Nourishments: Who Yearns For Yeast?
First it was toilet paper and disinfectant wipes; then paper towels became scarce. But then it was the flour!
Getting flour this spring, whether white or whole wheat or white whole wheat (which still has me puzzled) was a challenge. With the COVID-19 “Stay Home-Stay Safe” protocols in place, it seemed everyone had turned to baking. I get it. We love to bake in our house, and for more years than I care to mention we have baked our own bread, cakes, and cookies.
I tried not to take it personally when the store shelves were stripped bare of any kind of flour, demanding of my husband, “Are you sure? Really? ALL of the whole wheat flour was gone?” As a long time proponent of whole foods, I found it astounding that the bags of whole wheat bread and pastry flours were now among the missing.
What a relief when those bags of flour returned to the shelves. But what was this? Where was all the yeast?
And so I turn over this column to my husband, Phil, who is the sourdough bread baker in the family. It is he who has the patience to nurture the “chef” in our refrigerator, tenderly coaxing it to bubble and froth — and never losing faith that a slow, slow rising will eventually result in a dough that is oven ready.
We are doing fine without the yeast.
Our chef, or sourdough starter, is a youngster in comparison to some handed down from generation to generation. We received it from a friend about 15 years ago, who had started it some years earlier, and we feed it on dark rye flour, mostly.
It makes a tangy loaf of bread, tempered by a taste of honey to smooth things out. Because we are big on sandwiches, we opt for this shape, as opposed to the classic round boule. Play around with it, though, to find your favorite; turn it into salty pretzels, criss-cross it into a big braid, or shape it into individual dinner rolls.
Sourdough starter is also the foundation of a delicious sourdough pancake. Add those summer berries and top with Connecticut maple syrup and you will be in breakfast (or lunch or dinner) heaven.
Make your starter if you don’t have a friend or family member who can share their wealth with you. I was able to gently twist my home baker’s arm for this information:
A Chef From My Chef
“To make the starter you will need a clean container about one quart in size, and some patience. Stir in 1/3 cup of (dark rye, but any kind is fine) flour and ½ cup of non-chlorinated water. Stir it good and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Be sure to close the container loosely so gases can escape. A tightly closed container may explode! On day two stir in another 1/3 cup of flour and ½ cup of water. Do the same on days three and four. On day five, discard about 1 cup of starter and do the flour/water thing in the same proportions as before, letting it sit for 24 hours. Day six, more flour/water/resting, same proportions. The starter should start bubbling and smelling fruity and yeasty. Depending on the conditions in your kitchen, this process may take several days more. Be patient, repeating the steps from days three through five. You will know your starter is ready when it is good and frothy and smells like it means business.
That Loaf Of Bread
“If you are ready to make some bread now, put a cup of the starter aside. Feed the remaining starter in the same proportions as before, and refrigerate. Each time you get ready to bake, take the starter out of the refrigerator, and feed it. Leave it at room temperature for about 12 hours before taking that cup, then feed it again and refrigerate. If you don’t use it for a while, be sure to give it a feeding from time to time. Once a month should be enough. I have neglected mine for longer with no problems. Don’t forget that it is a living breathing thing, so don’t seal your container tightly.
“To make a loaf bread, mix a cup of the starter, a cup of water, and a cup of flour in a bowl and stir vigorously. White or whole wheat bread flour can be used in whatever proportions suits your taste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and let the mixture sit overnight, and be sure to give the remaining starter another feeding, and refrigerate it until the next use. In the morning, mix a ½ cup of water and ½ cup of flour, stir vigorously and let it sit another two hours. Now you can make the dough.
“Stir in 3 tablespoons of honey, a beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, a teaspoon of salt, another ½ cup of water, and enough flour to make the dough, about two more cups. The dough should be firm, but still a bit sticky. Knead it good, form it into a ball, clean out the bowl and lightly oil it, and put the ball of dough back in the bowl and let it sit at room temperature to rise. This is called bulk fermentation. You know it is ready for the next step when a gentle finger poke leaves an indentation in the dough. This make take as few as two hours or as many as six.
“Punch down the fermented dough and let it rest for ten minutes or so. Knead briefly and divide it into two equal pieces. Form the dough into loaves and place them into well-greased loaf pans. Let these rise at room temperature until they pass the finger poke test. This process should take less time than the bulk fermentation.
“Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, slash the top of each loaf with a very sharp knife or razor blade, and place the loaves on a center rack. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Take the bread out of the pans by gently turning them upside down. A tap on the bottom of the loaves should sound hollow. If not, put them back in the oven for another five minutes. Place the loaves on a cooling rack until completely cooled.”