Revision: 2.17, 12.Nov.09 18:58
Now here's a vast subject... No way can I capture all that needs be captured in these few pages. Those of you that know how I cook already are a step or two ahead.
First, if you're interested, you may wish to review the history of bread. From that we can see that we are at the end of a long line of events that have conspired to give us the raised bread that most of us eat today. Whether it is raised by the gasses released by yeasts or a chemistry of events caused by things like baking powder, the effect is the same. Gas is released, and the dough rises as it fills with little pockets of CO2 gas. As my granddaughter defined it: they eat sugar and poop alcohol and gas. We call this fermentation. It aerates our breads and puts the "zip" into our alcoholic drinks.
If you eat a raised bread, it's most likely that it was made with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast strain specifically cloned and raised for the baking industry. This and similar yeasts have served man in one form or another for over 8,000 years. The first recorded usage--probably a cousin of our sourdough--began with the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians about 3,000 or so years ago. They found the soft fragrant breads created in this manner superior to the hard flat breads that had been their staple.
Although Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the result of nearly a century of specific breeding and care, its much older and wilder cousin is: sourdough (what is sourdough?). The microorganism collaboration we know as "sourdough" is naturally present in flour. Far from being a uniform servant, the wild yeast that we call sourdough is really a symbiotic collection of organisms that, over millennia, have been cultivated in successive stages. Although first isolated and identified by Louis Pasteur in 1857 as the causative agent for fermentation, it's been in use for far longer then that.
The microorganisms that we collectively call "sourdough" are a combination of a wild yeast and an acidifying bacteria that produce the acetic and lactic acids that yield the characteristics of what we call sourdough leavened bread. The combination of the wild yeasts and the bacteria keep the strain relatively pure--that is, they fight and kill "foreign" mold and yeast spores keeping their own line the one in succession.
Sourdough is propagated by saving a small amount of the existing material and using it to "seed" the next batch of dough. A well established sourdough culture can take several weeks or even months of daily use to get "up-to-speed". Thereafter it should be "exercised" at least once a week to maintain peak performance and output. Properly cared for, any given culture should last indefinitely and can be handed down for generations.
Each instance of baking something with sourdough has the same sequence of steps. Unless starting from scratch, there are at least two steps. Step #2: you have to proof the culture. After proofing the starter or sponge, you separate out what you intend to use and retain a bit of the rest for your next use. Step #3: you make the working dough using the sponge you made in step #2. Now, you're probably wondering why I started with step #2? Easy, step #1 is that you have to start the starter. You only need to do this once, so I've glossed over that part. Read all about it at StarterRX.
The first step in using your sourdough is to proof/feed/wakeup at least some portion of your sourdough culture. Proofing means to "fire it up" by warming and feeding it, and to make sure everybody's on the same page of the playbook. It's when things start to go wrong, that the process begins to get more than just casually exciting. In case of difficulties, go and see the "Starter Doctor" to make things right...
Finally, we come to the fun part...making sourdough "things!" For the moment, you'll have to rely on widely available recipes. In time I'll be adding my favorites here.
For those of you obsessed with all things sourdough and the all-important starter, here are 3 articles that I hope you'll find useful: Basic Sourdough Tips. Starting the starter. Fixing a broken starter. And the very fun and elusive search for the Wild Starter.
About my recipes. Some recipes require more than a single page. Well, not really. But, I want them to be instructive as well as just a recipe. To that end, some are 3 and even 4 pages long. In order to make them more useful, I've been converting all of my recipes to that the entire recipe is on the first page. That way the experienced baker only needs that first sheet. The additional sheets will be where I try to present the instructional facets of the recipe. Please note that not all recipes will be converted to that format in the first day. Mostly I'll get to them as I make them...that means my favorites are going to be done first.
How to make a basic sourdough bread, have it taste great, and look easy!
A simple, basic 3-stage French bread here.
Dick Adams' Billowy Sourdough Bread. An easy to make recipe that's just right for most of the reasons we make bread.
The classic San Francisco sourdough bread version-2.
Or you might wish to try the variation derived from Ed Wood's classic SF sourdough recipe.
Ur-Oma's Sourdough Brötchen.
Darker, rustic breads:
If you like rustic sourdough breads you might like the bread made by my private recipe. My Provender is a fragrant bread, a little lighter than the famous French Poilâne bread. It also happens to be my personal favorite.
This Rustic Bread, slightly dark and chewy, and another favorite of mine; as is this Baurenbrot!
This recipe will build a classic Poilâne loaf.
My favorite Rye Bread, a small, light sourdough, Jewish-rye loaf
John's very tasty experimental bread (an excellent recipe!) and John's Ridiculously Springy Bread.
My latest project: Gassenhauer Brot. Warning, this isn't ready for non prime-time players...
My original Sourdough Focaccia with many toppings.
Another sourdough Focaccia recipe.
Pane Francese, is an Italian version of French bread. Simple to make, it's a good first experience in the care and feeding of very highly hydrated dough's.
Francesi, is my version of the wonderful Francese like bread from the Golden Sheaf Bakery in Soquel.
Another high hydration dough that makes a delicious Italian bread is Ciabatta.
Once you think you've mastered high-hydration breads, and you feel "up-to-it," you can challenge yourself by building the incredible Italian, Coccodrillo. I devised this Sourdough recipe from a yeast based recipe found in a post in the alt.bread.recipes newsgroup.
Like flatbreads? How about Pita bread & hummus? Or some ancient flatbread smeared with Za'atar? Or this simple yet elegant Fire Bread? Or this simple Celtic muffin? Or everybody's favorite, pizza!
For something a little different, try these sourdough Cinnamon Rolls or these English Muffins or even these croissants.
Or perhaps Schiacciata con l'uva (Etruscan Grape-filled Bread), a traditional sweet bread from Tuscany.
Perhaps a sourdough oatmeal bread strikes your fancy, if not, try this sourdough cornbread.
My finest sourdough waffles or pancakes.
Experiment making real, sourdough bread WITHOUT kneading or mixing. In addition, learn about Stretch&Fold, and Flatten&Fold and simplify your baking!
Feeling adventurous? Try this easy Pumpernickel sourdough bread (warning, experimental!).
Or try my simple, easy sourdough Dutch Babies, or Amish Friendship Bread.
Credits: These pages are the culmination of hundreds of pages of reading and research. Early on in my sourdough education I clipped and snipped pages from lots of places. Folks I know sent me pages or references--so I don't even know where much of that material came from. I'm in the process of hunting down the various folks whose pages I've bookmarked and know that I've visited. As I find out the source of some of what I've written here, I'll be adding attributions. Until then, my grateful thanks to the hundreds of authors from whom I've "borrowed" or even copied some of their material, is all I can offer.