One of the things that is apparently very popular with the quarantine going on is sourdough, either because people have an excess of time, or because for awhile there yeast was hard to come across. I didn’t realize this when I started mine, but I definitely fall into the latter category. I’ve always had enough time to do it since I already work from home, I just…didn’t. So when it became apparent that panic-buying had hit the Netherlands and there was no bread OR yeast in the store, I decided to start a sourdough journey. Unfortunately it was also a bit hard to get flour sometimes, but that came back to stores far before the yeast did, so I managed just fine.
And let me tell you I went on a binge. Researching how sourdough works, what makes a simple mixture of flour and water turn into something you can bake bread into, what hydration levels are, and all these new words like “autolyse” and “lame” (which is apparently not just an adjective). I started looking at Dutch ovens and then realised I actually have one, but I rarely use it so I often forget it exists (it’s also not a “real” Dutch oven, it’s made of cheap metal instead of cast iron, but it works!).
Thekitchn.com is one of my favorite websites for information, so you can bet I read all they had on sourdough. Finally, I followed the instructions for the starter. As starter does, it took a few days, but thankfully it went smoothly. I had to do some emergency Googling when I realized my starter smelled like nail polish remover (acetone), but after coming to the conclusion that this was normal and my little man (his name is Bernoulli) was just hungry, I relaxed a bit.
Then came the inevitable day when I had to start a “discard” jar, and all the recipe hunting that came with it. The thing about sourdough is, in theory you don’t actually NEED to throw half of it out. The reality though is unless you have infinite space and flour, you really actually do need to cut that boy in half everyday. But throwing away half of what could become delicious food is silly to me, not to mention wasteful. One quick search for “sourdough discard [insert baked good]” and you’ve got a recipe for a fabulous sourdough version of whatever the thing is. I’ve made sourdough chocolate cake, sourdough crackers, sourdough biscuits and others, all out of discard. And they taste lovely. The biscuits are my absolute favorite, and they’re great for getting rid of a lot of discard in one go.
I had to shrink Bernoulli down eventually though. Sourdough which sits out on the counter does best with daily feedings (sometimes twice daily depending on your atmospheric conditions), but unless you’re baking all the time you’re either going to end up with too much starter or too much discard. I ended up with the latter (biscuits were banned from our house for a few weeks after I went on a “bake all the discard” frenzy), and so it was time to cut back. He’s in a very small (about 500mL) jar now, and I keep him in the fridge and feed him once a week. We’re both happy with this arrangement; he’s much more manageable and doesn’t have to eat as much.
Here’s another thing I learned, and another reason to keep a starter small: You will almost never need as much starter as you begin with. Most starter recipes from scratch do about 4 ounces of flour to the same amount of water, for about 5 days, no discard removal. That adds up quickly. And most sourdough bread recipes (from what I’ve seen) only need a tablespoon or so of that starter. Sometimes even less! So it just makes sense to shrink your starter once it’s up and running.
Discard recipes also tend to use a small amount, although in most cases it’s more than a tablespoon since the yeast isn’t “fed”. You need more of it to make the magic happen. But some of them use a lot, like the biscuits I mentioned, which use a whole cup’s worth! It’s convenient if you need to ditch a big batch, and since discard can survive for while with only the extra discard you add to it, you can “save up” if you want to make something that uses a lot.
I do confess, I have only made an actual sourdough loaf ONCE since giving birth to Bernoulli. The high hydration level that’s required for a proper sourdough loaf (gives you less crust, making it easier to eat), is really hard to work with if you don’t have the proper equipment (I desperately need a bread proofing basket). Not to mention it’s a trial and error process.
What I’m saying is, not only am I lazy, but it scares the hell out of me.
Outside of the difficulty of actually working the dough, making sourdough bread is not that hard. It’s time-consuming in the way that it’s just a TON of waiting around for the dough to do its thing. There are steps that take 8-12 hours! So working around the schedule of your dough is the thing that gets most people I think. Kids, jobs, social calls and family events are already hectic enough without having to worry about what your bread is doing. It’s easier to just pick up the loaf at the grocer.
We still buy bread pretty often, even though I could easily make it. I love baking, but I enjoy making sweets more than bread. But I AM getting a silicone baking mat in the mail (thanks AliExpress) fairly soon, so maybe I’ll give it another go 🙂