Making Sourdough Bread, Part 1

Bread is often referred to as the staff of life. It is one of our oldest foods, dating back to the time when people discovered grinding grain into flour, mixing that flour with water and baking it into a palatable mass. Not only is bread an old food, it is the base for many a meal in many a culture. 

Our friend makes us bread. It is always wonderful. He gifts not only the efforts from his kitchen, but somehow in this giving of bread, he shares himself. Other friends have also brought bread to us when the Mercantile is open. Fresh, wrapped in a tea towel, still warm from the oven. They too shared of themselves. 

I want to make this kind of bread. The kind that shares more than just the physical nourishment, but adds encouragement.

My recent efforts have focused on sourdough bread. At the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, I attended several workshops about flour, gluten, bread and even a hands-on workshop where I walked away with my very own sourdough starter.

“It’s easy.” the presenter said. 

“Hard to go wrong.” she commented. 

“Very forgiving.” she instructed.

I came home, fed the starter and stirred up my first loaf of sourdough.

“Liar.” I said aloud, intending my comments for the Topeka presenter, even though she is at this moment thousands of miles away. 

Not a total loaf failure; my bread had a delicious flavor, but it was a flat, hard-crusted specimen. I thought I knew what went wrong. Too much water in the dough led to an extremely slack dough that would not hold it’s shape after rising. It spread out in the oven into a low mass that when sliced resembled something like biscotti. 

Time to try again.

The sourdough instructor suggested dipping one’s hand in water when kneading the dough instead of sprinkling with flour. That made sense to me. I have a tendency to work in too much flour because I have little tolerance for the sticky dough when I’m kneading. 

It’s time to get over that intolerance. This time I lightly sprinkled flour instead of using the water. It was still a very soft dough but felt much more likely to hold it’s shape. I prayed this loaf would turn out better. 

It did not. I turned out another tough, hard loaf. 

My comments this time contained words that do not bear repeating. 

I want to make sourdough bread.

Why am I so determined?

I like that sourdough tends to keep longer than other yeasted breads that do not contain oil or butter. I like having a simple flour, yeast (or starter), water and salt bread. I love the flavor. I want to know I can do it.

The saga of my quest to make a good sourdough loaf continues next week. 

In the meantime, follow all of the antics here at Five Feline Farm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you can’t make it to the onsite Mercantile here at the Farm, our on line store is always open.

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