Daring Baker Challenge December 2011: Sourdough.

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

sourdough wreath

I guess if I'm honest, at first I was a bit disappointed that our December challenge wasn't panettone, fruitcake, or something else more seasonally suited. But even if personally I questioned the seasonality of the challenge, I was more than excited that the gospel of sourdough was about to be tackled by a wide audience of Daring Bakers! It also gave me a chance to read a little more about other methods of sourdough starters, and re-kindled my excitement for all things bread.

I did not grow an additional starter as outlined in the recipes we were provided since I had already grown my own, and I didn't craft a plain sourdough bread since I have been regularly practicing this now for more than a year. I did feel once again that I fulfilled the spirit of the Daring Baker by challenging myself to make a sweet dough with my sourdough starter - something that outside of pancakes and waffles, I've never done before. My results were visually stunning, but lacking a little in the softness of traditional sweet yeasted breads. I am not about to give up on the quest to transform my sourdough starter into a softer, kinder being... this journey is only just begun.

cinnamon caramel sauce
cinnamon-carmel sauce.

I decided rather last minute before Christmas to make a sourdough wreath using Teresa's (from Northwest Sourdough) recipe. With components like sour cream in the dough and a gorgeous cinnamon scented (and easy) caramel sauce, I knew the flavors couldn't be beat. It also was shaped in a way I had never seen any bread shaped before. Just a little patience and staggered forming times, and 4 near-identical wreaths were resting on my dining room table.

sourdough, sweet
soft dough, a little sticky, but really lovely to work with.

shaping wreathsourdough wreaths

I used Teresa's method of baking the wreaths under a cast iron "lid" of sorts, my overturned 5qt. Dutch oven base. In order for them to fit, I needed to make 4 smaller wreaths, which I weighed out at just over a pound each before forming. I started around 11 am on Christmas Eve, and my first completed wreath was out of the oven to cool just after 8 pm. I had first considered some refrigerated proofing time and setting my alarm to do the Midnight Baker thing, but thought that since it was Christmas after all, I shouldn't tax myself too much. I was also leaving pretty early in the morning on Christmas Day, and didn't want to feel sleepy at the wheel, which can occasionally happen to me when I get too little of solid sleep the day before.

When they came out of the oven, I brushed them with butter, and let them cool about a half hour each (nearly all the way) before tucking them into plastic wrappings to try to preserve a little of the softness that I had already figured would be elusive. I gave two away, and took two with me out to "the farm", and a day later when I finally was able to try a slice, they were a little tough. I wasn't really surprised. The flavor was really good, the dough a little sour, and the cinnamon caramel with chocolate and walnuts or pecans was really a good match. But I've still a lot to learn about wild yeast, and how to coax it into soft breads is not far from the top of the list. I wouldn't say it was a failure, it was just a stronger dough than I would have liked, and that my family was expecting.

packaged wreaths

I have been mentally obsessed with this post from another of my favorite bread blogs, Wild Yeast. In it, Susan describes the special treatment of wild yeast starter prior to baking a panettone. Several days of balmy 85 degree atmosphere and more frequent (every 4 hours) feedings may be the ticket to softer, more "traditionally textured" sweet bread dough. I am considering a personal, month-long, sugar-free zone for January, but I may have to make an exception for the sake of experimentation... that or I'll have to give it all away. That works for me too.

sourdough wreath, cut

I am sure you have not read the last from me on the quest for the perfect soft sourdough. Meanwhile, please have a look at the original recipe from Northwest Sourdough that I used for these sourdough wreaths. If I were to eat one hot from the oven, I have a feeling my textural complaints would have been far fewer. Why not reduce the recipe and give it a go yourself!

If you are looking to start a sourdough starter of your very own, this month's Daring Baker Challenge recipe has some starters (made with rye and whole wheat flours) to get you started. (There is also a gluten-free starter and an interesting rice, Brazil nut and flax seed bread to make with it.) I made mine using grapes, and the process took me much longer to get going that the DB instructions suggest. It was well over 2 months before my starter was in any condition to raise a loaf of bread, but that is only my experience. The miraculous thing about wild yeast is that your location and atmosphere and a whole host of other factors will determine your successes and failures. You have only to dive in and start experimenting. If you ask me, it's a good New Year's Resolution to pursue!

If I don't get a chance to post any more kitchen adventures before the end of 2011, this Daring Baker Challenge was an excellent way to end my culinary year. It piqued my interest into a new facet of sourdough baking, and it allowed me to check out other bakers who may have never used a wild yeast starter before. There is always something to learn with wild yeast, and I look forward to a new year full of new experiments with it!

Happy New Year!!

(Oh and one last thing: if you live in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area and would like some sourdough starter, just email me! I am more than willing to give you a starter to work with. I am also open to dehydrating some and mailing it to you, provided you live in the US (since I'm unsure of international wild yeast shipping laws...). It should rehydrate with a bit of care and build up much more quickly than starting completely from scratch.)