Monday, December 13, 2010

Off Season Adventures - Sourdough

Winter is fast approaching. The thermometer has dropped into the lower teens°F on and off for a couple weeks now. Hopes are dwindling for finding desirable mushrooms in the chilly outdoors. (Although, finding polypores to grind into powder for making tea is always a prospect, even in the dead of winter.) So, what is a mushroom nut to do in the off season?

I decided to have a go at making sourdough bread. Online discussions and research reveal limitless techniques and recipes. The first hurdle is to get a good starter going. You can beg, borrow or steal healthy starters from other breadheads, and this is undoubtedly the surest bet. But, not being one to listen to reason I decided to make a stab at starting my own starter.

Sourdough starter, as I understand it, is a live culture of both yeast and bacteria coexisting symbiotically in a nutritious medium of flour and water.The bacteria produce lactic acid giving sourdough its characteristic tangy taste, while the yeast do the leavening, allowing the dough to rise during baking. Without inoculation using a proven starter, you depend on the indigenous yeasts and bacteria floating around your native environment to do the inoculating. Although not a mushroom, yeasts are fungi, and so I think they are fair game for this blog.

My own particular environment is far from sterile. We live in the forest, and use wood from our yard to fire the woodstove for heat in the winter. There is no air filtration as with central air-conditioning or heating. I assume there are countless bacteria just waiting to feed off a floury broth. Yeasts too must be plentiful, but in this case I decided to include a wild persimmon to provide an indigenous yeast inoculant for the starter. As this is an experiment, good results are just speculation as of now.

Here's a photo of the persimmon showing a whitish "bloom" on the skin. Supposedly, native yeasts can be found adhering to this thin layer.
Wild persimmon showing whitish bloom

Small pieces were cut from the persimmon and included in the starter, which consisted 1/2 cup organic dark rye flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 cup spring water. My hope is the small pieces of wild persimmon will act as islands of yeast populations from which a diaspora of yeast emigrants will depart their homeland to populate the sea of floury broth in which they now find themselves.

Here's the sourdough starter after the third day. It doesn't look very active, only a few bubbles. The aroma is good, smells of sweet wheat flour and slightly sour. The taste is definitely sour. On the 2nd and 3rd day, half the starter was discarded and replaced with fresh whole wheat and rye flour and water. The starter is in a covered bowl sitting over on the side of the fireplace hearth for warmth.

Sourdough starter

Ok, it's been a week since the starter got started, and it's really showing some action. There are many, many bubbles, and an aroma that is heady and good. The volume of the starter seems to expand after a fresh flour addition. Flour additions have been switched over to all-purpose white flour, but you can still see some of the rye and whole wheat flour in the starter. I ordered a 10.5" round proofing basket, and a 9" baking stone that will fit comfortably in the dutch oven. These haven't arrived yet. Here's the starter.
One week old sourdough starter from scratch

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