Sourdough Bliss

There are two ways to think of a creative, freelance lifestyle: one is to work all the time and never do anything else until you wear yourself down into a dry little nub, or to accept that you inhabit a creative realm where the more variety you have, the more it all feeds your work. And sometimes it just feeds you.

Sort of like gardening, growing your own food, or. . .feeding sourdough starter! I got the idea back on April 10 to make my own starter. I don’t know why, just because. That’s as valid a reason as any to try something new. I never liked the really sour sourdough bread, so this seemed contrary, but I was intrigued with the idea of starting my own living culture and keeping it going.

It’s May 16 now, just over a month, and my starter is going strong. It has yielded one terrific loaf of bread, waffles, and a fantastic pizza dough. This week will be more bread. I’m a convert and hope to have my starter continue for many years. The thing I like best is the flavor. Though it’s called sourdough, there is a range of flavors you can create, and they aren’t necessarily “sour” — and that’s part of the fun. I have truly never had pizza dough or waffles, etc that were so delicious.

I started here for my starter (no, sorry, KA, you don’t need to buy it), using King Arthur’s instructions for making starter, and they worked just fine. After the 6 days, I continued with the starter much in the way I write a book, I played it by ear. After it went in the fridge, I watched it and see when it stopped bubbling, or got liquidy, and then I would just feed it. As is my way, I didn’t keep my starter to an external schedule, I just feed it when it seems to need feeding (or when I need more).

I’ve found an enormous number of resources online for sourdough. You could drive yourself nuts trying to conform to the rigorous routines some folks like to follow (to each their own), but I like things easy and intuitive. For me, sourdough is more like art, not science, more play than work. I’m always kind of puzzled by how difficult people make this sound.

Never mind the people who make too many rules. I’ve read things like “You can only ever use the flour you start with” to feed your starter. Not so, I started with organic wheat flour, and I use white flour most of the time, but I still throw some wheat in there from time to time. I might try some rye at a different point, we’ll see. I rarely drain off the “hooch” — liquid that can accumulate — for no other reason than it didn’t occur to me. Turns out you can, or you don’t have to, it’s all up to you. Isn’t that the best?  (Guess what? This is largely true with writing as well.)

wafflesSo, anyway, the waffles I made this weekend were things of beauty. I had to freeze the leftovers so I didn’t eat them all. You can find the recipe at Serious Eats.

What I liked best about this recipe is that there’s no sponge, no overnight proofing. As they point out, you are just using the starter for flavor, and the baking powder provides the rise — which is fine by me because I like breakfast with no fuss. I think this recipe would probably work well for pancakes, too, and now, I just had the idea to try it in a German pancake one of these days….

I did go the more “pure sourdough” route with my first loaf of bread, though, and used only the starter for a rise. It came out perfect, and so delicious using this recipe from the Food.com.

I would make it again. I still followed my instincts (I almost never follow a recipe exactly). I did two rises (one in the bowl, one on a tray), instead of one, and I baked it freeform instead of in a pan.

This recipe also used a lot of starter. I’ve been reading more about breads, and it appears you can use much less starter, particularly if you 1) warm it up and feed it a bit the day before or 2) wait longer for it to proof.

I also had to proof my dough in the oven because the house was cold, but it worked fine — I turned on breadthe warm setting for a minute, shut the oven off, and then just put the bowl in there with a towel over it. But while I’ll make this one of our go-to sourdough recipes, I definitely want to try others. Still, this was easy-peasy, which is my favorite kind of recipe.

Because of my preference for more experimental and less rigid thinking about things like baking (well, about most everything, except commas..and quotation marks), I prefer stress-free routes to such activities. What’s the point of making hobbies too stressful?

So, with that in mind, I found two websites that have a lot of information, but that also encourage more experimentation and fun. One is The Spendid Table recipe/discussion about making bread. This is good information, I think, because it’s clear this person also comes at it from a creative approach. You take your cues from the starter, from the day you happen to be in, etc when you bake. You come at it from a responsive rather than a rigid mindset.

The other is the Cultures for Health website, which is about all things that require home fermentation, and it has oodles of recipes and articles about sourdough. They also have a nice mix of technical “why this is what it is” articles, but encourage play and improvisation.

And play and improvisation have to be the cornerstones of a freelance, creative life, wouldn’t you agree?

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