Monday, November 26, 2012

Sourdough and Other Strange Creatures

Our jar of sourdough starter.
We have several ongoing fermentation projects that N. and I refer to as "Strange Creatures Growing in the Kitchen" (you have to say this in a spooky voice): our own kombucha, keifer, yogurt, and sourdough.  I abandoned the keifer because it grew faster than I could eat it and no one else in my family liked it.  The kombucha is a seasonal thing because in late summer I can't keep the fruit flies out of it; I've just restarted with a "mother" from a neighbor.  The yogurt is a new endeavor; for about a month I've been making batches of whole-milk yogurt in a small crock pot and it is super-easy and delicious.  The basic method is here (I used a cup of store-bought plain organic yogurt as a starter for my first batch and I don't use a candy themometer).  I am never buying yogurt again!

But the fermenting achievement we are most proud of is our sourdough.  We've kept the same batch of starter alive for 7 years!  I captured wild yeast with the water from boiled potatoes.  I don't remember where I read about the method or much about how I did it, but I think it was something similar to this (Be sure to use organic potatoes.  I used whole wheat flour.  And don't store food in plastic containers!).  Although I started it, Tim is the Keeper of the Sourdough and Maker of the Sourdough Bread (and Waffles, Pancakes, Rolls, etc.).  Here's how he cares for the starter, which we keep in a 1-quart (glass) mason jar in the fridge (loosely covered with a canning lid and ring):  Take 1/2 of starter out of jar and set aside to use in bread.  Add to remaining starter 3/4 c. whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of water.  Stir well, return to fridge.  Could that be easier?  You feed it as often as you want to use it.  When we go away for a month, we ask our house-sitter to feed the starter once to keep it lively.

Here's Tim's delicious Sourdough Bread Recipe.  It takes 2 days (but requires no kneading!):

Day 1:
  • In a bowl, combine 1/4 c. lukewarm water and 1/2 tsp. yeast (or 1/4 tsp. instant yeast).
  • Grind 1/2 c. walnuts or almonds with 2 tsp. sugar in electric grinder (optional), add to yeast and water.
  • Add 2 tsp. salt to yeast & water.
  • Add 1/4 tsp. caraway seeds and fresh chopped rosemary (or seasonings/herbs of your choice) to yeast & water.
  • Stir in starter to yeast & water.
  • Stir in 1/4 c. ground flax seeds.
  • Stir in 3 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (sometimes we use a combination of whole wheat and "white whole wheat").
  • Stir in 1 1/2 - 2 c. water.  Mixture will be very wet.
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Day 2:
  • Remove dough from fridge, split into two equal balls.
  • Line 2 sieves with well-floured towels, put 1 ball of dough in each sieve on floured towel, lightly cover dough with towel.  Let rise 2-5 hours.
  • Near end of rising time, place pizza stone in oven and heat oven to 450 degrees.  When oven is hot, turn each round loaf out of sieve onto heated pizza stone.  Toss 2-4 ice cubes into oven (makes a crispy crust).  Bake for 15 minutes; turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 25 minutes.  
  • Bread is done if it sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped.
The homeschool aspect to all this: learning about bacteria and fermenting, where food comes from, slow food, following instructions but also doing it ourselves through experimentation.  Plus, the deep pleasure of a warm piece of bread topped with melting butter!

The next Strange Creatures I want to cultivate are vinegars, such as apple-cider vinegar and red wine vinegar... 

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