Sourdough 101: Part The Last

Well my friends, this morning was the last official feeding for Beowulf in the “starting the starter” category.  But don’t worry, I’ll keep feeding him.  This is what he looked like this morning.

Before feeding number 14.

Do you see that line around the top of the jar?  That is how far up it rose last night!  Again, I’m a little excitable.  Remeber that the temperature, the size of your jar, and the level of your starter after feeding will determine how high it gets.  For this last feeding, I poured the starter into a bowl.  I did not discard 1/2 of it this time.  I added twice as much as I have been.  This is the building up process that I talked about yesterday.  This is what Beowulf looks like now in this stage.

Building up Beowulf.

He is now covered with plastic wrap and sitting on my kitchen counter.  You can use a breadcloth or a clean dish towel to cover your starter instead of plastic wrap.  I do that a lot, actually.  But today I have all the doors and windows open and I don’t want anything getting in it that shouldn’t be in it.

While Beowulf is busy getting ready to be made into bread, let’s talk briefly about flour.  This may come as a shock to you, (it did to me), but all flour is not created equal.  Different types of grain make different types of flour which is better for different types of things.  For making bread, the higher the protein content, the better your bread will rise.  This is especially important when you are using a new starter.  In general, unbleached flour has more protein than bleached.  In general, bread flour will have more protein than most all-purpose flour.  There are probably exceptions to these general rules.  Now here is the DISCLAIMER:  I have not ever received any compensation for what I am about to tell you.  It is my personal opinion only!  I have made this sourdough recipe with several different kinds of flour.  I have gotten by far the best results using King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour.  I will probably not ever use any other kind of flour for this particular recipe.  This flour is milled from hard red winter wheat, and has a small amount of malted barley flour added to it.  The malted barley is a food source for natural yeast, which is why I think it works so well for this recipe since I don’t add any sugar or honey for the yeasts to feed on.  I haven’t seen their organic all-purpose locally yet, but if I find it I will use that.

A few more general things about flour.  If you freeze your flour, (which is a good idea if you buy in bulk), make sure the flour is at room temperature before using it.

When you open a new bag of flour, or if you just store it in the bag instead of a canister, use a knife or fork to stir and aerate it before you measure.  When you measure a cup of flour that has settled, it can equal as much as 1 1/4 cup of aerated flour.

Wholewheat flour will absorb more liquid than white flour.

You cannot do a straight 1-to-1 substitution of wholewheat flour for all the white flour in a recipe.  You can usually get away with about a cup, depending on the volume of the recipe.  After that, you have to fiddle with it to get it the right consistancy.  Most wholewheat bread recipes have about 2 cups of white flour in them so that they rise better.  100% wholewheat breads are very dense and chewy.  If you want 100% whole wheat bread, I would suggest adding Vital Wheat Glutin.  This will help the bread to rise and be a little lighter.

And, lastly, temperature and humidity affect the flour’s ability to absorb liquid.  That is why in bread recipes you don’t have an exact measurement for flour.

Keep in mind also, that for sourdough recipes, how much flour you need will also depend on how thin your starter is.  The thinner the starter, the more sour the final product.  I use a fairly thick starter for everything I make, since we don’t like the really tangy stuff.

One last thing.  I mostly use my white flour starter for everything sourdough I make, so my recipes call for white flour.  You can still use the recipes with wholewheat flour, you will just have to experiment with them to get them to come out the way you want them.  There are many recipes available on the internet for using wholewheat sourdough starters.  Some of which I actually adapted for my white flour starter. 🙂

Enough about flour, let’s bake! 

This is what Beowulf looked like after the building up process.

Built up starter

Sourdough Bread Recipe

3 cups sourdough starter

1 1/2 cups water

1 Tbsp kosher salt (if you use regular salt, only use 3/4 Tbsp)

4-8 cups unbleached flour (I use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose)

Melted butter for brushing on top of the loaves

1 Tbsp yeast (or 1 package – this is optional.  I use it with new starters or on days whan I am in a hurry.)

Stir down your sourdough starter and measure 3 cups sourdough starter into a large mixing bowl.

3 cups starter in bowl

You can see the thickness of the starter.  Not runny, but not just a blob, either.  Sorta in betweenish.  Add the 1 1/2 cups water.

Add 1 1/2 cups water

Mix that up until it’s smooth.  This is where I add the yeast if I’m using it.  You can put it in the water to dissolve, or sprinkle it over and mix it in.  I’ve done it both ways and they both work.

