Admittedly a squirrel, my pantry is full to capacity of staples and condiments waiting to be utilized, be it for unexpected guests, my cooking club or in case of supply-chain interruption, earthquake, economic collapse or zombie apocalypse. It makes good sense, regardless where you live to have a stockpile of simple ingredients on hand to whip up the basics; bread, soup and casseroles – comfort food. That being said, when you run out of yeast what do you do for bread? The ultimate staple, you should be able to produce your own for fun or necessity. Surprisingly, sourdough bread doesn’t need to use commercial yeast; you can create your own “starter” from simple flour and water and keep it on hand for use anytime.
Starting with as little as ¼ cup of unbleached white flour and three tablespoons of water (if you have filtered water on your fridge use that) you can start your own little experiment in creating mouth-watering sourdough bread. Get a glass bowl with a cover; add the flour and water; mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a paper towel or a piece of cheesecloth and leave it on your counter. Each morning and evening add the same amount of flour and water and mix thoroughly. This is called feeding the starter.
After a few days, you’ll notice some bubbles slowly rising in the mix, the beginnings of fermentation, aka sour dough. You will also notice that the dough is starting to pick up a familiar sour aroma. It should smell delicate, like the inside of a loaf of fresh sourdough bread. It will get more pungent over time, forming its own sourdough personality. You may also notice a watery liquid forming on the top, known as the hooch. You can mix this back in or just add a little less water during the next feeding. If there is too much hooch, or you have not used your starter in some time, you can pour that off and feed your starter. Some folks are very strict with their measurements, but my experience found the starter to be pretty forgiving. When your starter begins to rise about double in-between feedings, (in about a week) you can put a more permanent lid on it and put the starter in the fridge. Continue to feed it every few days to keep it viable.
When you want to make bread, bring the starter out, feed it and bring to room temperature. I use approximately 1 cup of starter in my standard bread recipe and having experimented with several online recipes, this one seems to come out the best for our preferences. Sourdough starters, kept properly can assure your family and friends a supply of economical, fragrant home-baked goodness for decades to come.
Simple Sourdough Bread
1 Cup Starter
2 ½ Cups Unbleached Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Sugar
¾ Cup Very Warm Water 120 degrees (I just run tap water until it is hot to the touch on the inside of my wrist).
Combine the starter, water, salt, sugar and 1 ½ cups of the flour; beat thoroughly together. Gradually add the rest of the flour until the dough is no longer sticky. You may need a little more or less depending on the humidity and how wet your starter is. Pour onto a floured bread board and knead until smooth and elastic. Some recipes do not call for kneading of the dough, but we prefer a denser bread with less air holes. Sprinkle with more flour if your dough starts to stick to your hands. Cover and let double in size. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Punch down the dough and shape into loaf or rounds. Place the dough on a cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with corn meal or oatmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Cover and let rise until double in size. Right before putting in the oven, slash the tops of the loaf with a sharp knife. Spray with water (to get a crisper crust) and bake until deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Sourdough bread keeps fresh for a number of days, although it’s hard to keep from eating the whole loaf while it is hot! Next day use suggestions – with its chewy texture and crispy crust it is excellent in a simple grilled cheese and stands up perfectly to gourmet grilled vegetable and cheese stack.