One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn how to make sourdough bread, an intimidating experience because you can’t make it until you’ve succeeded in building your starter. Some make their starters with minimum effort – their starters come alive after just a few days, while others have a hard time getting that wild yeast to “go and multiply”. You can read my previous post on how I made mine. The image I posted shows what a healthy starter looks like, ready for use (usually after 7-10 days): https://sotsil.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/my-sourdough-journey-just-started/.
I didn’t want to use my starter right away even if experts encourage using it as soon as it’s ready. I put mine in the fridge after it became bubbly and frothy and left it there, feeding it once a week. I wanted to make sure that the sour taste of sourdough would be there; I had read that initial attempts to make breads with sourdough starters won’t yield that sour taste because it takes time, practice and skill.
I waited four weeks before trying my first recipe – Norwich Sourdough – introduced by Susan in her Wild Yeast blog (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/). She adapted it based on Jeff Hamelman’s Vermont sourdough. She has other recipes on there and I’ll be trying my luck with them this year.
I don’t know if I mentioned this on my previous post, but some starters have been handed down from one generation to the next. Don’t be surprised if someone says that her starter is 25 years old! Starters are like family heirlooms.
The wait was well worth it. I didn’t come out with a masterpiece that will give the world’s boulangers a run for their money, but for my very first try, I was delighted at the outcome.
Over at the Fresh Loaf (www.thefreshloaf.com), those with considerable sourdough experience judge their breads in terms of: (a) flavor, (b) crust, (c) crumb, and (d) scoring. Master bakers like Peter Reinhart and Jeff Hamelman also use these criteria when they give instructions on how to come up with a close to perfect sourdough.
I have only admiration for those who churn out perfect and flawless boules, bâtards, miches and baguettes!
Using these same criteria, how would I rate my Norwich Sourdough? The report card which I posted on The Fresh Loaf is reproduced here:
Most sourdough enthusiasts agree that the more holes your sourdough bread has, the better. As you can see from my bread slice, my sourdough doesn’t have many. In time I’ll figure out how to get more holes: is it (a) higher hydration, (b) more stretch and folds, or (c) both? Opinions vary. The only way for me to find out is to stop asking questions on forums (because for every question, I’m likely to get 11 answers) and start experimenting.
The flavor of this Norwich sourdough was outstanding, and I gave my crust a good score (it could be better). My crumb – whoa – could use more work. It had that chewy and dense texture. I prefer sourdough breads with that “airhead” quality.
As for scoring, that’s the least of my worries right now, although from discussions I’ve read, good scoring skills would enhance the appearance of your bread. What happened to my Norwich sourdough bread was I was too ambitious with my lame (blade), and slashed my bread more than was necessary. As people say, there’s a trick to slashing; I have to get the hang of positioning my blade at the right angle.
Another thing: when I baked this sourdough bread, I thought I could get by without bannetons. Big mistake. Because sourdough bread needs to go through a long proofing process, bannetons are indispensable.
Off to the store…again!