Monday, May 30, 2011

Making Sourdough Bread (Inspired by "The Omnivore's Dilemma")

I recently finished reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It is an eye-opener. And a must-read for anyone serious about their nutrition. The first part of the book is all about corn. Corn, corn, corn, corn. He follows a typical Iowa corn farmer and then follows where the corn ends up. It's not good. It's made into high fructose corn syrup and it's fed to cows (instead of grass). It's really overused in this country and makes up, surprisingly, a great portion of our diets. It's why the people in our country are getting more and more obese and unhealthy. After reading this book, it seems nothing in our food industry makes any sense, except to the big ag execs.

Fortunately, there are farmers out there trying to not get sucked into the industry. In the second part of the book, Pollan stays at a "Utopian" Virginia farm. No chemicals or drugs here. Everything works in complete harmony. I found the symbiosis of the land and animals fascinating. It's changed the way I think of food and inspired me to buy as locally and organically as I can. No more corn-fed beef in this house! We have cut way back on our sugar consumption, and that has allowed us to be more able to afford organic.

The third part of the book follows Pollan as he hunts and forages for his own food. He goes hunting and kills a wild pig. He goes foraging for mushrooms. Then he prepares a meal for the friends who helped him made almost entirely of food he killed and foraged for himself. He makes sourdough bread with a starter made from the wild yeast of the San Fransisco air. This is what inspired me to try to make my own sourdough starter and bread. It turns out it's really easy and fun! Like a science experiment (I'll admit to my nerdiness right here - one of my favorite classes in college was my organic chem lab). I found several websites to help me through and picked out this one because it was so straight-forward.

Here is a step-by-step of how the starter-making process went. I've written in italics what I experienced with my starter.

1. Mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup room-temp water in a glass or plastic container. Don't use metal because it will react with the starter. I used a Rubbermaid container. Cover loosely. I snapped the lid on partially, leaving one corner up.

2. Let sit for 24 hours and room temp. At this point not much was going on. No bubbles, no odor. Throw out down the drain half of the mixture and "feed" it another 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Let sit for 24 hours and repeat the dumping and feeding. Stir the mixture several tims throughout the day.

3. Keep repeating this process every day until the starter starts to foam. By about the third day, I had bubbles and a sour odor. The mixture will bubble (much like pancake batter when the pancake is ready to flip). However, it's not ready to use until it foams or froths and you can see bubbles all the way through to the bottom. Also, within just a few hours after feeding it, it will increase in size. Then you know it's active and ready to make bread. It took me about 6 days to reach that point.

This is how my starter looked when it was ready to bake with.

You can see how the bubbles reach all the way to the bottom of the container.

For my first bread, I used this super easy Plain and Simple Sourdough Bread recipe from allrecipes and used the dough cycle on my bread machine. I had fed my starter that morning and knew it was going to be ready to use when it got frothy and increased in size. So I got busy baking that afternoon. The recipe called for 1 cup starter. I took that amount out and poured it in the machine, along with the other ingredients of the bread. Since I took 1 cup out, I had to feed the starter the same amount of water and flour, i.e. 1 cup water and 1 cup flour. Then let it sit for a few hours, then transfer to the refrigerator. Then all you have to do is feed it once a week to keep it alive.

I was very happy with the results of my bread. There was a little sour flavor, which I noticed even more when I used the bread to make toast. Sourdough toast is one of my favorite things in life. I'm happy to have made my own sourdough and to have my little "pet" in the fridge. Fun!

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