I am so excited right now! For years now, I have attempted sourdough starters. For one reason or another it has never worked out. It is a big commitment. You have to work to keep it alive, and it requires quite a bit of time and flour. I have never had one that seemed productive enough to keep working at it.
However, on December 13th I received the January 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living in the mail. I was looking though it when suddenly I got to a 10 page spread on Chad Robertson's bread at Tartine in San Fransisco. The photo of the large burnished loaf got my attention immediately. The article pulled me in even more.
I loved how he reworked the traditional baker's schedule so that he could spend more time with his young daughter, surf, and to take advantage of the restaurant ovens downtime. Every evening at about 5:00 he turns out loaves of country bread leavened naturally to a waiting line of people.
This bread uses no dried yeast. It is leavened through a natural starter; one that takes about 3 weeks to create. Apparently a loaf of this bread lasts about a week, much longer than typical yeasted loaves you bake fresh at home. Sweet. I started mine the next day.
The process is easy enough, but I have tried it enough to know it can be finicky for someone who does not know how it should look and smell at all the different stages. You mix together a large quantity of one part white bread flour and 1 part whole wheat flour. You mix together some of the flour and some water. ( All water used for bread should be chlorine free. I leave my water out overnight so the chlorine will evaporate.) You let this mixture sit for about 2 days until it gets bubbly. At this point it smells awful. More rotten than yeasty. This is normal! You discard all but 75 grams, (By the way, I think a kitchen scale and bread baking go hand in hand. I wouldn't want to do this without one. In fact, the recipe only contains weight measurements.) and then mix in equal parts water and the flour mix.
*Now I should mention that the water amount is incorrect in the magazine. The starter should be the consistency of a thick batter. My starter was much thicker so I looked online. One of the MS editors has posted that it should indeed be equal parts flour and water by weight.
You feed the starter this way every day for a couple of weeks (15-20 days). Eventually you will notice the mix rising and falling after the feeding. You can tell because there will be a line around the container where it reached it's top height and then fell. At this point, the article says you are ready to make the bread. Last night I realized my starter had been there for a day or two, so I made my leaven by mixing 1 tablespoon of the starter with flour and water. This did its thing from 9 or so last night until about 9:45 this morning. They say you know it is ready when a small spoonful floats in a bowl of room temperature water. I tested mine and it floated! Heck yeah. I was so glad that it was progressing the way the magazine said it should.
I continued on making the dough. Here is a picture of the leaven floating in the water for the dough, right before I stirred it in:
After I stirred in the leaven I continued making the dough. The bread is 9 parts white bread flour to 1 part whole wheat flour. There is a 35 minute autolyse, and then a bit more water and the salt is stirred in. I am currently 1 hour into the folding process that he uses during the first rise. I will follow up with another post once the bread is complete. Wish me luck that it keeps going so well!