The Secrets Behind Sourdough Bread
By Lynn Blamires Content Writer for My Local Utah
Family Recipes - Sourdough Bread
Sourdough is the oldest leavening agent known to man. In the Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology, Michael Gaenzle writes: “One of the oldest sourdough breads dates from 3700 BCE and was excavated in Switzerland, but the origin of sourdough fermentation likely relates to the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent several thousand years earlier, which was confirmed a few years later by archeological evidence. Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history; the use of baker’s yeast as a leavening agent dates back less than 150 years.”
Traditional sourdough bread like the cross-hatched artesian loaf uses sourdough as the only leavening agent. These are referred to as Type 1 Sourdough breads. It may take more than 12 hours for the bread to rise sufficiently in the proofing process to be ready for the oven. The bread is chewy and the flavor is more sour.
In Type II Sourdough Bread, yeast is added to leaven the dough. This is the type of bread you will get at a restaurant when you order sourdough toast with your breakfast. The loaf will look like a regular loaf of bread instead of the flatter artesian loaf. The sourdough flavor will be milder and the slice of bread will be softer. It is that sourdough flavor in a milder form that is preferred by some over the more sour and chewy Type I Sourdough Bread.
Obtaining Your Own Sourdough Starter
- Make your own – since wild yeast is present in all flour, the easiest way to make a starter is simply by combining flour and water and letting it sit for several days. You don’t need any fancy ingredients to “capture” the wild yeast or get it going — it’s already there in the flour. Bread flour is the best to use in making your own starter. There are several recipes on the internet for making your own.
- You can also buy sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour and have it shipped to your door. A one-ounce jar will set you back about $9 or $31 with a cool storage crock.
- Find a baker or a friend that has a starter who will give you some of theirs. Sometimes you can find someone who has a starter with some interesting genealogy.
Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter
Some people use water and flour to feed the starter, I prefer to use whole milk, flour, and sugar. When I am maintaining the sponge, I take it out of the refrigerator – add one cup of whole milk, one cup of flour, and a tablespoon of sugar. I stir it well and set it on the counter overnight. Note – it is important never to stir your sponge with a metal spoon. Always use a wooden or non-metal spoon, metal will kill the starter.
The next morning it is fresh and ready to use. If you think you have more than you need, just throw some of it away. It is more important to keep it fresh than to figure out how to use all of it.
I have also just taken it right out of the refrigerator and put it in my recipe.
Substitutes for Yeast in Pandemic Times
For type ll sourdough bread, use equal parts lemon juice and baking soda. So if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of yeast, you can use half a teaspoon of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of baking soda. Keep in mind that the bread will not need the typical proofing time and the dough will begin rising right away.
Sourdough As a Connection with Pioneer Heritage and Romantic History
San Francisco is famous for its sourdough bread. However, if you want the San Francisco flavor, you will have to go the San Francisco to get it. Even if you could get a starter from there, it would not take long for your sponge to take on the airs of where you live. The conditions and atmosphere are unique in whatever part of the world you live.
I have a sponge that came from Herefordshire, England in the 1830s. It came across the ocean and was tenderly cared for as the Ellis family brought it across the plains. It has been in the Ellis family since it left England. I think it is fun to have a sponge with that kind of history. I got my starter from Brent Ellis who got it from his great grandfather.
- 1 cup sponge
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Add the ingredients in the order that they are listed.
- When it has risen near the top of the mixing pan, I put my cast iron bread pan in the oven and set it for 350 degrees. When the oven is preheated, I take the bread pan out of the oven, spray it with a vegetable spray, and transfer the dough to the pan.
- With wet hands, I smooth out the top. I have learned that if I put the bread in the oven at this point, it will split and not in the way I would like it to. To control the split, I take a sharp knife and make a split lengthwise in the top of the dough and insert thin pats of butter into the groove.
- I then put it in the oven and bake it for 40 minutes. When it is done, I take it out and turn the bread out onto a bread board. I will usually take a test slice off the end, but then I will cover it with a dish towel and let it cool.
- This is a loaf of Type II Sourdough Bread. When it is cool, I will slice it and put it in the freezer. I will take it out and toast it or warm it in the microwave. It will keep for at least a week and it will taste as fresh as the day I baked it.