You know: sour dough. That weird ooze that REAL BAKERS use in their bread to make it rise; instead of that newfangled yeast thing. Below my adventures with this fun substance, followed by an honest bread recipe for those that got hungry during their reading of the post.
I first came into contact with sourdough at the airport of Gotenborg, Sweden. Just before the main building I met up with Tobias and Luke who were hauling with them top-heavy suitcases with servers and cables and their life’s belongings. Hauling it all to yet another life in yet another place.
At the check-in desk Tobbe and Luke were predictably over-weight (their bags of course) and I was relatively lightly packed, as far as life-belongings go. So we did the inpromptu baggage dance and smeared our stuff out over the airport floor; whilst we were entertained by the funky rythm of impatient travellers tapping their feet in the cue behind us. T&L trespassed happily on my backpack’s private space and stuffed it full with knives and flip-flops and whatnot. At the end Luke subtly lobbed in this inconspicuous looking jar of white goo. It was a fairly uneventful act this lobbing. But with dire consequences.
In the UK the first thing I did was crash hard on a half-inflated air-mattress. The next day I opened my backpack and was greeted by a big big family of that white goo. They had decided to venture out of the jar and make my backpack their new home. In the space of a day they had been multiplying ferociously and by now they were quite comfortable. Thinking nothing of their conciderable change in habitat.
How ever much I can relate to the need for lebensraum, this was my bag. And it is not the place for goo. So I somewhat annoyedly set out to clean the thing, save for the measly bits that were still in the glass jar. The ones left in there were in a sorry lot. They lacked the strength and virality or just the willpower or entrepreneurial spirit to venture out into the wider bag. They kinda sulkily sloshed back and forth as I held the glass under various angles of inspection.
When I went to Luke to thank him for giving me so many new friends, he explained to me that the goo was in fact not made of as alarming stuff as I initially feared. “Just water and flour”, he swore to me in a half-apologetic, half-smirking tone which I had a hard time to appreciate. He being somewhat persona-non-grata for me that day.
But it wasn’t just water and flour at all. It was in fact gazillions of little beasts grazing on water and flour all day long. Getting all fat and fucking like rabbits. In fact rabbits could learn a whole lot if only they would speak sour-dough-ian. Because yes, you guessed it! This was in fact sourdough. Standing proudly at the base of domestic bakery since centuries.
Because as I understand, (And please don’t prove me wrong and don’t Wikipedia it, that’s taking all the fun out of it. I feel like a ban on Wikipedia should be imminent), we have been baking bread with sourdough almost exclusively throughout the centuries. The sourdough being there for the purpose of letting bread rise and the bread not being a hard rock you have to chip shards off with a hammer.
Revving up for the recipe
You wanna know how to make sourdough? You do, don’t you. I know you do. I’ll tell you. You take some water and some dough. Perhaps some salt. And you mix it. You mix it good. And then you put it in your kitchen window and let the sun shine on it. You have no kitchen window or there’s no sun shining through it? Well tough luck buddy/ess. I can’t help you with all your problems. But if you do, and you let that concoction simmer and do it’s thing, the little sourdough beasts will do a great trek and inhabit your little mixture at some mysterious time in some mysterious way.
But this is not the usual way one acquires sourdough. The cool way is to get it from someone else. Because the way this works is you use a bit of sourdough and you stash the rest for later. And that goes on and on. And if you want to hit on someone, you give this person some of your precious sourdough that you have been perfecting over the years you’ve been making sourdough bread. Because sourdough becomes better over time you see. And so it’s a really personal gift, not to be tought of lightly. And you’ll totally have it made if you give this present. In our case though Luke got it from our fearless leader Jane, who also just happens to be an amateur master chef.
To fix the little problem with our lacklustre paltry bit of goo, we were to just add water and flour. Cause sourdough is just about indestructable. And once you feed it these magic ingredients, they will just eat and eat and eat, and it will consume and consume. And before long your cauldron will be alive with primordial looking bubbles that pop and swirl and go about. And the broth will look around for more. And at this point you should be a bit careful that it doesn’t overrun whichever container you put it in. Because it can easily overrun its confinements and engulf the kitchen and then your house with your granma in it and then the block and then the city and then the world. So you need to be careful with that. Keep a lid on it so to speak. And let it cool down by putting it in the fridge. With a lid on. And after a few days the sourdough will have nothing to eat and it will have soiled itself and this sour watery substance will have drifted to the top. And it will feel all miserable, and disgusted and sad because it’s basically swimming in its own excrements. But die it will not, because it’s the spawn of the devil. Just feed it some for some time and it will be fine. It’s really a very manageable and easy-going pet, if you are careful to not let it engulf the entire world. Of course.
