If any food can be associated with the west, sourdough bread or biscuits would be a good “start” – pun (and pan!) intended. One of the oldest known breads, settlers making their way to the west, whether to homestead or to pan for gold, would carry sourdough starter – necessary for making biscuits and bread along the way. It has been said that Christopher Columbus brought a starter along on his voyage to the new world.
Sourdough starter is much like having a pet. You have to feed it and attend to it often, sometimes on a daily basis. There was a time, be it a long time ago, when I made bread almost every single day simply so I would not waste the starter to be removed. Whether it was cinnamon rolls or loaves of sweet yet tangy bread, I was providing my co-workers, friends, and family baked goods on a regular basis. They loved it. I would make the bread the night before, let it rise and bake it early the next morning. The smell of freshly baked bread followed me to work and wafted under the noses of my co-workers.
Of course, no one made me do this – I was the one who chose to become a slave to making baked goods. I could have just as easily gone to the local grocery bakery, pointed at the desired loaf, and purchased it. However, commercial bakeries do not use the same type of levain or starter or even yeast as in bakeries of years gone by. There are still independent bakeries who choose to make bread as nature intended (if it was indeed intended?) but those are few. I recently read that even in France, bakeries are taking shortcuts and using ingredients not quite up to Parisian standards. An obscenity!
With that said, I became a snob when it came to baked goods and sneered at the thought of baking a cake from a mix, or bread from a box. I still do, but my baking days are now limited to very, very, very special occasions – and sometimes not even then, because it is hard to bake for one and even for two. And of course, the message of the day is that products made from flour are not especially good for your health.
Bakers that use real yeast and less processed ingredients will argue that point, and rightly so. The difference in products made in commercial bakeries from the products baked at home or a fundamentalist bakery is chemically different.
But what the heck – making bread is as old as time itself (or at least thousands of years so), it tastes good, and you get the satisfaction of creating a work of art. Because done right, that’s what baked goods really are, and its art you can eat and not worry about what wall to hang it on.
There are many recipes for sourdough starter, and though I have made my own, you can actually buy starter that the seller professes to be from original starter in the days of the Gold Rush and San Francisco. I have done that as well just out of curiosity. I haven’t found any starter proclaiming to be from Egypt 1500BC where they think it seriously began, but it’s probably out there somewhere.
Different starters produce different tasting bread, but the starter I used (made myself!) was potato flakes, sugar, water, and yeast. Needless to say, early starter probably wasn’t made with potato flakes, but could have used mashed potatoes. You can google an endless amount of recipes for a starter but this one is as good as any, or so I believe.
I have also read to be careful using organic flour as it reacts differently. I am not sure why that would be as all flour was pretty much organic 150 years or more ago and that was all they had.
The starter and bread recipes are listed below. You can use a bread machine if you choose, though I prefer to pound my frustrations out on the dough. It works. Enjoy!
Sourdough Starter Recipe
3 tablespoons instant mashed potato flakes
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (or one package) active dry yeast
Mix ingredients – preferably in a glass container – and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover with a dishcloth. Let sit for five (5) days, stirring each day. Do not refrigerate.
On day five, feed the starter 3 tbsp instant potato flakes, 3 tbsp sugar, and 1 cup warm water. Stir, re-cover, and let stand for at least 6 hours.
Remove one cup of starter and place the rest of the starter in the refrigerator. Make sure there are holes in the top of the container so the starter can breathe.
Every five (5) days, repeat feeding instructions, then remove 1 cup and either discard or make bread.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup corn oil (can also use vegetable or canola)
6 cups all-purpose flour
Mix sugar, oil, salt, water and starter in a large bowl; add flour. On floured surface knead until ball forms adding flour if need be. Next, place the dough into a large, oiled bowl, turn once so that dough will be greased, cover with a dish towel and let rise overnight.
The next day, punch down the dough and, turn out onto floured surface, and knead for several minutes. When the ball is smooth divide it in half, place in 2 greased bread pans. Cover and let double in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Turn out onto board or cloth and let cool.
This bread makes your kitchen smell great while cooking and makes two great loaves of fresh bread for your family.
Note: If you can find a quart sized or smaller glass jar with a plastic top and punch holes in the top, this makes the perfect container for something to keep your starter in the refrigerator!