Few food items conjure up images of pioneers and prospectors like sour dough bread. Hardy Alaskan prospectors who had been in country for a winter or more were accorded special status with the title “Sourdough”. The Sourdoughs in Alaska protected their starter from the cold of winter by keeping in it a bag under their clothes. Since bathing during the long cold Alaskan winter wasn’t practical, I wonder what flavors were imparted to the starter while it was kept under the prospector’s clothing. Sourdough is sort of a self rising ingredient so one can use low gluten flours like all purpose and rye flour which do not work well with active bread yeasts which needs the gluten to make the bread rise. The trade off is that sourdough breads take longer to rise than breads using active yeasts.
The first step to making sourdough bread is to create a starter. This process can take up to two weeks. The two basic ingredients for sourdough starter are water and flour. A third basic ingredient is wild yeast which is everywhere. The water and flour is left open to the air so the yeast can fall into the flour/water mixture where it begins to ferment. Eventually the starter is formed. To speed the fermentation process up, a sugar such as honey, white sugar, brown sugar, or a fruit juice can be added to the starter. Packaged yeast can also be added to the starter. The starter I used called for
1 package of dry yeast
21/2 cups warm water
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Table spoon honey or sugar. (I used honey)
The ingredients were dumped in a bowl, a cheese cloth was put over the top and the mixture was left to ferment. The mixture had to be stirred two or three times a day. When the starter was bubbly and smelled like a frat house after a wild beer party-it was ready for baking.
Sour dough bread
1 cup sour dough starter at room temperature
1 package dry yeast dissolved in 1 ½ cups warm water
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ to 1 cup all purpose flour
Mix 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, baking soda and sugar into dissolved yeast mixture. Add starter, then mix in as much of the ½ to 1 cup of flour to mixture stirring with spoon. Kneed on a lightly greased surface adding flour until you have a moderately stiff dough. Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down, divide into two loaves and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape dough into round or oval loaves and place on a greased cookie sheet or round pan. Cut a criss-crossed pattern on top of loaves with a sharp knife. Cover loaves and let rise until doubled. This may take up to a hour and a half. Bake in a 400 degree over or in a hot Dutch oven. One tip from the cook shack: If using the oven preheat the oven to 450 and the turn down to 400 after the dough is in the oven. If using the Dutch oven preheat prior to placing the bread in the oven. Also, place the dough in a cake pan and elevate the pan from the bottom of the Dutch oven to lower the risk of burning. I use metal corner brackets to elevate the pan. The bread is one when you tap on the crust and it sounds hollow.
Sourdough bread is a culinary experience worth the time and effort it takes to make it.