Yea so we would have this goo in our fridge right. And every day we would look at it guiltily, because you’re not supposed to have it in your fridge all day and night, but you’re supposed to use the power of the sour. But every once in a while the guilt would be too much and we would go about and make some proper bread. And it would go a little like this:
Most important is that you make sure that the sourdough is ‘happy’. As we say in the trade. Make sure it has had plenty to eat this day and the day before, and that it is all bubbly and almost foam-like. You’ll notice the difference once you have spent some proper time together; you and the sourdough. Then take half of the sourdough from the kennel and feed the remaining so you have more for tomorrow, or two weeks in our case. Then throw it in with a whole bundle of water and flour and some butter or oil if you’re keen on that. And some salt. And then do a whole bundle of kneeding. You can start by stirring with a spoon in whichever container you put the sourdough, and then put some flour on a flat surface and throw the bugger on it and start properly with your bare hands.
“But wait”, you say. “Ho ho”. You clearly forgot to say how much water and flour we should use. But then I retort: I did not forget. Heavens no. Because you see, this is all intentional. What we’re practicing here is no-nonsense cooking. Hands off no handholding cooking. And it’s gonna take the nation by storm. Making bread is a funny pastime. Because it’s just about impossible to get it wrong. This is the algorithm: throw about as much water and flour in a container as you think is needed. Just guestimate it. It’s not that hard. Now three things might happen:
1) The blend is just perfict: Great. Kneed on dude. For a long bleepin while. Say 20 minutes.
2) It’s way too watery: Fuck. That’s not good. But not to worry! Add more flour. Kneed a bit. Re-evaluate.
3) It’s way too hard and crumbly: Fuck. That’s not good. But not to worry! Add more water. Kneed a bit. Re-evaluate.
And that’s it. No measurements needed. You’ll know when you’ve kneeded enough if the dough isn’t sticky anymore and it feels like a “baby’s bum”, as we say in the trade: make the dough into a ball, and press a finger in its bum just a bit. If the slight dent de-dents a bit like a baby’s bottom, than it’s just perfectly perfect dough. Now if you notice that no matter what you do, the dough is just too sticky, just add more flour. Your dough was just somewhat on the watery side. The trick here btw is to distinguish between adding flour because you just want this over and done with, and adding flour because your dough is too soggy. If the former, the problem is a character flaw, and has nothing to do with the dough.
This is about the point in the process where I noticed I forgot to flavor the bread, and I quickly put in some spices and stuff. You could have done it from the beginning, but that’s not how it works out for me in practice. So what I usually do is add quite some cinnamon and raisins. And instead of water you could also have used any other kind of liquid. It doesn’t matter. Beer, choclate milk; you can’t fail with bread! Yea and as for what other kinds of ingredients, and this is really important: it DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER. You’re the queen of your own domain. Do what you want. It’s all good. And since you made the bread, you’re gonna love the result no matter what it tastes like. Cause you made it. You made bread, and that’s fucking awesome.
After this comes the most important bit. The bread needs to rise. So make it into a ball again, and put it somewhere. And just leave it there for, oh, nine hours. The sourdough will just go on eating away and make bubbles but now in your bread. Here it would be nice that the sourdough was fairly healthy, so it has a head-start. The amount of sourdough used counts as well of course. Don’t leave it for days, cause you’ve got a fairly aggressive process going on in that bread. It is time delimited, but it won’t explode of course, but you want to bake it when it’s just right. Not when it over-bubbled.
Anyway, after you think it has risen enough, or you’re just tired of waiting and want it over and done with, shove it in the oven for an hour on say 215 degrees, take it out, and then eat it while it’s still hot. Preferably with salted butter, cause that’s the best. It might be a bit mushy inside, and that means that you should have baked it a bit longer. But it’s fine cause you made it yourself and so it’s gonna be yummy. The same for over-baking.
So it’s really a bit of a hassle, making sourdough bread, and after a while there’s a big chance you just won’t do it anymore. But you will for ever be able to brag that you know how to make bread from first principle. And after the apocalypse this will be a great skill to have.