I am the proud owner of some 250-year-old bugs in the form of sourdough starter from the folks at King Arthur flour. I know this blog has turned into something of an ongoing advertisement for King Arthur, but if you’re a baker who lives anywhere near the King Arthur flagship store and baking school, your life is also likely an ad for King Arthur. I was in the vicinity recently while visiting family, and as I can never resist a visit to their shop, I drove home with a baguette, a multigrain artisan loaf, two s’mores cupcakes, and a little container of sourdough starter.
As a novice bread baker, I’m a little afraid of sourdoughs. I certainly don’t have the wherewithal to catch some passing bugs on my windowsill so as to make my own starter, and if the recent Friendship Bread fad taught me anything it is that starters are sort of like Gremlins. There are rules, and you must pay close attention to the little buggers while abiding by the rules or everything will go south. Starters require feeding and watering. They bubble and grow. A surprising amount gets discarded. I think this has to do with maintaining appropriate acidity, but, as I’ve said before, my husband is the science guy around here. I must say, the discarding really does get to me. As in, throwing out a cup of starter every time you feed it. Unless, of course, in the style of Friendship Bread, you give scoops of starter to everyone you know until, like rabbits, the stuff multiplies out of control and fills every home in the neighborhood. Sourdough starter is to the kitchen what zucchini is to the kitchen garden. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. The blob that keeps on growing.
Wanting a sourdough started feels a bit like being a five-year-old who begs for a puppy. The responsible parent replies: “But puppies need to be fed. They need water. They need lots of attention. Do you really want to do all of that work?”
You see my misgivings? But I love sourdough bread. I mean it. I really, really love the stuff. And so many of my cookbooks hail the virtues of starter breads. I had to get over my Gremlin-inspired nightmares and just jump onto the sourdough train. So far, I’m glad I did.
After feeding the little bit of starter I brought home from King Arthur, it became a gelatinous blob with a slightly sour aroma. It lives in my fridge and, apparently, if I don’t intend to use it at least once a week, I need to do some maintenance feeding. I’m almost certain that I will forget to do this at some point. But with any luck, I’ll make sourdough bread frequently enough to keep my little buggers alive and happy.
My first attempt at a loaf of sourdough bread was incredibly gratifying. I have never had such a perfectly soft, smooth dough. It rose beautifully and shaped easily. I think the work required to maintain the starter won’t seem so bad when it makes such lovely breads.
The resulting bread really was lovely. It had the most wonderfully light, airy texture. It wasn’t overly sour, which suits my husband, who dislikes very strong sourdough breads. However, next time, I might try to let the starter ripen a little longer on the counter to get a little more sourness. After all, the starter bubbling away in my fridge looks more or less like a science experiment, and so each time I use the starter I will be experimenting with the best ways to turn it into the perfect loaves of bread.