Sourdough Success!

Well, here it is:

my first loaf of Wisconsin sourdough bread. It is 100% naturally leavened, the power of it's rising I've decided to attribute to the addition of rye flour to my starter a couple of weeks ago. Ever since I started feeding my starter the diet variety, he has done nothing but thrive - and I am now proud to offer up portions of starter to any Milwaukee area bakers who are interested! (Just email me for details: unless I have people storming casa rcakewalk, I'm more than happy to give you your very own portion for free!)

In no small amount, I owe this loaf to Breadtopia - a small website and company devoted to assisting and reassuring home bakers like me. I used the recipe on their site for No-Knead Sourdough bread, a similar composition to my ever-loved Lahey bread but containing starter in lieu of any commercial yeast. Given my previous failures using my natural leavener, I didn't fully expect my dough to even rise. I mixed it up yesterday afternoon at 2:00 PM, and by 6:30 this morning:

it had raised miraculously to the top of my bowl! I could hardly wait to bake it. Since I ordered it with my last King Arthur Flour purchases, I've been trying to work with a brotform, a coiled cane rising basket. I've tried coating it with flour, wheat bran, oat bran, and combinations of all three, and have had problems with the dough sticking to the sides. Yes, I realize that mostly I'm using fairly wet dough (something that is a safeguard in producing "holey" bread) and that my basket isn't seasoned with years of wear. Fortunately, even after my loaf stuck miserably to the side when I was flipping it over into a pot heated to 500 degrees, it still rose and baked into a thing of beauty.

I know, I'm biased. But it's my baby, and he's all grown up. Producing bread from home is probably one of my greatest joys. It still seems unreal to me that humans have been making bread, or types of bread, for so long. The things that our planet is able to give us continue to astound me daily; the vast variety to make the human experience enjoyable and delicious is too great to comprehend. Nothing can be more natural than capturing wild yeast and putting it to work in flour and water, 3 ingredients that can do so much more than stave off hunger. Bread is the ultimate health food, the staff of life, and it's not to be taken lightly.

At the same time, it's worthy of noting, You can make bread. Anyone can. With such a small monetary investment, a bit of patience and determination, you can make something from almost nothing, and you can make it to your own specifications. The more often you practice, the more you will know and understand how dough works. So many describe the process as therapeutic, which I can agree with, but more so I feel that when I work with dough I'm doing something that connects me to almost every culture on the planet. I can learn so much from making flatbreads from India, or tortillas from different regions in Mexico, about the differences in atmosphere and ethnicity, anthropological truths and variances that I'd never have learned about in school.

Sourdough, I suppose, seems most ancient to me, and since it requires a modicum of daily attention, it seems like a long lost relative. The recipe from Breadtopia uses a pound of flour, white mixed with whole wheat, and bakes slightly hotter than the Lahey method. I think the crust had a better texture do to the higher temp, it certainly had better color. Since I had the bit of rye in the starter, I could absolutely taste the trace of rye in my final bread. Truth be told, I couldn't wait until the bread was fully cool to cut into it... I was way too excited. But, the crust was fantastic, and the crumb a creamy, custardy and wheaty blend of flavors that even my Husband liked. (Boy-O not so much, he even tried it three times, trying to like it - so that impressed me!) By the time lunch was over, only half a loaf remains. My lunch today? Bread, Swiss cheese, an apple, and kombucha.

If you have any trepidation from trying to make a yeasted bread of any sort, I hope you will be inspired to try or try again. I think back to a month ago and remember that I was thinking to give up on my starter and start again. It's a living process, and as with any living thing, there are no exact sciences or methods there are only suggestions and more suggestions. I'm happy that I found Breadtopia to give me that extra nudge of encouragement when I was looking for more advice yesterday. (They also have a nice shop with reasonably priced bread making accessories.) It's also so nice to re-discover that bakers in general are a helpful and curious type, willing to help or offer troubleshooting should you need it.

Now that I know my starter is capable of rising bread with no help from commercial yeast, I feel fearless in new experimenting. I also feel like telling all the neighbors that my starter is ALIVE and it works! Who knows, I probably will if I can work it into conversation... Meanwhile, I can obsess at length here at CakeWalk.

(This post has been YeastSpotted.)