21 September 2008

Saturday night's alright for fighting

I have killed more sourdough starters than I can even remember.

But holy mackerel have I got one now.

I've named this thing The Blob.

And it's alive!

(I had about a tablespoon's worth of starter yesterday. What you see in that photo is about a quart.)

I've been baking bread since forever. I don't do it all the time, except when the grocery people went on strike a few years back, and then I did make all the bread, and rolls, and hamburger buns...

With bread nearing upwards of $4 a loaf, I've decided to go back to baking my own. It tastes better anyway, and doesn't have all the garbage that most store-bought stuff does. Also, I've been increasingly insistent that the family eat whole grain bread, especially since diabetes and heart disease run in the spouse's family.

Guess who doesn't like whole wheat bread? Yup. Mr. No Fish Nor Vegetables.

"Well," he sniffed. "Can't you make sourdough whole wheat bread?"

So we were back to the sourdough.

I got my first sourdough starter at Jedediah's House of Sourdough in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, back before Jackson Hole became a major tourist destination. The spouse and I were on a trip en route to somewhere (Montana, I think), and we stayed in this funky little place that was all log cabins. The nice people at reception told us that Jedediah's was a must for breakfast. No kidding, the sourjacks--sourdough pancakes--were great.

That starter survived for awhile, and I think died from neglect after I'd made a few batches of sourjacks at home.

My second starter also came from Jedediah's. That one was killed by the heat in the car.

My third starter I tried to make from a starter mix, but it never did anything, so technically, I didn't kill it.

A friend sent me a recipe to make starter from wild yeast, but...meh.

Anyway, the new starter arrived on Friday. I started feeding it. And it grew. Very enthusiastically. So enthusiastically that maybe 10 minutes after I took the picture above, it was dripping out of the crock.

What to do?

Make sourdough bread, what else?

All the sourdough recommendations suggest using yeast to supplement the starter if you've never made sourdough bread. Of course, I decided I've spent enough time baking bread that I wouldn't bother. At worst, I'd be out 5 cups of flour and a cup of starter, and at the rate the starter was growing, finding more of that was not going to be an issue.

So I made the sourdough sponge late afternoon and let it sit for a couple of hours. At 7:30 pm, it looked sufficiently big and bubbly that I added the remaining flour, salt and sugar, kneaded like mad for a few minutes and stuck the bread dough in the bowl to rise. Which was when I realized I'd misread the recipe and that the bread needed to rise twice.


So, the spouse, the daughter and I engaged in an enthusiastic couple of hours of Rock Band, with our new band, Flock O' Sheep. We won the tour bus.

I shaped the bread dough into loaves and let it rise again. It certainly smelled good.

(Interstitial moments: I managed to send bread dough flying all over--I was wearing it--when I was mixing the additional ingredients into the sponge. So I spent a good amount of time peeling starter off the walls. I guess that's why we have backsplashes. Of course, sourdough starter is notoriously sticky, so washing up all the utensils was a bit of a chore, too.)

We were battling for roadies when the spouse failed on "Won't Get Fooled Again," and the Sheep retired to lick their wounds, and I put children to bed, and prepared to bake bread.

"So," the spouse said, peering at the nicely oval loaves. "When will they be done?"

The spouse is one of those people who must sleep. A lot. He is still slightly mystified that he ended up with a partner who never sleeps. But he was planning to wait up for sourdough bread.

Can't blame him. There is nothing in the world like bread hot from the oven.

I told him they should have finished baking around 11:30 pm. So, he waited, armed with butter and butterknife.

The loaves came out of the oven brown and crusty, and smelling wholesome.

I made him wait five minutes so they could cool just a little, and then we sliced one open. The texture was beautiful, the flavor mildly sour (I'll let the sponge sit longer next time so it's a little lighter and more sour), and we agreed that we needed to put them away before we polished off an entire loaf.

The starter continues to expand wildly, and I now have two full containers. The crock is in the refrigerator to slow things down, and the other container is destined for tomorrow's breakfast:


But right now, having won the battle of the bread, I'm definitely ready to sleep.

Go listen to some good music: "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" from the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.

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