Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It's Overcast, and I'm Bakin'

About 80% of the time these days, I try to eat what I guess in current terms could be called Paleo-ish, but with some legumes and rice: lots of vegetables, berries, nuts, eggs, meat and poultry and fish. Dark chocolate. Not much in the way of bread, pasta, or sweets.

But I make an exception for the occasional homemade sourdough.

Crusty, chewy, tangy--I love a good sourdough bread. Dunk it in your soup, dip it in quality olive oil, slather it with butter, toast it, or just eat it, as we said as kids, "raw." There's nothing else like it, and it's all good.

My current sourdough starter came from King Arthur Flour getting on toward a decade ago. According to their sales blurb, "it’s descended from a starter that’s been lovingly nurtured for over a century. When you feed it, it quickly becomes your own, adapting itself to your own region and climate. Generations of bakers before you have made wonderful bread with a bit of this same bubbling brew."

A bit of romanticism to be sure, but it is still pretty cool to imagine all the many familial loaves that this starter has spawned through the decades. I am linked to bakers of long ago, and bakers all over the planet today. I love that.

And it's hardy stuff, this starter. Sometimes I bake with it frequently, but it also spends a good amount of time in cold storage. I spoon a bit of fed starter into a container and tuck away in the back of the freezer. Sometimes it's a little groggy when I first pull it out and revive it, but a few batches of flapjacks or crumpets and a few good feedings bring it roaring back to life again.

Even without the cryo-sleep factored in, sourdough takes a bit of forethought--it isn't a "hey, I think tonight I'll make..." kind of a food. It needs time to grow. It's a food for a gentler lifestyle, one with a bit of meditation built in.

There are all sorts of fancy ways to make sourdough bread, with all sorts of ingredients. The vast majority of the time, however, I opt for the very simplest of "recipes:" A day or two before I plan to bake bread, I get my starter out of the fridge, add about a cup and a half of water and enough flour to make a ball of wet goo, let it sit overnight until bubbly, spoon a little of it back into a container and add flour (this being the starter I keep), and add a spoonful of salt and enough flour to make dough to the rest. I knead it awhile on a floured surface, divide into two round loaves, and let rise on a cookie sheet, sometimes all day. Then I slash the tops and bake at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes.

It comes out chewy, crusty, a little salty, a little sour. Worth the wait. Yum!