Much like hand-washing, I was into sourdough bread before it got trendy.
In grad school, I had a sourdough starter that I used to make a garlic-cheese bread that was always a hit at potlucks and dinner parties, but I went to St. Louis over winter break and forgot to pack the starter and had to toss it out when I came home. It wasn’t much of a loss, really. Sourdough is persnickety, and yeast is readily available.
Until now. Suddenly, in quarantine, everyone is trying to bake bread, and so everywhere is sold out of yeast.
I happen to have yeast because I’m a bread nerd year-round, but reading all of the sourdough think-pieces that have popped up on Facebook made me nostalgic for my old jar of fermenting, bubbly flour slurry. With nothing else better to do, I decided to start a new crop.
What have I learned four weeks in to my latest sourdough experiment? Well, mostly that sourdough is persnickety and I prefer yeast.
But here are a few recipes that I’ve had (moderate) success with:
The first is definitely a cheater’s recipe because it calls for both sourdough and yeast. I’ve had the best, most consistent results with this recipe.
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 1.5 to 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons of yeast
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 5 cups of flour
Mix the yeast and water together; mix the flour and salt together. Add the water-yeast mixture to the sourdough starter, and then add the whole thing to the flour. (I like to use a glass measuring cup for easy pouring.) Get it all worked together, adding more water as needed, and then cover and let it rise in an oiled bowl for two hours in a warm spot. (If you have a stupid dog, like I do, be sure to put it somewhere the dog can’t get it because yeast dough can be fatal if ingested.) After two hours, punch the dough down, shape it into a ball, and place it into an oiled Dutch oven with a lid. Preheat the oven to 425, and let the dough rise for one more hour. Slash the top before baking. Then place the Dutch oven in the oven with the lid on for 45 minutes. After that, take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes.
Then there’s the plain old sourdough recipe; I tried this two different ways (once in a Dutch oven, once in loaves baked on a sheet pan), and both times it was not great in different ways. The Dutch oven version was dense and doughy; the loaves were pallid and bland. I think I might eventually get the hang of it, but as I said, I have yeast, so I haven’t really wanted to keep wasting flour on this one. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did. My friend used this recipe with some starter I gave her, and it worked well for her.
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 4.5 cups flour
- 1.5 cups water 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
Mix everything together and let sit for 30 minutes. Knead the dough for about five minutes, form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, and cover. Let it sit overnight. (Again, keep away from dogs.) In the morning, divide in half, shape into two loaves on a sheet pan, cover, and let rise for two hours. Slash the tops before baking in a preheated 450 degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown (mine never got golden brown).
Then there is Georgia’s favorite sourdough option, which she will only eat if she doesn’t know there is sourdough starter in it: sourdough waffles.
- 1 cup flour 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- Half-cup milk
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
Mix dry ingredients, and then whisk together eggs and milk. Add sourdough and butter (let it cool slightly so it doesn’t scramble the eggs). Mix wet ingredients into dry and stir to combine. Batter should be loose and pourable – add more milk or more flour depending on whether it’s too wet or too dry. Pour a quarter-cup on to a greased waffle iron and cook until done. This makes about six waffles. These can be topped with sweet things (berries, whipped cream, syrup) or savory things (cheese, meat, crispy fried shallots) because the waffle itself is vaguely sweet but also mildly cheesy from the sourdough. Any leftover waffles freeze beautifully and can be cooked in the toaster.
Now finally, the bread that started my sourdough journey back in the early aughts. It’s time-intensive, but we have plenty of time, right? And it’s so good, even if you will reek of garlic for two days after eating it. Worth it.
- 1 teaspoon sourdough starter
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup water
Mix well, cover, and leave alone for at least 24 hours. This is your sponge. To the sponge, add 3 cups of flour, three-quarters of a cup of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of yeast. Mix together, and set aside for 30 minutes. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, place in an oiled bowl, and cover. Let rise for three hours. While dough is rising, roast a whole head of garlic in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Once the garlic is soft, remove from the oven, let it cool, and then mash it together into a paste with a pinch of salt. Roll the dough out to a rectangle and rub the roasted garlic paste evenly over it. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Roll the dough up like you’re making cinnamon rolls – the garlic-cheese mixture should form a spiral. Form it into a loaf, making sure to pinch the ends. Let it rise on a sheet pan, covered, for two hours. Bake in a preheated 475 degree oven for 10 minutes, then drop the temp to 400 and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes until it’s browned. (I used to try to create steam in the oven by throwing ice cubes into a loaf pan that had been preheating in the oven, but then once I had a loaf pan explode in the oven and make a huge mess, so I’ve decided it’s not worth it. Feel free to Google this method and try it if you want.) Brush the top of this bread with melted butter when you pull it out of the oven. So good!
Have you jumped on the sourdough trend yet? If so, leave me your favorite recipes in the comments.
Happy quarantine baking!