Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sourdough Potato Starter - Sourdough Bread - A Primer in Breadmaking

Allll right...my little pretties! This stuff is sourdough starter. And it is what I use to make the bread you see in the photos here and in the following Sourdough Potato Bread recipe.
It's just leftover water from cooking peeled potatoes, plus sugar, plus flour and a bit of salt. The photo above shows a large batch but to get enough to make 4 loaves start with:

  • 2 cups of potato water
  • 2 tsp of brown sugar
  • 1/2 -1 tsp salt (nobody says you have to put this in either)
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
See that liquid sitting on top? That's hooch. Get up off the floor all you delicate types. Hooch is the alcoholic stuff that forms when you let the mixture sit around fermenting a few days in a warm place. Some old "Sourdoughs" (those gold rush miner guys from back in 1848) used to drink the stuff, but you gentle reader are going to stir it back in every time you notice the hooch has risen to the top.

Now I regret to say, this starter isn't the same one started by any ancestor of mine. It isn't even one I started back in 1970 something. This isn't 1848, so I don't have to act like it is. Okay? Of course if I want, I could keep it going for posterity by tossing it in the fridge and adding another cup of flour and cup of warm potato or plain water and a teaspoon of sugar every time I take from it.
But that always grossed me out...right up there with the 1,000 year old Chinese egg thing. I use up what I start and then start another.
  • 2 1/2 cups of starter from the above or your own recipe
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1st amount
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast granules
  • 2 1/2 cups potato water or plain water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2nd amount
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 4 scoopers all-purpose flour
This is the scooper and how much flour I take out in a scoopful. No scooper? Keep reading. The total flour is probably around 12 cups. But you are not going to worry about that. A teacup will do fine. The point is this; add enough flour to start to make a nice soft doughy mass in which we can begin to knead.
Measure out 2 1/2 cups of the starter. Submerge this in some warm water in the sink to warm it up. The bread will come along much better if this is warm. Not HOT! Hot will kill the yeast.
After it's warmed, pour into a big mixing bowl and add a teaspoon of brown sugarand a tablespoon of yeast granules and set this aside. In a few minutes you'll see the yeast begin to bubble up.In a separate container, measure out the potato water, warm this up too.
Add the brown sugar and salt, mix
and pour this into the starter mix.
Whisk that together.
Begin to add the scoops of flour.
Stir in each scoop and mix. The mixture should form a soft doughy mass. This below is still far too wet.
Be careful to not add too much flour. If there is too much flour the mixture will form folds and you will have to add a bit of water. In all my years of bread making, twice, I've had to add more liquid because I added too much flour right off. It was nasty, very, very nasty trying to get that water mixed in. This below is about right.
Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface.
Place your hands around and under the edges of the dough keeping flour between your hands and the dough as much as possible and bring the edges up and over toward the center of the dough mass. Actually, at this point, it looks more like a dough mess. Gently draw the edges of the doughy mass inward and then start to knead by placing the palms of your hands at the top of the dough mass.
Fold the dough down over itself and then using your palms, push the dough away from you. A rhythm will begin. Pull down, knead, knead. Now the dough mass will have become somewhat horizontally rectangular. Turn the dough mass so that it is vertically rectangular and repeat the process of pulling the top toward you, knead, knead, turn. Pull down, knead, knead, turn. Repeat. Observe that the underpart of the dough mass will begin to smooth out and the part facing you will be sticky and rough looking. Keep the dough like this. Keep the wettish part always facing up toward you. And keep the dryer smoother side away from you next to the work surface. You'll get it.
It won't be very long and the dough will begin to firm up. Pay attention to the feel of the dough. If the outer surface feels sandy, there is likely enough flour. Stop and scrape the work surface throughout the kneading. Sieve the fine flour back into your flour bag and work the small bits left behind in the sieve back into the dough.
Add a little more flour if the dough feels quite sticky and readily sticks to the work surface and your hands. Pick up some more flour from the flour bag with your hand and sprinkle it on the work surface, rub your hands of the sticky bits back into the dough ball and keep kneading.
Feel it. The dough should feel soft, yet firm like your earlobe or the behind of a baby. This photo below shows the dough isn't quite ready...almost, but not quite. The texture isn't right. It looks too moon surface. It should be fairly smooth with very few tacky spots. Add a bit of flour to the work surface and keep kneading.
This photo below shows the dough is ready. The surface is smooth and it feels satiny. Oil the mixing bowl and place the dough ball into it first letting it slide around inside the bowl to coat itself with oil. Place the ball into the bowl, stickier side down, smooth side up. Place in the oven with the light on and door shut.
The dough below is ready to be formed into whatever shape loaves or buns you want. It has fully doubled it's size and I poked it to show how it has risen. The daylight was disappearing when I took this picture and I had other things to do than tinker with a light meter. Bad Decadent.

