Sourdough Baby!

Ever since I moved to NYC, there are certain things I’ve miss:  family, friends, reliably good burritos/ tacos  and sourdough bread. While I’ve found some good ass bread (my top choice being bread from Grandaisy Bakery in the Village) I have yet to find what I took for granted my whole life in the Bay Area, really good sourdough – shit even a decent, passable sourdough.  I can’t tell you how many times I would be suckered into buying a “sourdough” loaf at the farmers market or a bakery only to be woefully disappointed by the decidedly non-sour and even plain nondescript bread. I guess I got spoiled back in the Bay being able to buy to go into any grocery store and pick out a fresh Semifreddi’s sourdough baguette or a crusty sourdough batard from Metropolis bakery, or walking into the Cheeseboard or Arizmendi and making grabbing a piece of focaccia or zampano with its delicate tang of sourdough. Oh, the memories.

But alas, it is time to forge some new memories.  And in the DIY (Do it Yo-damn-self) spirit made even stronger by these recession times, I’m making my own freakin’ sourdough bread, right here in freakin’ Brooklyn.  In fact, I already have.  But before I get ahead of myself let me give you the back story.  It all begins with the starter: sourdough starter. It is such a beautiful and simple thing. You can read more about it at this site here or get a a more detailed explanation on this site. Or just google sourdough starter and research away. Basically, it’s a natural yeast culture with live bacteria that feeds on the sugars and starches in flour and is kept alive and active with the regular addition of water and more flour. It is a living organism that needs to eat.  Through the metabobization of the starch it creates gas and bubbles which leavens the bread or whatever you’re making with the starter and creates the distinctive sour flavor.

My first experience with sourdough starter was years ago when I was living in SF and decided to see if I could start my own starter- San Francisco being known for it’s sourdough and all. Sure enough it worked and for a good 6 months I experimented with different bread recipes and while I did get did get some genuinely sour loaves, it wasn’t very consistent.  Looking back now, I don’t think I was feeding the starter enough, nor was I using enough starter for the bread.  In time travel, grad school -indeed, life took over and I lost track of what happened to that poor starter and I gradually put my bread making days behind me.

Then this past Christmas everything changed.  My mom, dad, Cheryl, Cam and the kids were all in Oakland at Cheryl and Cam’s house preparing a Christmas meal of leg of lamb marinated in an olive tapinade and beef short ribs braised with lots of red wine. carrots and mushrooms.  I felt like the only thing missing was a nice loaf of bread to soak up the rich beefy sauce of the short ribs.  And then Matt and Arlie showed (they were invited after all and are like family anyway) and Matt bringing with them a  beautiful boule style loaf. It was delicious, with a delightfully crunchy crust and, a great chewiness and the beautiful tang of sourdough. He told us he baked this no knead bread himself using a sourdough starter that was already 20 years old that he got from a friend of his.  Here’s a nice shot of my plate from the wonderful Christmas meal.

Christmas meal of leg of lamb, beef short ribs, beans, potatoes, cauliflower and bread

The next day, me, Cheryl, Cam and the kids went to Matt’s house to eat breakfast with Jake and Sari (gracious hosts of the Brazilian BBQ) who were up from LA visiting.  Matt made waffles using the sourdough starter and I think the general concensus was, these were the best damn waffles any of us had ever tasted.   Texturally they were amazing – light and fluffy, but perfectly crispy with a full bodied flavor that had just a hint of sour. Being the gracious host, Matt offered to give us all starter so we too could bake amazing bread and make awesome waffles.  But first, he had to feed the starter so there would be enough of it for us to take. Check out the video wherein he schools us in the proper way to maintain the starter.

Now as you can see, the starter is a living thing and I’d say being the owner of the starter is pretty good preparation for being a parent – a really obsessive parent  (at least in the beginning stages).  As far as I know, every person who received this starter obsessed about it for the first few days.  “Oh my God, I think I killed it.”, “Why isn’t it bubbling”  “What did I do wrong?” “Starter, I love you.  I’ll never leave you!”  Ok, maybe that last one was just me.  But it’s no joke.  The starter has a way of, well, taking over your life a little bit.  I already explained to Shef that this starter will be with us for the rest of our lives.  Now you understand why I titled this page “sourdough baby”.

