The Big Picture of Sour Dough

The Start

The sourdough bug bit.  Stands to reason,
what is there not to like about another fermentation process in the home of winemakers?
But this bug has it problems if you let it get out-of-hand.
Sourdough is a sort of holy grail exercise, and the grail becomes
making a better sourdough than the best classic, San Francisco-style,
loaf of sourdough that you have ever tasted.
That's the bug that I didn't let bite me.  Because...
we can get just such a wonderful loaf at the bottom of our hill
at Glen Ellen Village Market, baked under the trademark of
Raymonds.

Having said that, you should still know about the holy grail.
It is well worth it to find the article written by Erika Bruce in the March/April 2005
edition of Cook's Magazine.  She takes you on a very nice journey.

Our journey is a different one.  We made a deal with ourselves that we
would not make any bread that you could find in the stores.
Sonoma County is such a fertile field for bread, why reinvent the wheel?
And who wants to compete with some of the best bakers in the world?
So... it all started at the A
HH Bread Baking Seminar.

                                                                                                         
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The Starter

The star of this seminar was Konstantin Zaharoff.
He brought the bugs that bit.
Konstantin brought the starter that we have been feeding and has been feeding us ever since.
The good news is that he got it from a health-food store, and you can too.
Now, if you can get a starter from some emotionally connected source, do it !
That will put a little more soul and smile into the bread.
Our emotional connection to Konstantin runs this way:
The general contractor at the Villa here, is Andy, the son of Konstantin and Alla.
Andy took out an indoor BBQ for us that we never used because it fumed,
and besides, we like to be at the hearth or outside when cooking with fire.
Andy said, "What do you want for that BBQ?  My parents could use it."
Bruce said, knowing they were foodies and Russians,
"I don't know.  How about your Mom putting on a Russian meal for us."
To which Andy said, "You've got a deal, my Mom is always ready for a party."
And what a great deal it was.  First of all, it wasn't a Russian meal,
it was a Russian FEAST!  Replete with the art of toasting.
The perfect wine match with a Russian feast is Vodka.
Interestingly enough, this 'wine' has as much or more
protocol around it as does wine-wine, and they
were the sort of people that were kind
enough to gently instruct us.

As you might guess, this sort of connection blossomed.
It came to fruition during a subsequent feast when I was
toasting to the passing of my Mom.  Later in the feast, sensing
that Alla was the social-organizer of the Zaharoffs, I leaned over
to her and said, "I want to ask you a question that you don't have to
answer now.  Think it over.  But the question is, would your tribe like
to part of our tribe?"  Alla thought this over for about two nano-seconds.
Her answer was,
"YES!"

Alla later became Bruce's adopted-mom, and it is with this emotional tie, that Konstantin,
her wonderful husband, brought us the sourdough starter that we use.  He brought it
in a one quart yogurt container, and so we have used that size of container
that will give you one and a half cups of starter left over after you feed it.

The feeding is:
With a rubber scrapper, mix what is in the starter container and then
measure out 1 cup of starter.
Use the remaining starter which will give you about 1 1/2 cups for bread, etc.
Put the one cup of starter into a mixing bowl.
Add one cup of water and mix it in.
Add 1 1/2 cups of white unbleached flour or a combination of
whole wheat pastry flour and white flour.  Mix it in.
Let stand at room temperature for approximately four hours.
Return the starter to the clean storage container and refrigerate.
Feed the starter every seven to ten days.


The Increase

I think all of the recipes we've made call for this phase called the Increase.
It is a chance for the starter to multiply itself and some of the
grains and grits that need soaking to rehydrate.
Let the bowl of goo (goo is a word of endearment in the Rector Residence),
otherwise known at the increase, sit covered at room temperature for at least 2-3 hours.
If it goes longer, that is much better than shorter.  And if something comes up and you
have to go out, just put it into the refrigerator and resume when you return.
Don't let breadmaking dictate your schedule.  I have never had one of these rustic recipes ruined
because I left it too long, quite often it is the trick to a terrific tangyness.

Now here's the deal... the starter is a blend of yeast and bacteria, and
if you use normal bread rising protocol, which is slightly warmer than
room temperature, then that temperature will favor the yeast and
discourage the bacteria, thusly diminishing the sour tang that
makes sourdough what it is, and holy grail-like.
So if in doubt, leave it longer.


The Clean Up

Anytime that you are working with sourdough, in any of its forms,
do yourself a great big favor and clean up, or at least soak everything,
IMMEDIATELY.
If it sets-up, not even the most strident thumbnail can dislodge it.
In fact, Krassimira and I are seriously thinking of using it for label glue.
That way each bottle of Pinot Noir that you buy would have the
added bonus of having the starter ever-present-and-ready.
But maybe we should think this through.


The Loaf

All of these recipes are cain't-buy-'em-rustic.
As such, part of their charm is that they are dense.
( We have taken the fluffy and compressible, '
I Wonder how they do that' out of the Wonder Bread. )
You will notice that darn near all of the recipes are loaves that are left to
spread out on their own, or a modest amount of dough is put into the baking pan if you use one.
Don't let the loaves resemble anything that looks standard.
If the loaves are tall, they become too heavy and lose their rustic charm.
Also a flatter loaf can be thinly sliced much more easily.


The Keeping

With the exception of the Rustic Whole Wheat Sourdough recipe, which makes one large loaf,
the recipes are sized to make 3-4 modest sized loaves.  Here is a storage technique that has
worked-out quite well for us.  We eat the largest of the 3-4 loaves after we have made it,
and freeze the rest.  We store the bread in closed zip-lock bags and cut only what we need.
Because the starter gets re-newed weekly, we usually make bread weekly.
And if we freeze the smaller ones (sometimes cutting them in half prior to freezing),
and thaw them later,  we always have a rich variety of bread to match the cuisine.
Please use the standard protocol of freezing: first a saran wrapping and then
put the wrapped loaf into a
labeled and dated freezer-style zip-lock bag.
Interestingly enough, we have noticed that the bread
quality peaks the day after it is baked.  It gets a little more
tangy, so that is when we wrap them up and chill them down.


The Recipe

I hesitate to call what I have written down a recipe, rather it's an invitation to enjoy a process.
Maybe the recipes should be called bread-blogs, that's really more like it.
The point is . . .     don't hesitate to change the recipes due to your
ingredients on hand, your experience, or your own sensibilities.
Suffice to say, making bread is a subtle form of love making,
so it should be to your taste, style, and sense of well being.


                                                                                                  
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