Don't PUNCH your dough. I've never understood that. It creates a messy surface bringing the tackier parts of the dough outward, is annoying to work with and looks bad when baked. Punch the person who says punch the dough.
With both hands slide your hands down and lift the dough up, it will begin to deflate.
Lift the dough, like a cat, out of the bowl. This dough pictured here happens to be oatmeal bread. That's why you see little speckles in it.
Set it down the same way. Turn it over horizontally rolling into a loggish shape. It should be deflated now. ALWAYS KEEP THE STICKIER SIDE WHICH WAS NEXT TO THE BOWL SIDES, TO THE INSIDE OF THE DOUGH. Remember this and life will be sweet. If you don't, you'll have the same and worse problems PUNCHING creates.
For this recipe divide into four equal pieces, each weighing somewhere between 1 1/2 - 1 3/4's pounds apiece. I weighed them and then evened them up to all weigh the same. You don't have to weigh them. Just try to get them about the same. Since these will all be on their own pan and baked one at a time it won't matter if the sizes vary a bit. Remember, keep all cut sticky sides to the inside of the loaves or rolls.

In the photo below I'm using both hands to shape a ball into a rectangular loaf. Nobody says you can't just leave the loaves round. Go ahead. And YEAH, I should have done something about the lighting here too. BuZZ off! GG!
Shape each into a log, continue to keep cut edges and moister part of the dough to the inside. Here I've flipped a log over and pinch the edges together on the bottom.
And here I am tucking the side to help make a longer shape.
Here is the little loaf ready on it's own pan to begin rising. Lightly grease the pan first with a bit of lard...EWW! Evil, wicked FAT. Use it. Shortening will burn. Use lard. Once the pans get seasoned, (that means you have baked with them several times and wiped them off with only a paper towel, never to wash them ever again...double EWWWW!) you really don't need to grease them much again. Actually, with this batch, I used no grease at all.
Put the loaves to rise in a warm place. These are in the oven with the light on. See my evil wicked seasoned pans. (Just don't send food to anyone on a pan that looks like this. As much as I prize it as a working tool in my kitchen, normal people will pitch it in the garbage. I know. It's happened to me.)
Below, the little loaf has risen and I sprinkled a bit of flour over it using a sieve. The flour wasn't necessary. I was having a senior moment and forgot that I was planning to brush the loaves with water. Here, I'm slashing the top of the loaf with a very sharp serrated knife which GG keeps razor sharp for me using some machine he has sequestered out in the Shop From Hell. Slash just, just, JUST
before brushing it with cold water and putting in the oven. Large, free-form loaves like this I bake one at a time. So like, what the heck is it with the brush? Life.Bake at 400 F x 20 minutes. Using the pastry brush or a squirt gun throw or squirt some more cold water into the oven as you shut the door. Just throw the water in, anywhere. We want to create steam. Some people put a pan of water on the oven floor. I don't. While this bread was being baked, GG had a pan of bacon on the oven floor. Anyway, it was a little dicey with the throwing in of cold water until he got the bacon out of there. Oh my, my life.
Repeat with the water thing in the oven and quickly brushing the loaf at the five and ten minute baking time. This is supposed to create a hard crust. These crusts get chewy. Turn your bread pan at the ten minute mark for even baking.
Bread is done when golden brown and makes a hollow sound when you tap it. Remove after 20 minutes, slide off pan and let cool on racks. This recipe does not have fat. Fat helps keep bread fresh. Therefore, eat it straight out of the oven and freeze the extra loaves.


