Something about living in Sweden makes me want to create things. I noticed this especially last Christmas when I came to visit after having been living in Germany. No sooner had I arrived in Uppsala than my fingers began to itch for a knitting project, I started designing a solar cooker and my eyes swept hungrily over the community garden outside our window. Now that I’m living in Uppsala, new projects are popping up left and right. My newest project, inspired by my Sourdough Meister neighbor, is to make and bake with sourdough.
Sourdough is a self-leavening bread. The original leavened bread in fact, having been used by the ancient Egyptians and cherished by many generations before industrialization made acquiring yeast as easy as a trip to the store. While baking bread with “conventional” yeast involves adding what is basically a concentrated shot of yeast-fungi suspended in animation to an otherwise very un-yeasty bread dough, sourdough takes advantage of the natural yeasts and bacteria that are found in the air and flour. By creating a nice and comfy environment for desired yeasts and bacteria in the dough, undesired microbes will be held at bay.
The basic method for baking with sourdough is to create a concentrated bacteria/yeast soup that can then be used similarly to yeast packets. This soup is called a “starter”, and is ridiculously easy to make. The process involves mixing some flour and water (about 1 dl of each) in a jar and then leaving it at room temperature for about a week, “feeding” it about once a day with a little more flour and water. After a couple of days, the starter will begin to develop a slightly frothy, sour smelling character. After this, the starter can be stored in the fridge until the next time you want to make bread.
I’ve been using a very basic recipe, adding a small glass full of starter to about 300 grams rye and somewhere around 700 ml water, mixing it, and letting it sit overnight. In the morning, I add another 300 grams of rye and 300 grams of wheat flour, mix, then knead it for about ten minutes before letting it rise for another two or three hours. After that, I transfer it to the oven with a little bowl of water on the wrack below to help form a crunchy, hard crust. All told, it takes about an hour to bake the loaf.
Right now, we have three sourdough starters going in my collective, one fed on wheat flour and two that have been fed on rye flour, one of which is about 3 weeks old and another of which comes from a friend and is 4 years old (which is, by the way nothing compared to certain bakeries, where they boast starters that can be traced back hundreds of years).
I’ve now baked with my 3-week old sourdough twice, and while the first results can only be categorized as the “experimental phase”, this last round of sourdough was a definite success (if a little flat—next time I’ll have to add more flour or use a form). Despite the fact that sourdough has to rise about five times longer than bread made with conventional yeast, it is in all other respects, the busy-student’s bread and requires very little actual work-time, producing a delicious and affordable bread.
A quick note about expenses: If you have a good source of flour, like we do (we buy it from a food co-op), baking with sourdough can also save you a lot of money. Here’s the run up:
A loaf of Eskelunds bread: 30,60 kr per loaf when it’s on sale at our ICA
Flour from our co-op: 50 kr for a 5 kg bag
Per bread recipe (2 small loafs): 911 grams of flour (including 2 dl per week to feed our established starter)
How many recipe-portions per flour sack: 5000 g/911 grams = 5,5 recipe-portions
Kr per recipe-portion price: 50 kr/5,5 recipe-portions = 9,10 kr/recipe
Contribution from the electricity bill: our oven runs on 2000 W, and it takes about 2 hours to bake our two loafs, making 4 kWh. Our per kWh electricity price is about 1 kr/kWh, making a 4 kr contribution to the bill.
Total: 13,10 kr per recipe-portion homemade, organic sourdough compared to 30,60 kr on sale Eskelunds from ICA.
Extras sources about sourdough:
- BBC Radio 4 program on sourdough from 16 September 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mnpzv
- BBC recipe for wheat sourdough (we’re baking this tonight!): http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/classic_sourdough_21029
- the Sourdough Companion, website with a lot of different ideas for sourdough recipes: http://sourdough.com/
- Slightly biased youtube video on the wonders of sourdough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpwFM_YRdwc