Thursday, 20 October 2016

Drive Thru Sue Sourdough THM:E - Sourdough, The Process

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Sourdough in a Medium Bread Pan

I know what you're thinking.  "What?  Can it be possible?  I thought sourdough was a long, time consuming process, with long rises, and special techniques?  Don't you have to be an artisan bread baker to achieve sourdough?  Drive Thru Sue does NOT have time to knead bread, no matter how easy..."

Believe me when I tell you that Sourdough bread IS possible, for Drive Thru Sues, busy moms, and people who don't want to take the time to learn traditional bread baking techniques.

I've been an amateur bread baker for many years now.  The definition of an amateur is someone who loves - but does not get paid - for their habit hobby.  Long before Trim Healthy Mama came my way, I was studying Peter Reinhart, keeping a bread journal, and measuring my ingredients by the gram.  THE GRAM.  7 grams of salt, 19 grams of yeast, 257 grams of whole wheat flour...  Of course all the while I was having babies, moving to new cities, and having a grand old life.  The bread baking would take a back seat for a year or more at a time (judging by the dates in my bread journal) but I always came back to baking, usually in the fall.  I have something of an OCD personality, and I have always been driven to discover the *perfect* techniques, and work until I could execute them flawlessly.  I take great pride in achieving great culinary arts - cooking has also been a passion of mine since I was about 15.

During one of my 'baking seasons' a friend of mine (with 5 kids under age 5 including triplet 2 year olds!) told me about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Or it might have been the sequel, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I can't remember which it was now.  In any case, I distinctly remember being rather sour about the whole thing.  I'd already put years into perfecting my centuries-old techniques.  I supposed that maybe a crazy-busy mom of 5 *might* need something faster, but really - 10 minutes to weigh and measure, 10 minutes to knead, 12 hours to rest, 15 minutes kneading in the Kitchen Aid the next day (I didn't even do it all by hand, only the finishing touches!), rising in a steam box with hourly steam changes and 2 different temperature settings on the stove - all to achieve perfect texture, mouth feel, density and crumb - were not all that difficult or time consuming.   I'd have no *easy answer* bread in my kitchen, thank you very much.

Fast forward a few years.  My passion came and went, and bread baking took a back seat again.  My 2 girls are now in 1st and 3rd grade, and I'm homeschooling.  Since that's not enough, I'm also directing our local homeschooling community of Classical Conversations.  I started THM several months ago, and while I haven't lost much weight yet, I know it's due to my own negligence and lack of self discipline.  I enjoy all the recipes in the cookbook, and have only made a couple that my family doesn't want again.  Almost everything in there is really, really good!  I read the breads chapter, and it piqued my interest in wild yeast starters again - of course, I'd already played with that several years ago.  I pulled out my bread journal and refreshed my memory about sourdough.

I had played quite a bit with whole grains, and had worked out a perfect loaf without any white flour at all, although it still contained fats and sugars.  The Peter Reinhart method had the grains soaking overnight to sour nicely, before mixing the final loaf with other ingredients, including more yeast.  But, it seemed that I'd never tried to make sourdough without any *extra* yeast.  Historically, there wasn't anything BUT true sourdough - powdered bakers yeast is a very new invention.  But I never tried it.  I detected a challenge!

By now, I have settled down in my ambitions, and I realize that I don't have time to cultivate my bread perfection like I did when the kids were still sleeping 14-16 hours a day.  I needed fast and easy homemade bread, or I knew I would put it on the back burner again.  I should probably visit with my long-time friend and apologize for any coolness she felt from me on that fateful day, years ago, when I couldn't figure out *what* she was doing with ALL that spare time...

My first move was to alter my recipes to use a bread machine.  They're fairly cheap to buy new and also available in any thrift store.  Lots of people get them for Christmas, use them twice, then they collect dust until you're tired of wiping them down and donate them to the Goodwill.  I found a high quality digital one (with 10 settings!) for $20, and brought it home.  I reduced my original quantities to fit my machine, switched to sprouted flour, played with the dough setting, baked longer and shorter, rested more and less, and after several weeks I had still not come up with a loaf that was even edible - let alone delicious.  Sprouted flour is expensive, too, and it didn't really save me much over just buying on-plan bread, especially considering all the work.  I went back to my shelf to grab Reinhart's book and read through his techniques again, when I spotted Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I had purchased it during one of my non-serious phases of bread baking, and it had worked out alright.  That's when the lightbulb went off.

The premise of the 5 Minutes a Day books is that you can mix up a big batch of dough, then pull out a chunk whenever you want bread.  The long refrigerated times not only make dough instantly available, but also allowed bread to be made without ANY kneading.  The dough can have a lot more water in it, since you'll be handling it cold and stiff, so the bread can rise more in the oven and be softer.  The reason they need 2 whole cookbooks is that you can take the basic idea, use different ingredients, and get many types of bread - soft sandwich bread, sweet breakfast breads, rolls, etc.  The first book used mostly white flour, and the "Healthy" edition used mostly whole grains.  I already knew that sourdough bread began as a yeast 'starter', which you keep alive in the fridge between uses.  You mix some starter with your flour and other ingredients, then the dough has to ferment slowly - typically 7-10 hours - to allow the wild yeast to rise your new loaf, and then you bake it.  The bulk-dough idea is absolutely perfect for combining the ease of the 5 Minutes a Day technique with traditional sourdough bread.

There were still a few hurdles to overcome.  100% whole wheat loaves tend to be heavy and dense.  Even the "Healthy" 5 minutes a day book only has 1 recipe that is 100% whole wheat.  All the rest are around 50/50 with white flour, to improve the texture.  Many of their recipes also used sugar or honey, butter and milk, so soften the texture and improve the rise.  These are all time-tested techniques to improve the flavor and texture of whole wheat breads!  Unfortunately, they aren't THM approved.

I started researching other methods of softening whole grain loaves, and found myself at The Fresh Loaf, one of my favorite bread forums, dedicated to amateur bread bakers and both traditional and newer techniques.  I read a fascinating article there about a baker who was trying to improve his dough by making it as wet as possible (sound familiar?) and then NOT KNEADING IT (familiar again!) because it was too wet to knead anyway.  He did just a few folds, then let the dough rest at room temp.  I had found my *perfect* technique, and it worked brilliantly.

What you see on the next page has been tested and eaten in my house for almost 3 months now.  My kids beg me to let them eat "Mommy's diet bread"... (I can't get them to just call it sourdough!)  I've kept it going since I started the very first batch, and have not needed to find or eat any store bought bread for THM.  I've discovered that the '5-Minute' technique - combined with the quick and easy folds from The Fresh Loaf - are a very forgiving combination, and stand up very well to partial neglect.

Without further ado, I present:

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