Hey friends! Today I’m sitting back and letting someone else chime in on what they’ve been up to in the kitchen, namely learning the art of sourdough bread. This person is a frequent taste tester for Kitschen Cat, an avid dishwasher, a sounding board for all my crazy ideas, and the father of our cat babies. Introducing, my husband Kevin!!
When Kev told me he was going to start making sourdough last Fall, I’m not sure if I believed him. He’s a great cook when he wants to be, but the process of making a sourdough starter, nurturing it weekly, and turning it into a magnificent crusty loaf of bread just wasn’t something I could see him spending time with. I was so wrong!! He’s taken great care with learning the ins and outs of all things sourdough, and as a byproduct, I get to eat freshly baked bread every single week! So, without further adieu….Kevin Van Slyke.
KEVIN: “We’ve got a culture problem, folks. It’s a sticky mess out there, nothing seems cheerful and bubbly anymore, and it smells bad.”
This is a journal entry from Oct 17, 2016. My third attempt at a sourdough starter was not going well and I was questioning if I had the gumption to do anything worthwhile in the kitchen (or in life for that matter). Dark days, I tell you.
Starter is the life of sourdough bread, rather than traditional instant yeast, which gives most other bread its lift. It’s a simple recipe – just equal parts water and flour (and time) – but it proved to be infuriatingly difficult to bring to life.
Fast forward ~6 months and you wouldn’t believe the beautiful smells and tastes making their way about the house on a weekend afternoon. Much like this blog, learning to make sourdough bread has been a rewarding work of perseverance (or preserverance as an old professor used to say). Baking bread has become part of my weekend rhythm and has taught me more patience than I care to admit. How did I get started on this path?
In an effort to slow down and simplify over the last year, I decided to start reading more. One of the authors I began following is named Michael Pollan. You may have seen his mini-series on Netflix called Cooked (it’s also an excellent read). Pollan deftly evangelizes the benefits of home cooking informed by a deep historical knowledge of agriculture and food science. One of our friends let me borrow The Omnivore’s Dilemma and right after I finished I wanted to take up baking sourdough bread. There are many reasons, but here are the few that drove me to begin.
– Pollan says bread baking is the wood working of the kitchen, requiring precision and patience (I already do a little wood work on the side).
– Sourdough uses wild yeast as the active rising agent and that sounded exciting to me.
– Jess and I both love bread.
– It’s speculated that many of the issues with gluten sensitivity caused by traditional instant yeast in bread may not occur with the naturally occurring cultures in sourdough (read more).
– Jess and I want to start making more things in the home, which consciously lessens our reliance on consuming pre-made products.
While you don’t need this stuff, baking life has been much easier since acquiring them.
– Kitchen scale (baking measurements are best done in weight rather than volume)
– Dutch oven (Le Creuset is the fancy kind)
For whatever reason it took me six weeks to get a starter going. I sampled several online resources, searching for the easiest, simplest instructions. My need for TONS of detail actually came in handy in the early days of the blog when Jess needed to dummy-proof her recipes. I ended up at The Kitchn and had a bubbly starter within five days, as promised. Read here to get started.
Next was to find the right bread recipe. Again, this took me an absurdly long time (2 months) to find the right mix of clear instructions and proportions. Again, The Kitchn did me right, but I’ve since tweaked their take on a classic white flour sourdough loaf. Once your starter is bubbly and ready to go, head here to try your first loaf!
A few of my own tweaks from their recipe:
– I only use a total of about 450 grams of water instead of their suggested 525 grams.
– If using kosher salt, be sure to measure out 25% more as it’s usually much more coarse than regular table salt.
– Total bake time for me is only 45 minutes instead of over an hour. I only go 15 minutes in step 23 and skip step 24 entirely.
– So far I’ve subbed in 300 grams of whole wheat flour and had excellent results.
And there you go! I haven’t regretted a single minute spent baking, even in the most frustrating times when two days put into a loaf leads to a disappointing result. To-date, I’ve only had one loaf that was actually inedible, and even that was a learning experience. Trial and error is a reality of the bread making process, and in the end there’s not one right or wrong answer – it all depends on what sort of loaf you’re looking for! I’m happy right now with my ability to bake a classic white bread sourdough, so moving forward I’ll be starting to experiment with whole grain flours and other small adjustments in my recipe.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about the sourdough baking process, you can email [email protected] and I’ll be happy to answer them for you!
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