Eighty five degrees is the new record high for Seattle on May 1st! So, am I a little crazy or really crazy to be baking sourdough bread today because I wanted to try Tartine Book No.3’s sprouted grain recipe? I got rye and triticale from Ballard farmer’s market over the weekend. I sprouted them a few days ago and they are ready to go.
I have been bitten by sourdough bread bug. It started about 2 years ago. One of my coworkers was telling me about no-knead method. She lent me her Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book to try out. For some reason, I couldn’t do it. Every loaf I baked would be flat! The crumb was way gummy. I never produced a beautiful round loaf with the no-knead method. The only thing I could make was pizza dough. The no-knead method did produce a better tasting pizza dough than the regular way. So, I went to the library and checked out all the books they had on no-knead method. One of them was Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. I tried to make baguettes from his book and it turned out OK. But, I could never figure out what it was that made the previous loaves not turn out.
In Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, he also talked about sourdough. I was intrigued by the way wild yeast works. I was already obsessed with fermented foods. My latest kick at the time was homemade yogurt and kimchi. So, I thought I’d give sourdough a try — live cultures are just fascinating! So, I went to the library and checked out all the books that talked about sourdough and I read them all. But, what got me really hooked on it was Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. His method is really simple and it doesn’t involve a Kitchenaid mixer. The dough develops its gluten structures by a gentle series of stretch and folds. What I like most about his method is that your active time is very minimal. You mix your starter with water and flour and let it sit (autolyse) for 1-2 hours, add salt, stretch and fold every 30 minutes, preshape, shape, final rise or retard over night, and then, bake. I think that was how I started on my sourdough journey.
If you like baking bread, you should give Tartine method a try. In the beginning, my starter was not strong enough to raise bread. I always ended up with a very flat loaf. We would make those into croutons — you can’t go wrong with crunchy bread cubes tossed in olive oil with herb and spices! They didn’t last long as croutons. It wasn’t until about 8 months later that the starter was strong enough that I got a good rise on the 100% whole wheat bread. It was 4 inch high! I was in shock! I have tried baking bread with commercial yeast once after I’ve been doing sourdough for awhile. And Man! The bread made with commercial yeast was bland! It even had a weird, bland smell while it was baking. Croutons from bread made with commercial yeast was even sub-par.
My starter is a 100% hydration whole wheat starter. I have never thrown any of it away when I refresh it — except for that one time that I dropped the glass jar on the counter and the jar broke. I had to throw that out. It’s a good thing that I just happened to give some to my co-worker the week before. I didn’t have to start over. When I got the starter back I realized that it’s time to give him a name. I needed a strong name so that he can raise a strong bread! So, I named him Viktor Krumb. (Yes, it’s spin-off from one of Harry Potter’s characters.)
I meant it when I said I never threw away my starter. All books suggest throwing half away when you refresh it. I keep Viktor in the fridge. (I am pretty sure that’s my starter took 8 months to make good bread.) I feed my starter twice or 3 times a week. If I’m busy and I forget, he gets fed once a week. If I’m away, he gets fed right before I leave and right when I get back. The longest time leaving him unfed was 3 weeks. I would just keep adding 20 grams of water and 20 grams of whole wheat flour. At the end of the week when I accumulate a lot of starter, I would use it to make brownies, carrot cake, pancakes, or waffles.
I wonder sometimes when my sourdough kick will end. I don’t think it will be anytime soon. Sourdough is so versatile. Once you get the gist of it, the possibility is endless — chipotle & cheddar, black sesame, Parmesan, chocolate banana, brown rice, Georgian chili paste, pear & black pepper, porter & hazelnuts, porridge, and sprouted grains. You name it!
So, yes, I just baked bread in a 500 degree oven today. This loaf is flatter than usual, but it’s still gorgeous. The color is perfect. I especially love the malty aroma of freshly baked bread. Drew and I always have to negotiate when he can have fresh bread. You’re supposed to wait for couple of hours. Drew would argue that breads are the best when it’s hot out of the oven (even if the crumb will be a bit gummy still). Anyway, I made him wait for only half an hour this time. I think we’ll cool off in our backyard with a bottle of prosecco and have sandwiches with pickle beets for dinner.