Sourdough baking is not a profound metaphor for anything. It is just something that I have recently discovered and am thoroughly enjoying. Since my last post generated a couple of questions about it, I thought I would offer some info.
First of all, I am a big time fan of King Arthur Flour. Even before I started sourdough baking, I only used King Arthur Flour. They are not paying me to say this. I just find everything I make is better when I use King Arthur Flour. I will tell you to shop around. I have seen huge swings in the price depending on what store I go to. Target seems to consistently have the best price. Note that you have to order a lot of the King Arthur extras from the web site since I have not been able to find them in the grocery stores.
The King Arthur Flour website also has the most amazing collection of recipes. If it is baked it is there. They also have a baker chat service to answer your baking questions on the spot. The blog and newsletter keep you up to date on all sorts of baking trends.
Which brings me to sourdough. As I was trying to think of what I wanted for my birthday, a recipe for sourdough pretzels showed up on the blog. Perfect! My husband ordered me the sourdough starter and the King Arthur crock to keep it in. Since he knew he was going to enjoy the fruits of my labors, he was more than happy to get me started.
Remember those electronic toys that were all the rage a few years ago? The ones that were like pets that you had to feed and play with on a regular basis? That is what sourdough starter is like. Within 24 hours of receiving the starter, you have to feed it with water and flour. Then at least once a week you need to feed it. Once it is established, you feed it by removing a cup of starter and replacing it with 1/2 a cup of water and a cup of flour. I keep my starter in the refrigerator so whenever I want to use it I have to allow time for it to warm up and get active. You can keep it on the countertop, but that means you have to be willing to feed it twice a day so that it doesn't go bad. Not happening at my house.
If you browse through the King Arthur Flour sourdough recipes, you will see that some call for fed starter and some call for unfed starter. If it calls for fed starter, you take your starter out of the refrigerator, feed it, let it sit on the counter until it warms up and looks bubbly, then use it. You can see that making anything sourdough requires some planning. However, there are lots of things that can be done with unfed starter. Remember that when you feed your starter, you have a cup of the unfed starter that you have removed. Some folks just toss it, but you can use it to make some of the most amazing pretzels, waffles, and dinner rolls so I can't bear to throw it away.
Here are a few tips on the recipes I have tried. The waffles use unfed starter but are not really a spur of the moment recipe. You have to let the waffle batter sit overnight. The pretzels are amazing. They have become a household staple. If you are going to order the starter from King Arthur Flour, go ahead and order the non-diastatic malt powder. It makes a huge difference in the browning and taste of the pretzels. It works much better than sugar. Also, you can use any coarse salt. I tried them with Kosher salt the first few times I made them. However, I ordered pretzel salt from here and like it much better. The dinner rolls are delicious and lend themselves to all sorts of variations. You can brush them with butter and garlic or whatever herb combination strikes your fancy. If you want to make them for a brunch buffet, try rolling them up with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon. The possibilities are endless.
Yesterday, I tried the whole grain loaf. Delicious! Again, if you are ordering the starter from King Arthur flour and you think you are going to want to try whole grain bread, go ahead and order the Harvest Grain blend. I also bought their Artisan Bread Topping but I think you could find something similar at a store like Whole Foods. I liked their Artisan Bread Topping just fine, but it does not look like it is anything unique to King Arthur Flour.
I use a breadmaker for making the dough. When I make the pretzels I add the ingredients and let the machine complete a full dough cycle. Take it out, shape the pretzels, brush with malt solution, and salt, then bake. For regular bread, either the rustic sourdough or the whole grain, I use the breadmaker to mix everything in to a dough, then put it in a bowl for rising.
If you look at most of these recipes you will see that you still need to add yeast. The result is a wonderfully flavorful bread with a great texture. However, it will not have that sharp tang that you associate with San Francisco sourdough. That is because the tang comes from the fermentation of the yeast and these recipes cut that short and add extra yeast to get the rise. If you want the tang, plan on a two day process and allow the starter to provide all the rise to your bread. I have not done that yet, but maybe I will give it a try. I have noticed that the flavor of my sourdough baked goods does get richer as my starter matures.
So there you have it. Let me know if you give sourdough baking a try. I would love to compare notes. Below you will see some of my creations. Rustic white sourdough, pretzels, and the whole grain sourdough boule.