We’ve been baking bread regularly around here. Mostly me but sometimes Tigger and sometimes one starts and another finishes. My partner has even done it a couple of times (when we need bread and no one else was stepping up).
Aside: There is one odd thing we’ve discovered. My partner can’t eat bread. He loves bread but it gives him a really bad belly ache. It is not all wheat products, just bread. And he can eat pita and other flatbreads. We’re not sure why this is and if quantity has something to do with it (flatbreads mean less bread per quantity of filling in a sandwich) or the yeast (though beer doesn’t cause a problem). Anyway, he severely limits how much bread he eats and only sometime indulges. But he’s tried the homemade stuff and has had no problems. None. Weird. I’m wondering if there is some preservative in even the bakery bread we buy that causes the problem (though wouldn’t that be in the flatbreads?).
Back to the bread. We started with Wisteria’s recipe and have basically experimented. We have a friend with a baby so we haven’t used honey (babies under a year old can’t have honey, even when cooked) so she can eat the bread (because she’s old enough for real food). Also, Wisteria uses honey because she keeps bees and has tons of it lying around. We’ve been using molasses mostly. I actually really like bread with molasses in it and so does Tigger.
We also don’t measure. We were using yeast in packets and worked out that was 2 tsp, adjusted Wisteria’s recipe accordingly and went from there. So we kind of measure the water (but not the temperature) and we definitely don’t measure the sweet stuff. And then we add flour until it feels right. We’ve only guessed at what that means but usually it works out well.
Flour has also varied depending on what we have and what we want to try. I know that I shouldn’t use all purpose flour so we’ve been buying bread flour but that is about the only limitation. We need to go back out to the mill in Manotick and get some of their flour as it is good, locally ground, and so on.
Anyway, in relation to all the Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired learning going on around here, we picked up a couple of cookbooks at the library the other week. One is about cooking in pioneer days, Skillet Bread, Sourdough, and Vinegar Pie by Loretta Frances Ichord. (The knitters can giggle over that name.) While looking through it for something else, I found a recipe for sourdough starter. It is in a chapter about the California Gold Rush and even explains different ways to make it.
When I mentioned it to Tigger she ran upstairs and got the current LIW book and leafed back a few pages to read the part where it explains how to make sourdough starter. It is in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 21, Merry Christmas.
“You start it,” said Ma, “by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours.”
“Then when you use it, always leave a little,” said Laura. “And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water,” Laura put in the warm water, “and cover it,” she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, ” and just set it in a warm place,” she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. “And it’s always ready to use, whenever you want it.”
(page 196 of the edition we have from the library)
The other recipe also involves buttermilk with an explanation that it would not be used if they didn’t have it. I decided to pick some up today even though the recipe calls for 4 tablespoons and you can only buy it in 1 litre cartons. I have a recipe for buttermilk pancakes I might need to try with the rest.
I went a rooted around to find Melissa’s bread blog for more information and ideas. (I should also look more closely at her bread carnival.)She’s got some great links to other bread blogs, several of which are specifically about sourdough. I had a quick peek at some but I’m not sure I want to do that much reading and be that scientific about it. We seem to be doing well with the “try it and see” approach. I sort of feel like I want to learn more about the process and why different things are done in a particular way, but mostly I’m enjoying the freedom of this more creative approach. I may, of course, end up with the sort of crisis she reported here, but I hope not.
Despite my inclination to just dive in without reading up on it first, there are links to sourdough bread recipes once I’ve got this starter going. And I think I might want to drop by there more often and see what they are up to on the bread front.
I think my biggest problem is going to be finding a consistently warm place for my starter to get started. I have been keeping the house kind of cool and wearing warm clothes, only turning up the thermostat when necessary. In the evening, I often go down to the family room where we have a gas fireplace that warms the room up quickly. The recipe suggests the water heater, but if mine was that poorly insulated, I’d be pretty angry. I suspect I’ll go for the counter next to the stove since that probably warms up more frequently than other places. And I really have no idea how warm it needs to be for the magic to work. I guess I’ll find out. If it doesn’t work, maybe we’ll leave it until spring or summer to try again.