Leila said...

Just lovely!
I love that you use those banged up pans. My daughter once said, "we should replace those blackened pans."
Why would "we" do that??

molly said...

YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh my gosh...
I am so going to try this recipe.

Decadent Housewife said...

LOL leila! Give her another 10-15 years. :)

the condrays said...

Hey DH! I found your post during a search for a recipe similar to this one. I was wondering if you could help me out in my search. It's for a sour dough starter that uses potato water, but my understanding of the recipe is that it was very structured and required you to make bread once a week. Also, it only made 2 loaves a time. Can you help?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this recipe. I just made the bread and it turned out very well. It wasn't as sour as I wanted it so I was wondering how long do you usually let your starter sit before you use it?
Leigh Ann

Decadent Housewife said...

Hi Condrays and Leigh Ann,

Sorry, I just found your comments this a.m. I've been fooling around with the Sourdough lately and agree it needs more tang. So, what I've been doing of late is using ALL my leftover potato cooking water. It will vary but is usually around 5 cups.

Place that in a pot, add a tsp. of molasses, a tsp of salt add 1 cup of flour. Stir that and let it sit covered with a clean tea towel over two days/48 hours or 72 hours/3 days. Throughout this time period I'll stir it every so often. The second day, you'll notice foam on the top. That is natural yeast. Stir it back in.

Instead of using only 2 cups of this starter to begin the mixing of the dough, the last few times, I've used all of it and added 1 cup water when ready to start making the bread. So the total liquid is about the same but the greater amount is soured starter.

I also reduced the amount of salt, from the 1 Tbsp. to about 1 tsp. when starting into making the bread - still keep the 1 tsp of salt in the starter - just reduce that second amount so you've balanced out the total amount to equal 1 Tbsp. Some of us here thought the original was a little too salty. Carry on the same with the rest of the directions.

The loaves are more rustic, a little more dense, more moist and have more sour tang flavour. Everyone here agrees that adding caraway to these loaves would fool you to think they were a rye bread.

Doing this also made four loaves. Whereas,the original only made two loaves. I don't think making only two loaves is a negative, in that, these are raised and baked free-form. If they get ahead of you in the second-rising stage they could begin to spread out on the pan and not hold their form very well.

Smaller batches and keeping the waiting loaves away from the hot oven area can help prevent this, but not always. I don't raise my breads in baskets like professionals do. A really good book on helping with Sourdough is "Breads from the La Brea Bakery". I've only just recently found it and it is a fascinating read if you are really interested in Sourdoughs. It may be available in libraries
Hope this helps and keep me posted with your results. :)

Decadent Housewife said...

I just made a new post January 6/09 under the label, Bread, titled "More on Sourdough". It expands further and answers, hopefully, a little better your questions.

Anonymous said...

Great writing! I wish you could follow up to this topic =D

Anonymous said...

Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

Niels said...

Sourdough 101 - in my opinion - DO NOT add granulated yeast to a sourdough! Keep the dough a little bit loose, and increase (probably double) the rising times. The whole point of sourdough is to bake with the local wild yeasts that incubate in the warm potato water. Make sure you leave your starter uncovered in a drafty place for the first day or two to encourage the capture and incubation of naturally present airborne yeast. Do not let the culture die, it will improve with age! You can feed it plain water and flour each time you use it (for best performance, this should be every day), or potato water and flour to keep the potatoey earthiness to it. Love the site!