Putting the Sour Back in Sourdough

Sourdough starter, soon to be named Seymour. The beginning of my quest.
Sourdough starter, soon to be named Seymour. The beginning of my quest.

Some readers may remember that during the summer, I made my first ever sourdough starter. The starter is essentially a blend of yeast, flour, and water, which is aged in a warm place for a couple of days until it is bubbly and has grown a bit. Then it is used in a sourdough bread recipe. The remaining starter can be kept in your fridge, and it will last you years (decades! centuries!) as long as you feed it regularly and keep it happy.

After I read Omnivore’s Dilemma and found out that bread sold in grocery stores usually has about 87 (slight exaggeration – more like 40) different chemical ingredients added to the bread, I went into a bread frenzy. We were NOT buying bread. Except French baguettes. Those exist outside of my current skill level and the abilities of my oven. Other than baguettes, which are necessary so that I can kill an entire wedge of brie in one sitting, I was making bread from there on out.

And I’ve been pretty good about that. I’ve found many great recipes for sweet Amish bread, grainy flax seed, and tender oatmeal. But the sourdough has been rough. Here’s the thing:  my sourdough has never tasted like sourdough. I’ve given bits of the starter to other people, and they agreed:  it’s good, it makes nice bread, but it doesn’t taste sour.

That’s a problem. But I felt defeated, so my starter, which I’ve named Seymour (think Little Shop of Horrors), went along helpless in the back of my fridge.

Last week, on Top Chef, the cheftestants had to work with sourdough bread, which they made from 30 year-old starter donated by a family in Alaska (where they’re filming). And I thought, you know what, enough. It’s bread. It’s dough. It’s science. Surely I can beat this.

Or really:  surely someone else has beat this and can tell me how.

And that’s why I love the Interwebs. Because someone had. And her recipe is flawless.

Annie’s Eats is a blog by a woman who is a sourdough genius. She includes instructions here for creating your own sourdough starter, but if you already have one that’s healthy, that’s okay. I used Seymour, who is about 5 months old, and it worked great.

I didn't photograph the sourdough, but here's a photo of an aggressive crane.
I didn’t photograph the sourdough, but here’s a photo of an aggressive crane.

Reasons I love Annie’s recipe:

1. No kneading by hand (if you have a stand mixer). I hurt my back doing yoga last week, and it’s still bothering me because I have a stupid habit of sitting in a way that’s bad for my back. Whatever. Kneading was sort of out of the question. With this recipe, if you have a stand mixer with a paddle and hook attachment, you’re good to go.

2. Long rising times. Part of why I love making bread is because I can do a task, then forget about it for an hour or so, then come back to it. This recipe is no different.

3. IT ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE SOURDOUGH BREAD! That tangy bite you want? It’s there! And here’s the secret:  the second rise should take place slowly and for a long time, 8-12 hours. That’s when the sour taste comes out. Annie writes that the second rise should happen in the refrigerator, prepped to go in the oven. Now, I ran short on time, so I only let it do the second rise for 6 hours, and it still tasted perfectly like sourdough bread. But I’m convinced Annie is a genius. Annie, if you read this:  I will recommend you for a MacArthur Grant in Breadmaking. You’ve earned it, I think.

Now, did I take pictures? No. Because I was watching the Grammy’s and I couldn’t be bothered to take photos when I was waiting for the Lumineers to come on. But my bread looked exactly like Annie’s. Which is to say it looked like sourdough.

My quest is complete. I’ve tasted sourdough bread from my own oven that tastes like sourdough. It’s time for me to buy an Adirondack chair, point it west, and eat my bread.

4 thoughts on “Putting the Sour Back in Sourdough

  1. I love this! We have a little tradition in my family. We are big bread bakers, so when any of the grandchildren get married, my grandmother buys her a 6 quart Kitchen Aid. Mine is my most favorite wedding present I got, and I bake in it all the time. I’ve done lots of breads, but never a sourdough. After this post, I think I might try my hand at it this weekend…

  2. I’m so thrilled to know you enjoyed this recipe! It is one of my absolute favorites and I make it every few weeks. Sourdough bread FTW! Thanks for your kind words 🙂

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