Why bother with sourdough bread? What is the secret to maintaining sourdough starter? Can I make sourdough bread in the bread machine? What happens if I forget to feed my starter?
Those are all questions that I have struggled with over the years. Some kind friend, who probably just wanted to get rid of the squishy bag of mysterious stuff on the counter, gives me starter. Has that ever happened to you? I follow the directions. I get excited when the starter makes bubbles. Then I get mad, when after feeding it perfectly good ingredients, and then the directions tell me to “discard” all but a half a cup! What the *#@#?
I hate to waste food; especially perfectly good Montana flour! We had a sweet guest, from Milwaukee, WI telling us a story about possessing her grandmother’s 100+ year old sourdough starter. I was intrigued. Someone, generations of someone’s, actually maintained the blob on the counter for over 100 years? As the wheels turned in my mind about all of the wasted “discard,” Luanne explained you can use the discard to cook with, not really throw it away. OH!
I, at last, understood my level of ignorance about maintaining sourdough. A few weeks later, another guest mentioned having sourdough starter that was over 100+ years old. This starter had travelled the continent from Alaska, to Montana, Arkansas, Alabama, and other states. Professor Osterheld’s Sour dough is a legendary part of his legacy! The family uses the sourdough to make dinner rolls, muffins, and their favorite pancakes. OH! OK! I am starting to ‘get it’ about sourdough.
I finally decided to try again to make sourdough. My sourdough was started on October 1, 2015, in Stevensville, Montana. I am happy to report it is almost 6 months old and still healthy. The sourdough and I have had a love/hate relationship. Some loaves come out beautifully and others are disasters, but always taste great. I read a lot of blogs about sourdough. I studied sourdough tips from the pros. There are two websites with the most helpful sourdough tips and recipes: Red Star Yeast and King Arthur Flour. (Links below)
I have read, ‘sourdough is as much art, as it is science.’ I have found that to be true. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The most helpful tip: The more often you bake sourdough, the less yeast required for a recipe. In the picture below, the loaf had a large air pocket. This could be indicative of using too much yeast or too much sugar in an established sour dough recipe.
I have a peculiar situation, living in the mountains of Montana. Our elevation is about 3600 feet, which definitely impacts the bread. A very active sourdough and high elevation can do CRAZY things to bread! I have had bread rise so much it crawls out of the bread machine. Once it even wrapped around the heating element of the bead machine! You do not want to see a photo of that mess! It was so bad, I thought the bread machined would never be able to recover. There are ways to adjust problems such as holey bread, thick crust, and too much rise. Too learn, in depth, about troubleshooting or customizing bread recipes, I recommend visiting the Red Star Yeast Baking Lessons pages.
Our microclimate tends to be very dry, sometimes I must add almost one cup more water, than a recipe requires. I prefer to mix and knead in the bread machine. It is necessary to monitor the bread during the first 15 minutes, to be sure the water/flour ratio is good. Bread dough should incorporate all flour. I like my dough to be a fairly soft ball, not a stiff ball. My bread machine recipe, adapted for an established starter, at 3600 feet follows. For a great beginner sourdough bread recipe click here.
Bitterroot River Bed and Breakfast Sourdough Bread
1 1/4 cup established starter discard
1 1/2 cups water
3-4 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp yeast (up to 1 1/2 tsp if your starter is new or slow)
2 TBSP sugar (up to 3 T for a new starter)
1 1/2 tsp salt (*can be added at the beep)
This recipe can be made completely in the bread machine or kneaded in bread machine or stand mixer, then baked in the oven. For my bread machine, I bake sourdough using the “Sweet” bread setting and choose dark crust. The sweet cycle bakes 10 minutes less than a standard cycle. I find this gives a soft, lighter crust. Place ingredients in your bread machine in the order recommended by your bread machine manual. Usually, liquids first, then dry, and last is yeast. *I prefer to allow the dough to knead 10-15 minutes before I add the salt. When the flour and water combine, this allows the gluten to form, making the bread rise. Salt inhibits the gluten. When added later, I find the bread gets a prettier rise on the top. Just listen for the beep that signals it is time to add the final ingredients. (Most machines have this feature to remind you to add nuts, etc.)
Baking the bread in the oven gives a more store bought look to the bread. If you prefer this method, set your bread machine for dough cycle only. Transfer dough to a greased bread pan, oil the top of loaf, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place for about 30-45 minutes (we used a warm oven, turned off). Bake at 375 degrees F for 30-30 minutes. Internal bread temperature should read 190 degrees.
My favorite sourdough excess recipe is King Arthur Flour Excess Sourdough waffles. Click through the King Arthur website and be sure to read the baker’s blogs. These blogs contain valuable tips and tricks for sourdough. If I could only have one cookbook in my kitchen at the Bed and Breakfast, I would insist it be King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion cookbook. This book is filled with the best recipes for anything that uses flour! All of the basics are there for breakfast breads, quick breads, muffins, cookies, and much more. Many recipes I find on pinterest are just simple variations of these basic recipes. This book is worth 3 times it’s price!
If you follow the recommendations at King Arthur for starting and maintaining sourdough, it is easy! I printed a few pages of tips, along with a few easy recipes, and hung them up in the kitchen as easy reference pages. I feed my starter once per week, every Sunday afternoon. I allow my starter to sit out for a few hours each Sunday, then store it in the refrigerator, in a loosely covered mason jar, the rest of the week. In the meantime, I only feed the starter if I need to increase the volume to make extra loaves of bread, waffles, etc.
Why bother with sourdough? Using the bread machine makes baking fresh bread super easy. The smell of fresh bread baking draws everyone to the kitchen. Slap a little butter and honey on that warm sourdough bread and you have a little taste of Montana heaven! To experience Montana yourself, visit our website today! For more great breakfast ideas, follow us on Pinterest.