I've written before about my KH (kitchen hobby) of making sourdough bread. My Mom tells me that her mother kept a batch of bread starter (a flour and water mixture that had been fermented with yeast) in the basement. On baking day Gramma would send one of the kids down to fetch the starter. Gramma would add flour and water to the starter and set it in a warm spot to make a "sponge". The sponge would be allowed to sit for several hours or overnight to ferment. She always saved a small amount of the starter and fed it with flour and water before setting it back in the basement till the next baking day.
After the sponge had time to bubble and ferment, she added additional flour and perhaps sugar and milk until the dough was just the right consistency to make bread. After being thoroughly kneaded, the dough was set aside again to rise. Then it was punched down, shaped into loaves, let rise again, and baked in Gramma's old wood stove.
You can read about my previous experiences with sourdough here. ( Be sure to scroll down to read all posts. You can also find out where I got my original sourdough starter.) Originally I used recipes that included the addition of yeast which insured the dough would rise in a reasonable amount of time. The yeast added a bit of extra kick, if you please.
However, a real sourdough shouldn't need yeast to cause the dough to rise, but I hadn't quite figured out how to bake without the additional yeast...my few attempts resulted in a dough that just sat there like a lump on a log, refusing to rise even after sitting overnight. I ended up tossing them in the garbage. I believe the problem was that I was not using sufficient starter for the recipe I was using.
But Today!!!! Today I made "real" sourdough without yeast.
Last evening I began a sponge by taking one cup of my starter, adding two and a fourth cups of flour plus two cups of water, and placing the resulting sponge in a warm spot overnight to ferment. This morning this is what it looked like. (I fed the remaining cup of starter by adding 1/4 cup each of flour and water and placing it in the fridge till my next batch of bread.)
I was pretty certain I had finally figured out how to avoid adding yeast but I decided to split the sponge into two batches. Each had the same ingredients added to the sponge (flour, water, milk, butter, salt, sugar) but one batch had regular yeast added and one batch did not.
Naturally the yeast batch rose faster. In fact it was speedy enough that it was baked and out of the oven before the "real" sourdough (without added yeast) had risen enough to punch down and shape into a loaf. However, the real stuff did eventually double in size and I shaped it into a loaf and placed it into a pan to rise, later to bake.
The thermometer? Who would figure to use a meat thermometer when baking bread? I had my old favorite bread recipe down to a T and I knew it took exactly 23 minutes at 400 degrees to bake a good loaf of bread. However many websites that talk about sourdough mention using a thermometer to bring the internal temp up to 200 degrees before declaring a loaf "done". So now I bake the loaf to "almost done", add the thermometer, and watch it for a few minutes till it comes up to temp. No more half-baked loaves. (I'm the only one half-baked in this house.)
When both loaves were done, I set them side by side. The size is about the same. The texture of the crumb is about the same. The taste is slightly different and I actually prefer the sourdough over the yeast/sourdough.
I recognize that traditional San Francisco sourdough has a much holier (not meaning "holier than thou") texture...I mean that it is full of large holes formed by the formation of gasses during the rising stage. But I'm not working towards that. I'm just happy to have the stuff rise and bake into a yummy loaf of bread.
I think I'm getting the hang of it!