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The Rabbit Hole, Volume Two

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Sourdough Saga, Episode I: The Lactobacillus Awakens

by Dennis M. Myers, 11/3/2019

Several things came together recently and sparked an idea. I had a character attempting to establish a restaurant on a newly placed orbital outpost over an alien world. I had read a few things about the evils of processed foods. I watched Mortal Engines and cringed when they ate an ancient "twinkie" that never goes bad. Sorry, that probably doesn't fit here, but I wanted to reconcile my desire to reduce processed foods while indulging my love of bread.

The solution I came up with was to make my own bread. And not only would it be bread, it would be sourdough bread. I had read an article that said this type of bread didn't spike blood sugar levels like ordinary bread. I also fondly remember my grandmother's sourdough pancakes and all sorts of sourdough treats she would make. A little research and I was off. The following is what I learned, and how it happened for me.

The sourdough starter I bought was San Francisco for all-purpose flour. It seemed like the simplest choice to begin with. The first step used flour and water measured in tablespoons. Each day I was to "feed" the starter, and the amount increased until I was at step 5, which had me discard down to a half cup of starter, and then add a half cup of water and a full cup of flour.

Rule Number One of Sourdough: Flour is messy. Dumping a quarter cup of it into a one quart jar is problematic. I won't even attempt the half or full cup. I'll just repeat the quarter.

Finding the one quart glass jar was much easier than I thought it would be. I found one in the cupboard behind the drinking glasses. I remember my son using it to drink from years ago. I had forgotten it was there. I put the flour, water, and starter into the jar, and used a plain fork to mix it. A coffee filter and rubber bands to cap the top, and it's done.

The first few feedings went as planned. I came home Thursday afternoon to find very good growth. Lots of bubbles. I was a little proud of what I had done.

Friday Morning I awoke to the realization I had forgotten to feed the starter. I found a glass jar filled with dense dough. Using a fork, I saved out a half cup, cleaned out the jar, and fed it with another half cup of water and a cup of flour. It was very stiff, so I dribbled a little more water in, and set it aside. We missed our bus and I was a touch late for work, but no big deal.

I came home Friday night and found that the starter had grown to more than double the size it was in the morning. Apparently letting it go hungry overnight didn't kill it. I fed it again, and again it seemed a bit dry, so I added a touch more water.

After a few more feedings it started being easier to pour out the half cup I was keeping. I'm still bothered that this seems to always be drier than I expected. The directions say pancake batter, but I don't know what they use to cook with. My pancake batter pours much more easily than this stuff does. However, it does pour, making it easier.

On the second Saturday I decided it was time to make bread. I found a basic recipe that asked for two and a third cups of starter. Glancing at my nearly full quart jar, I figured I would have enough to keep my usual half cup of starter, and still have plenty make bread with.

Rule Number One of Sourdough: You don't have as much as you think you do. In short, air bubbles. They tend to pop when you pour it out, and I didn't have nearly what I thought I did. Since my daughter was coming up the next day and had expressed a desire to get some of the starter, I cleaned out another jar, and made two starter batches instead. That left me with another half cup of starter.

Time to get creative. I used a ratio calculator and reduced the ingredients needed for the bread, and went about making it. I found the dough to be very sticky at first, so I kept adding dabs of flour from my well floured kneading surface. It worked well enough, and when I could stretch a little out and see light through it, I put the little guy in a bread pan with baking paper under it, and covered it with a towel. Time to wait for it to rise.

Then I remembered that I had forgotten the salt. A little research told me it would have helped with the stickiness and it affects the crust and taste. Lucky me, I now get to experiment. My first tiny loaf will be saltless.

The instructions tell me to let it rise for at least four hours, to as much as twenty-four. Anything less than twelve is considered early. It was about five in the evening by then, which meant I could bake it first thing in the morning with no worries. Well, okay, maybe a little worry. I checked on it around eight and saw how flat it had become. I just wrapped it back up and hoped for the best.