I began baking bread about 30 years ago as a newlywed. Over the years I’ve baked hundreds of loaves, mostly healthful whole grain variations. So dedicated was I to this process that I bought bread flour in 50-lb. sacks from a wholesale distributor. I also purchased bread bags in 200-count quantities, and gave away as many loaves, if not more, than we ate.
I even broke my Kitchenaid mixer from kneading the sturdy whole wheat doughs. The repairman asked me if I was a professional baker, adding that he had never seen this particular part, which was supposed to be permanent, burned up.
I’m nothing if not obsessive.
Until now I had never tried any sourdough recipes, for the simple reason that they require a sourdough starter that one must not only procure, but feed and keep active and alive from loaf to loaf. Sourdough starter is a living thing, and if you kill it, you’re SOL.
Food blogs abound these days, and I’ve been learning a lot about sourdough bread baking, especially from Eric at www.breadtopia.com. Like me, Eric became enamored of the famous and oft-blogged-about New York Times No-Knead bread recipe, featured here.
To make a long story short, I ended up purchasing a small amount of live sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, (which they proudly state has descended from a 250-year-old starter in New England) and after carefully following their directions for feeding it and bringing it alive, I made my very first loaf of sourdough, pictured above. It was absolutely delicious, and the most amazing revelation–there is no commercial yeast in this bread. It rises solely on the strength of the sourdough starter.
You have to mix the dough in the evening and allow it to proof overnight at room temperature. This morning I baked a second loaf, and there’s a third slowly proofing in the refrigerator for tomorrow. That’s the thing about great bread–the slower it rises, the crustier the crust and the better it tastes.
How am I enjoying this hobby without permanently packing away my skinny jeans? It isn’t easy; I have to exercise moderation in the strictest sense, and I absolutely have to go to Jazzercise at least every other day. But I don’t lament the fact that I have to be active; I consider it to be my bread consumption dues.
Recent accolades ascribed to the Mediterranean diet brought me back to bread-baking after a long respite. Since whole grain bread is literally “the staff of life” for so many cultures, I figure that, rather than eschew it because of its dreaded “carbs,” we bread-loving Americans should eat only the very best, most delicious and healthful loaves we can get our hands on.
There’s no better way to achieve that goal than to bake your own bread. It’s really not that difficult once you get the hang of it. I suggest that you visit Eric’s blog and view one of his informative videos, starting with the no-knead bread recipe.
A wise poet once said, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.”
Truer words were never spoken (especially not during an election year).