I love bread! Do you? Well, I find that I actually love it just a little too much. I’m not sure if it is perhaps some kind of gene incursion, or some other mutation in me if you will, that makes me crave bread from time to time — or maybe I’m just hardwired that way.
I’ve decided to try and figure that out. Not the physiological or scientific reason for my insatiable desire to consume bread, but rather, what makes bread tick. Here, I will examine the inner workings of bread, and what makes great bread great — by exploring the “mother” of breads I enjoy eating a lot. French country sourdough bread, with a crispy exterior and a slightly sour crumb. (Mildly sour). I like a hint of controlled sourness to my country bread and I think you’d agree if you tried my bread.
Sourdoughs, by and large, are sour by the natural yeast trapped by the starters, used by bakers to make their breads sour. Whether in a professional kitchen, or just a mom making sourdough bread at home and in her kitchen. My journey or sojourn started with the introduction of a thought, or implied thought of the implications of sourdough and how it can be life transforming. Not in a prayerful way, but how it can take up a lot of your time, in a good way, figuring out the machinations of great bread. So to work I went, trapping wild yeast from the very air I breathe and am accustomed to everyday I breathe within the confines of my Williamsburg Bk, apartment. I’m loving the ride and experience.
A great loaf of bread albeit, starts with what the industry calls a “Mother”, “Starter”, “Sponge”, “Preferment”, “Biga”, “Pâte Fermentée” or “Poolish”. By what ever name you give it, it is the butter of the bread metaphorically speaking. Sourdough starters, can take the place of commercial yeast, by acting exclusively as the leavening agent in a dough. Thus eliminating the need for commercially produced yeast, like baker’s yeast, active dry yeast, or rapid dry yeast. What makes the use of wild yeast starters unique, is, the fact that they give sourdough bread the unmistakeable quality and taste. It is after all, one of the oldest techniques used in bread production, with a pedigree that dates back to the Egyptian’s. It is a natural leavener, and one that must be nurtured over long periods to produce a quality product like great bread. Some starters are said to be in some families dating back perhaps a hundred years or more, whilst being handed down from generation to generation.
A great way to know that your starter is ready for use, is, to perform a float test. Simply taking a bit of the starter or poolish, and dropping it into some cool water (tepid if using immediately), will tell you if it is ready by floating to the top of the water. It is a strong indication that there is enough carbon dioxide in the dough and should provide great leavening to your bread dough.
Taking a time out, to stretch and fold proofing bread dough!