I've been playing around with bread lately. I'm a carbivore. I love bread. I've never been successful at baking bread, though. Not really. I wish I were the kind of person who could just throw some stuff into a bowl, knead it a bit, watch it rise, bake, and eat.
Let's go back in time, actually. Say... 10 years, maybe?
Around 2007 or '08, I went to visit friends who were spending a year in Bulgaria.
I found a cheap ticket and, figuring the opportunities would be few and far between to visit Bulgaria and stay with friends for free. They spent the summer in a village near Tryavna, Bulgaria with another American family. Off I went, and bunked with them.
It was a magical week, really. The gorgeous, old forests towered over us like in a fairy tale wood. It rained every day at about 3pm, keeping the temperatures comfortable and the flora lush and green. Every morning, we'd all wake up, make and have a shared breakfast, and one of the women would just whip up dinner bread of some kind (rolls, a loaf, whatever) so it could rise twice before baking for dinner.
And it was always delicious.
I have since tried a million recipes, different kinds of yeast, loaves, boules, etc. Packages of dry yeast from every brand. And I've never been able to get it just right. Is the weather too cool? Too hot? Did I knead too much? Too much flour? Not enough flour? I don't know!
My BFF's dad retired a few years ago and took up sourdough bread. Every week, he makes a couple of loaves of delicious sourdough. We've been out to visit and enjoyed the bread immensely. He LOVES making sourdough, and after a bit of research, it seemed that sourdough might be the thing for me. I love sourdough bread. I liked the idea of starting entirely from scratch, and that a good sourdough starter will make it possible to have consistently leavened bread. I like that the starter can be used for all kinds of different foods.
On January 2nd, I started my starter. I looked at several blog posts, recipes, and websites to get the basics, and I'll link to a few of those below. But the gist of it is that I started with a cup of water and a cup of bread flour. Stirred, waited, fed, discarded, fed, discarded, etc., and waited a week for my starter to do bubbly things.
After a few days, I had enough discarded starter to make a sourdough dutch baby pancake. It was delicious. The recipe is here, though I omitted the butter and the cast iron (6 tbsp of butter? really???? Also, where did our cast iron skillet go? We used to have two...). Instead I sprayed my non-stick, oven safe pan with olive oil spray. It came out beautifully. I used store-bought eggs, pasteurized 1% milk, and splenda instead of sugar. It came out delicious, just the same.
I topped it with cinnamon/brown sugar/apples (2 tbsp butter, a bunch of sliced up apples I'd put up over the winter, some cinnamon, and 2 tbsp of brown sugar) that I cooked up on the stove top while the pancake baked. This past week, after 20ish days, my starter finally proved ready. I started feeding it the last few days with whole wheat, as well as all-purpose flour. It's not clear if it was the timing, or the "food" but the starter popped right into action! I used information from a couple of websites, with these links as my main sources:
1) For a starter-- one source is at Back To Our Roots
2) Also for a starter-- from King Arthur's flour
And then for timing the bread baking and actually baking the bread
3) For outlining the major timing points: The Effortless Chic
4) And for the main source of info from beginning to end: The Kitchn
And voila, here is my bread, isn't it pretty????