August 24, 2015

Wild Yeast Sourdough for Beginners

Greetings friends! Summer of 2015 has been an experiment in fermentation and I have been ravishing each sour culture from gingery daikon kimchi and salty umeboshi to hearty sourdough pancakes and loaves. I had been intimidated by the metabolic process of creating living foods and to be honest, I still don't really understand what's going on in all my crocks. In an effort to explain glycolysis I have ripped this wonderful formula off of Wikipedia to explain all of your science-related questions:

C6H12O6 + 2 NAD+ + 2 ADP + 2 Pi → 2 CH3COCOO + 2 NADH + 2 ATP + 2 H2O + 2H+

Make sense now? All I can say is that it's not complicated to smash a bunch of things into a jar, starve them of air, cover them in a protective salty brine and wait for the magical lactobacillus to wiggle their way into deliciousness. The results are wonderful, healthy, and flavorful. Here's my first tutorial into the world of fermentation for beginners- an introduction to wrangling wild yeast and using it to produce dense, delicious loaves. In an era where bread-loving seems like a subversive act, I encourage you to try this recipe out and convince the anti-gluten types in your life to sample a sliver!

Harvesting Wild Yeast & Maintaining A Starter

Yeast microbes are amazing organisms that exist in most environments, shuffling themselves around in flours and soils and breezes and attaching to the skins of sugary fruits. To make your own sourdough starter, mix 2 cups unbleached flour with 2 cups filtered water in a large jar or bowl. Whisk vigorously until combined. Drop in 4 organic, unwashed grapes or berries. Be sure to use organic fruits with edible skins only! Pesticides often carry antimicrobial funk and will prohibit the good funk from forming.

Cover the jar with cheesecloth and place in a warm place with good air flow. Mix the culture vigorously at least once a day for a few days until you start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the batter. Many environmental factors effect the speed at which this happens, so be patient! If you do not see bubbles after 4 or 5 days, add a pinch of commercial packaged yeast. Once you are seeing bubbles, fish out the fruits and add a tablespoon of flour each day, stirring to combine. The lactobacillus are hungry and feeding them a bit of flour each day keeps the sponge alive and happy.

To maintain, add a tablespoon or more flour each day with a bit of water as necessary. If you are going out of town, cover and refrigerate the starter. To enliven it again, simply feed the culture and return it to a warm place with good airflow.

Sourdough Bread Recipe

1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
3/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Add a bit of water if necessary. You want the mixture to resemble a loose, floury mess but don't worry about it being perfect! If you add too much water, simply compensate with flour and visa-versa. Knead for at least 5 minutes on a floured surface. The dough should feel smooth and elastic. Form into a ball and place into a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Place the bowl in a plastic grocery bag and close the bag loosely to allow ventilation.

Let sit for 6-8 hours or overnight until doubled-ish in size. Punch down and re-form into a ball. Let rise again for another hour. Place a shallow dish filled with water on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat to 425.  If you have a pizza stone, place that in there as well to pre-heat. I bake my bread in a cast iron frying pan and lightly oil it before placing the pan in the oven to pre-heat.

Once your oven is good and toasty, use a serrated knife or blade to cut a large X on the top of the loaf and gently plop it on your pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes until the crust is dark brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when knocked. Remove the loaf from the oven and let cool on a wire rack or paper bags.

Once cooled, slice thinly and enjoy!

Yours under a chorus of cicadas,