Add yeast, if using

Mix the yeast in well.  Then add 3 cups of flour.

Add 3 cups of flour

Mix the flour in until blended.

flour blended in

Sprinkle the salt on top of the mixture.  Salt can kill yeast, so I like to protect the yeast with some flour first.

Sprinkle salt on mixture

Mix the salt in well.  Continue to add flour a little at a time until it forms a ball.

mixture forming a ball(ish)

This was at about 4 1/2 cups.  If I were using my stand mixer, I would be able to get more flour incorporated.  I can’t mix in as much by hand.

Now, turn your dough out onto a floured surface.  Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is no longer sticky.  You can also do this step in the stand mixer with the dough hook.

After kneading

Today is in the low 70’s and humid.  I ended up using almost 6 cups of flour today and kneaded for about 15 minutes.  Again, if I had mixed it in the stand mixer I would not have had to knead for as long as I did.  But that’s ok, I like to knead. 🙂

Oil a bowl and place the dough in it.  Turn the dough over so that the top is now oiled.  I like to use the same bowl for rising that I use for mixing.  After I turn the dough out, I put my bowl in the sink and run hot water into it.  That does two things.  It makes it easier to rinse out the bowl, and since I use stoneware, the bowl is warm for the dough.  I also like to use butter to oil my bowl.  You can use any kind of neutral tasting oil.  I like butter because there’s nothing in it I can’t pronounce.  I also just like butter.

Dough turned in bowl

Now cover the dough and let it double in volume.  This time will depend on the temperature of your kitchen and whether or not you used any commercial yeast.  Without extra yeast it will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.  With yeast it will be anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Dough is doubled in volume

Punch the dough down and divide into 3 pieces.  Form into loaves. The loaves will be about 1 1/2 pounds, give or take.  Oil the baking pans, (again, I use butter) and place the loaves in the pans.

Loaves in pans

Cover again, and let rise till doubled.  This rising should take only about half the time it took for the first rising.

Loaves risen to double their size

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the loaves have doubled, brush the tops with melted butter.  This will give the loaves a golden color and a crispy top crust.

Brush the tops with melted butter

Slash the tops with a lame (pronounced laam), or a sharp serrated knife.  This helps the loaves to rise.  This is my lame.

baker's lame-has razor sharp edges on all sides

And then, because I usually have left over butter and because, you know, I like butter, I pour some of the butter into the slashes.

Pouring yummy butter into the slash in the loaf

Put the loaves in the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes.  The tops will be golden and the bottoms will sound hollow when you thump them with your finger.  Turn out of the pans on to a cooling rack.  If the bottom crusts don’t have as much color as you would like, put them back in the oven without the pans for a few minutes.

Sourdough yummyness!

If you can resist, don’t slice the loaves until they are cool.  The loaves will continue to cook as they cool and the texture will be better if you don’t slice it until then.  But, if you can’t, you can’t!  Spread it with something like, maybe butter.  And maybe even some homemade jelly.  That’s what I do anyway.  Enjoy!

Sourdough 101: Part 7

I am very sad to tell you that I have had some issues with my phone today and wasn’t able to take any pictures of Beowulf for you.  But, not to worry, he’s still bubbling away and rising nicely.  Today were feeding numbers 12 and 13.  Your starter should be close to doubling after every feeding by now.  Keep in mind, too, that after rising it will start to deflate.  So in the morning when you get up, it might have already risen and deflated without you seeing how high it got.

Tomorrow morning will be feeding number 14.  After that, I will be able to use the starter to begin baking yummy things.  Before then, I would like to give you a few things to keep in mind when using your starter.

The longer you let it sit, the more tangy the end product will be.  For instance with waffles, I mix the batter right before I use it.  We like a mild sourdough taste.  If you want it tangy-er you can mix the starter, the flour, and the liquid the night before and let it sit all night.

You need to always keep 1/2 cup to 1 cup of starter.  If you are not going to be using your starter that often, you can keep it in the fridge.  About once a week you’ll need to take it out, let it come to room temperature, and feed it.  If you are going to put it right back in the fridge without using it, you’ll feed it in the same way we have been doing this week.  Remove half, add 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour.  If you are going to be using it, you’ll need to “build it up”.  Which brings me to the next thing to keep in mind.

