Sourdough Adventures

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2018 has been to try new baking recipes. I'm an unabashed creature of habit, so I have to make a deliberate effort to break out of my routines now and then. Fortuitously enough, my mother had given me a new cookbook for Christmas, one from none other than my favorite flour company, King Arthur:

As I started perusing recipes, I made note of the usual fare, from breads to pizza dough, but there was one chapter in particular that stuck out: sourdough.

I've been wanting to venture into sourdough for some time now, particularly after trying the fabulous sourdough loaves as Los Poblanos.

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For all my interest, however, I've always been a little intimidated by it. After all, a starter is basically a living creature, even if a very basic one, and I worried that I'd be too irresponsible or lazy to tend it properly. Growing up, my mother had also shared stories of her experiences with an unstoppable starter cake called a herman, which apparently was a starter that replicated so quickly she couldn't bake it fast enough. As I result, whenever I thought about getting my own start going, I imagined my kitchen getting devoured by some yeast-blob monster.

As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. King Arthur walked me through the process of starting sourdough, and I even learned a little history in the process, such as the fact that 49ers and other pioneers valued their soughdough starters almost as much as their gold because it enabled them to maintain a steady, basic food source during their arduous travels west. I also learned how a starter is basically wild yeast, and that the all starters have a distinctly regional flavor reflecting the native plants flora and fauna that grows there. Most importantly, I learned the many ways to make, and then maintain, a starter.

After comparing a few different methods, I used the most straighforward one, which involves adding warm water to instant dry yeast and letting it sit out until it turns wild. This takes a few days, during which the mixtures bubbles and gurgles like some enchanted brew. After it settles down, you pour it into a glass or ceramic jar, and store it in the fridge until needed.

Lately I've been using the starter about every two weeks, so that I'm not baking every single weekend. When I take it out of the fridge, the alcohol has separated from the rest of the mixture. According to King Arthur, 49ers used to drink this stuff when they were desperate for some booze, but I suspect it tastes better in bread. 

Once you stir it up, it's good to go. The recipes I've been using call for a cup of starter. To replenish, I add a cup of flour and a cup of water to the jar, stir, and let it sit out overnight to give the starter a chance to feed. I then put it back in the fridge until next time.

So what have I made so far? Well bread of course:

I've also tried some breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, and even English muffins:

I also made this sourdough version of anadama, a traditional New England bread:

In my most recent variation on bread, I used mostly whole wheat flour to make it extra hearty (and photogenic):

I've enjoyed this baking journey so far, and look forward to trying out new recipes in the future. Sourdough is surprisingly easy to do once you've got a good starter, so if you've ever wanted to try it out, I recommend it.