambient temperature. Continue this process indefinitely. If you need to take a few days off, that is fine; just restart the normal feeding process when you need to. You can even store in the refrigerator and go away for a week or longer, and a couple of normal feedings will restore it to normal.
Happy Spring, everyone! As I type this on an early Sunday morning, we are having a beautiful early spring here in the Northeast. Our new garden fence is up, the garden beds are slowly being made, the greenhouse is nearly finished, and seedlings are in the greenhouse planter boxes. For me, spring represents many things, but on a completely practical level it means the transition from “exercise” to doing actual work with my body. Shoveling, pushing a wheel barrow through mud, pitch forking hay — these are my favorite ways to work up a sweat and start the day.