You should never feed your starter more than 3 times the amount that you start with.  For instance, if you have 1 cup of starter, you should not add more than 3 cups of water and 3 cups of flour to it.  If you have 2 cups of starter, no more than 6 cups of water and flour.  Let’s say that I know I want to bake some bread tomorrow.  My bread recipe calls for 3 cups of starter.  What I’ll do is take the starter out of the fridge in the evening and let it come to room temperature.  I will pour it in a stoneware mixing bowl.  I always keep a cup of starter, so I can go ahead and add 3 cups of water and 3 cups of flour to the starter and mix it up.  I cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a bread cloth and let it sit on the counter over night.  In the morning, I measure out the amount I need for my bread into another bowl.  If at this point I am going to put the starter back in the fridge, I measure 1/2 cup into a jar and add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour.  I let that sit out for a few hours until it starts to rise, then put the lid on and put it back in the fridge.

What has been happening lately at my house is that the starter doesn’t go in the fridge.  Ever.  I have been using it almost every day.  It sits in a stoneware bowl on my cabinet.  I feed it enough at night for what I’m going to do in the morning.  After that, I feed it again for the evening.  Say that tomorrow I am going to make waffles for breakfast, bake bread in the morning, and fix biscuits to go with supper.  Here is what I would do.  I know that my waffles recipe calls for 1 cup of starter and my bread recipe calls for 3 cups.  So in the morning I need 4 cups of starter to use and 1 cup to save.  Because I have only 1 cup of starter to begin with, I can only add 3 cups of water and 3 cups of flour.  That wouldn’t give me enough to use and to save.  So today about noon I’m going to start building it up for tomorrow.  I will add 2 cups of water and 2 cups of flour, stir, and cover.  Now I have about 3 cups of starter.  Then tonight before I go to bed I will add another 2 cups of water and 2 cups of flour, stir, and cover.  Now tomorrow morning when I get up, I have enough starter for the waffles and the bread and about a cup to save.   We eat the waffles, I clean up the kitchen and now it’s time to start the bread.   After I have measured out the starter for the bread, I’ll then build the starter up again so that I have enough for the biscuits for supper.  I know it sounds like a lot of maintenance, but it really only takes a few minutes to stir stuff together.  The biggest thing, really, is having to do a little planning.

I just re-read that and it sounds complicated.  But it really isn’t.  You just need to get the hang of it.  If it sounds a little intimidating to you (which it was to me the first few times I read instructions like that!), I would suggest starting out with only using it once a day.  I promise that once you get in the swing of things, it becomes second nature.

Tomorrow I will post my favorite sourdough bread recipe for you to start with.  I can’t wait!  Until then, I will leave you with a look at the pretzels I’ve been experimenting with.  I’m not completely happy with the recipe yet, but the kids said they “weren’t bad”.

Sourdough Soft Pretzels

Sourdough 101: Part 6

Hello again all.  I’m so glad you’re still with me!  I was so pleased with Beowulf this morning that I almost forgot to have my caffine before I started playing with the starter!  After both feedings yesterday, I knew that there had been some expansion, but couldn’t really tell how much.  Add because I stopped taking pictures of what he looked like after the feedings, there was no way for you to see it.  I got really clever last night, though!  After I fed him last night I used a dry erase marker to mark the level of starter in the jar.  Just look at what greeted me this morning!

Before feeding number 10.

Ok, so maybe I get excited too easily.  But I think it’s pretty cool.  I marked the jar again after this feeding.  We’ll see what happens today.  Ideally, there should be more rising after each feeding.

Oh, and by the way, when we started this little adventure my part of the country was having blizzards and it was really, really, cold.  So my kitchen was really, really, cold.  This week we have been having record high temperatures.  Gotta love Oklahoma weather!  So I have been just using cold water out of the tap instead of warm.  Like I said when we started, I have used both warm and cold before, without seeing any difference.  Also, remember that I am using clean jars every other feeding so that I can get some semi-decent pictures for you.  I would normally not be doing that, so if your jar is looking kinda messy and you wonder why mine doesn’t look the same, that’s why.  Of course, you may not be a messy person and your jar my look much better than mine does!

Can’t wait to see what Beowulf looks like this evening!

Well, here he is.  Isn’t he great?

Before feeding number 11.

We are getting really close now.  Can you almost smell all the goodies you’re going to be making?  And just to whet your appitite, today I was experimenting with a sourdough soft pretzel recipe.  Unfortunately, it still needs some experimentation.  And I need some practice making pretzel shapes!  Maybe I’ll just make pretzel sticks next time.  Hopefully, I’ll have it fixed by next week and  I will share it with you then.

Beowulf and I will be back tomorrow.