One of the blogs on my reading list is Chocolate & Zucchini (see that list over there on the right side? ->). She has interesting stories and recipes, I even bought two of her books on eating in Paris (I love Paris). Clotilde frequently talks about baking bread, and a few months ago I succumbed and sent off for some sourdough starter.
When you bake bread the main ingredients are flour and yeast. Many people just use packaged yeast, but one method is to use a starter. This is a yeast culture that you keep growing, and just take some of it and use that part as the basis for bread. Here on the west coast sourdough is very popular, and there are a number of places to get some dried sourdough starter. I searched around and ended up mailing off for some of Carl's Starter, which just required a self addressed stamped envelope (well, I put in $5 donation to help out).
What showed up was a small envelope with some dried flakes. I followed the directions and added this to flour and water, and ended up with a foamy jar of active starter. I feed it once a week, and on the weekends take some out and bake a few loaves of bread. It’s taken a while to figure this out, as I’ve never done bread before. I combined parts of Carlos’ low-knead hand-mixed recipe (on Carl’s site) and suggestions that Clotilde had in several posts, and now can make a fairly tasty loaf.
It usually starts out on Saturday night, when I take a cup or two of starter (I keep mine in the refrigerator in a closed jar, as I don’t bake that often) and add it to some more flour and water. Then on Sunday morning I add more flour, some salt and some Italian dried spices. I get my spices at the Spice House, they have some great stuff.
I knead it a few times following the directions and mainly just let it sit and grow. I found that warming up the oven and putting the pan in there to rise works great – our house was just too cold for the yeast, but with summer coming on it will be warming up (due for 30c – 86f today). The basic recipe ends up making two loaves. I followed Clotilde’s suggestion of baking it inside a cast iron pot. Our humidity is so low that the bread doesn’t develop a good crust, and doing it inside a covered pot keeps the moisture inside, and the loaf comes out great. A little olive oil keeps it from sticking to the pan.
The loaf is a little flat, but still tastes great. I usually bring it in to work to be consumed by others, we don’t eat that much bread at home, but it’s fun to make and is a nice treat.
Especially great warm from the oven with some butter. Mmm