Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This got me started...

...and sure enough, it is a starter, more precisely, a sourdough starter.

I had my first try at it last Winter, without much success, but this year, I came back with a vengeance.
For those unfamiliar with this, sourdough is more than just a kind of bread, it's a whole different wave length when it comes to bread making... it's the hard core stuff.

My grandfather was a baker. I remember how he kept his starter in a jar next to  the wood fire oven. As far as my memory can stretch, it actually didn't look much like the sourdough you'll see around on so many websites, a foamy liquid goo. Nop. All it was, was a large piece of dough, kept from the last batch of bread. It looked a bit dried out, on the outside,  but inside, it was swarming with live cultures.
Sourdough is a bit like a pet that you need to feed every now and then. You can practically keep it forever on the back of the fridge, forgotten. Feed it and those suckers will be back and ready for action in no time.

Want to try it home? Don't know where to start?
I decided to try the method at The Sourdough Companion.The instructions might seem a bit tedious and it might take you over 2 weeks to get a proper starter that is strong enough to make a good loaf, but believe me, it's amazingly rewarding and it's really not much work at all. When you see those first bubbles appear in the jar, it's magic!

Here are my first signs of activity after 6 days...

After 8 days of refreshing, it was nearly coming out of the jar!
It was time to test it.
And here's my first sourdough bread this year...

The rise is much slower than when using regular store bough yeast so I ended up cooking the bread at 2 am! This means, that cooking sourdough bread is something to be planned ahead of time, preferably the day before or even a couple of days before if the starter is kept in the fridge.
In any case, the result was seriously amazing!

This loaf was made with 1 cup of sourdough starter (called sponge), 2 cups of mixed flour (white and rye), 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of olive oil and just enough water to make a soft dough.
As instructed at The Sourdough Companion, it was folded several times while rising and the final rise took about 3 hours. I baked it on a preheated stone, second top rack, at 240 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes (keep an eye, I usually lower it to 200 after 10 minutes). I also added steam  by pouring about half a cup of water at the bottom of the oven (first 5 minutes, to help the rise). As a side note, I have been treating my oven pretty roughly, so you can always put an aluminum tray at the bottom and pour the water in. I just feel I get more steam this way. 


The crumb wasn't heavy, but I hope I can get it to be more airy in the next batches. It might have to do with the fact that my starter is not yet strong enough, but in any case, it was really good and I like that slight sour tang. Still much work ahead!

Meanwhile, here's a sourdough pizza that turned out equally yummy!

 Mushroom pizza with basil, straight out of the oven.

Anyone out there managed to build a good starter? Maybe we could  make a swap. Just drop me a note. It would be fun to see if different starters really taste different or not.
I'll gladly send out free samples to anyone who links my page.

Cheers all!


  1. Bread-making is not my strong side, but I will try too!
    I am sure Seiichi will enjoy watching it grow with me.
    Wish me good luck. ^0^