The food writer and journalist Michael Pollen wrote in Botany of Desire about how humans have not only shaped the evolution of certain plants, like corn, tulips, apples and marijuana, but how those plants have in turn shaped the evolution and development of human culture and civilization and in fact by producing such desirable products – sweet and nutritious fruit, beautiful flowers, flowers that get you high – have “used” humans to further their own global dominance.  I’d say this yeast, by producing such wonderful bread is doing the same thing.  For example, this starter that Matt passed on to us was already 20 years old.  And in the space of one short month with our enthusiastic adoption and then our passing it on to other people,  it has spread exponentially, from coast to coast. It’s like the early days of Christianity, except it tastes a whole lot better and new converts don’t have to worry about being eaten by lions in the Roman Coliseum. Check out this map that I created to show the distances in just a month that this starter has traveled:

If I was to get all paranoid in an “Invasion of the Bodysnatcher’s” vein, what if everybody who possessed the starter, tended to it and ate something made with it was in fact becoming part starter?  And at a certain time something would switch in all of our brains and make us into dough spewing zombies that raided the world’s flour supplies?  Anyway…

Alright, pardon the ridiculous philosphical meanderings.  Let’s get to some recipes beause after all that’s what this is all about.  And let there be no doubt: this starter produces really tasty bread and waffles.  Even if I became a starter zombie it would totally be worth it.

Here is the waffle recipe:

Matt’s Sourdough Waffles

1 Cup starter
1 1/2 C flour
1 Cup milk
4 oz (1 stick) butter melted
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Let mixture sit (at room temperature) overnight.
Before cooking, add 2 eggs and 1/4 tsp baking soda.

Since I don’t have a waffle maker (yet) I made sourdough pancakes which were the lightest most flavorful pancakes I’ve ever had. For the pancakes I basically just use 1 cup of flour and 1/3 the amount of butter.

Here’s what they looked like:

the most fluffy and delicious pancakes

yes, closer up, it's even more delicious

And here is Matt’s no knead dough recipe. It’s pretty similar to recipe’s you can find on line as well.

No Knead Dough
Mix 1/4 C starter with 1 1/2 C water before mixing with dry ingredients
3 1/2 C Flour
3 tsp kosher salt or 1 12 tsp sea salt

Mix until it comes together in a ball – let sit at room temperature for 18 hours in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. After first rise, it should be stringy on side of bowl (stringy, bubbly and light)

Flour board – pour dough onto board and squish it out flat.
Fold into thirds (on top of itself), then fold in half and form ball from this

Place dough in flour cloth-lined bowl, seam side down.  Let it rise for 2 hours.  (It should double in size and/or no dimple when pushed)

Bake: Preheat oven to 450 degrees along with empty dutch oven.  Flip dough into hot pan and cook 30 minutes covered (for steaming) and then 20 minutes uncovered to finish.  Dough should measure 210 degrees inside.

Here’s a photo that Cheryl took of her first loaf:

This is Cheryl and Cam's first loag- pretty nice eh?

And here’s my attempt at making a baguette. I don’t have a dutch oven yet so I tired to get creative.  Baguettes are kind of hard.

flat and dense, but delicious!

next time, I would like bigger holes in the bread

Alright, so I got a dutch oven, a 5 qt. Lodge Cast Iron and it made all the difference.  Here are a few photos of my fourth and most successful loaf.  Again, it’s a little flat, but the crust was crunchy but much lighter and the bread itself was much less dense and a really good combination of moist and airy. I also used “bread” flour. Supposedly, it’s better for bread because the flour has more protein which creates more gluten for a chewier and more resilient dough.  All I can say is the loaf was delicious.

This is how the dough looks after 18 hours of proofing

A little flat and with a strange crusty flap (like a crusty comb-over), but still beautiful. How can a parent thing of his child as ugly?

check out the bigger holes and more airy architecture


3 thoughts on “Sourdough Baby!

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