I have been baking my own bread for one year. All went well so far. Every one of my friends who tasted samples of my bread was pretty impressed. I never made any real big mistake. Except one evening when I forgot to take the bread out of the oven – the next morning, the entire loaf had turned into charcoal. To my defence, I can only say that we lived in a very spacious apartment at that time. Being in the bedroom, you couldn’t smell the upcoming disaster. So far, I could be proud of my achievements in bread baking if it weren’t for the fact that I am still a coward.
My courage was just enough to experiment with different kinds of yeast breads but I never dared to tackle the elaborate process of making my own sourdough bread. Well, I do use dried sourdough sometimes – but isn’t it like making a bowl of Asian instant noodles? (Well, I prefer cheat’s sourdough compared to instant noodles.) In any case, one year of cowardice is definitely enough. Thus, I decided to take the plunge.
Due to lack of appropriate baking books, I went to the library. Due to lack of time during my lunch break, I just grabbed a book that looked like providing proper advice. On my way back, I realized why the book had somehow seemed to be familiar: I had already read pretty good reviews about “Amy’s Bread”, named after a New York Bakery which is run by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree. I wasn’t well prepared for starting but I was lucky, though. I just didn’t want to wait any longer after making up my mind. Didn’t want to chicken out again…
At home, I started reading. Finally, I had found a description on how to make my own sourdough I could actually understand. No fancy ingredients, no fancy equipment. I did have to convert the ingredients into the metric system but apart from that, the recipe is straightforward. I carefully weighed 56 grams of organic rye flour (the equivalent of two ounces) and mixed it with 113 ml of water (the equivalent of four ounces), stirring vigorously. Both ingredients have to have the right temperature for not to kill the natural yeast bacteria in the flour or incubating a wrong kind of bacteria culture. 23-25 degrees Celsius or slightly cooler is fine, 26 degrees Celsius is already too high – it’s a tricky business, isn’t it? The book also states that you should use organic flour and spring water for a starter otherwise pesticides or chlorine could damage your bacteria culture.
The resulting thick paste sits now in a plastic container while I am patiently waiting for great things to come. The mixture has to ferment for 36-48 hours which means it should be a bubbly, foamy mass doubled in size. The first signs of yeast activity should be visible after 24 hours. Of course, I’m not only lacking experience but also patience so I opened the lid after six hours for the first time: It already smelled differently. Not really tangy yet but somewhat more intense than at the beginning. I’m simply taking this as a sign of encouragement. Dutifully, I will feed my developing sourdough starter. And if, miraculously, all works well, I will bake my own sourdough bread in a couple of days!
Dynamite Sourdough Starter
The ingredients – stage 1
½ cup/4 ounces/113 ml of water
In a plastic container, mix both ingredients, stirring vigorously. The mixture should resemble very thick pancake batter. If not, add a little of one of the ingredients to achieve the desired consistency.
Close lid and let stand at room temperature for 36-48 hours. After 24 hours, there should be some tiny bubbles visible. After 48 hours, at the latest, it should be bubbling and foaming on top.
If mould becomes visible, start again from scratch. If the batter has not doubled after 48 hours, feed it with two ounces of flour and water each and let it sit for another 24 hours or until there is some yeast activity going on.
After all that, proceed with stage 2 which is yet to come. Stay tuned!
Amy Scherber & Toy Kim Dupree: Amy’s Bread