Monday, June 16, 2008

Fun With Sourdough Starter

I've tried making sourdough bread starter several times, following several different recipes, with limited success. A few weeks ago, I sent a self-addressed stamped envelope to the address given at Not long after that, I got my envelope back, with a small plastic bag of dried 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter: The Wild Yeast Born When the West Was Young! It seems that the late Carl T. Griffith used to give some of his family's sourdough starter to anyone who asked, and a group of Carl's friends carry on this tradition.

The starter, although dried, was quick to revive and start growing, and I've used it in several recipes so far. The flavor's great, and the starter is hardy and quick-growing. Following are Carl Griffith's own sourdough biscuit recipe (my first try at biscuits without baking powder) and a nice, easy bread recipe from John Ross.

When you want to bake something, bring the starter up to room temperature, mix in 1 cup flour, 1 c warm water or skim milk and let sit overnight to ferment. The next morning, remove one cup to keep in a covered jar as a starter for use next time, feed it, then do your baking.

Sourdough BISCUITS
1 tb ActiveDryYeast
1 c Sourdough starter
1 1/4 c Water-Lukewarm
5 c Bread flour
1/3 c Sugar
Melted butter or Margarine
3/4 ts Salt

If you desire dissolve the yeast in warm water with a little sugar till bubbly. Sourdough is a yeast but rises faster with added commercial yeast. In a large mixing bowl add sugar, salt, sourdough starter, yeast and flour. Cover; set in warm spot and let rise until double. Punch down and turn out onto floured work surface. Roll out to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter. Dip both sides in butter or oil, and place on well-greased baking sheet. Let rise 15 min. Bake at 425 - 20 min. or until golden brown.

Sourdough Baking: The Basics by S. John Ross
  • 2 Cups of sponge (proofed starter)
  • 3 Cups of unbleached flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt

...To the sponge, add the sugar, salt, and oil (the oil is optional - you can use softened butter instead, or no oil at all). Mix well, then knead in the flour a half-cup at a time. Knead in enough flour to make a good, flexible bread dough. You can do this with an electric mixer, a bread machine on dough cycle, or a food processor....treat it like ordinary white or French bread dough.

Let the dough rise in a warm place....Note that sourdough rises more slowly than yeast bread....Let the dough double in bulk, just like yeast-bread dough. When a finger poked into the top of the dough creates a pit that doesn't heal (spring back), you've got a risen dough.

Punch the dough down and knead it a little more. Make a loaf and place it on a baking sheet (lightly greased or sprinkled with cornmeal). Slit the top if you like, and cover the loaf with a paper towel and place it in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in bulk.

Place the pan with the loaf in your oven, and then turn your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the bread for 30-45 minutes. Do not preheat the oven. The loaf is done when the crust is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with a wooden spoon. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack or a towel and let it cool for an hour before slicing.

Some more interesting sourdough resources:

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