a tale of trial and error…

About a month ago, possibly a bit more, I was reading around the Zero Waste Chef’s blog (so many useful posts over there!) when I stumbled upon her many sourdough bread posts. Despite my generally acknowledged ineptitude for baking, I became a little bit fixated on the idea of being able to somehow tackle this labour-intensive, overly finicky recipe, for a number of reasons. There are many gut-related benefits to eating fermented foods, fermenting things period is just so cool (SCIENCE!), general mastery over my food fate has become a bit of an unexpected theme for this Waste Not project, and possibly to begin to let go of my identity as a baking failure.

As I alluded to in an earlier Waste Not post, starting from scratch was tricky. In total, it took me three attempts to get a sourdough starter to thrive – but now that it’s up and running, oh man is it easy! I left it out on the counter, feeding it with fresh whole wheat flour and warm water once a day, and fed it a little bit extra (every 12 hours for 3 feedings) before baking with it. Now that I’m not using it, it can just live in the fridge and come out for a once a week feeding and fermentation cycle until I decide to make more bread. In total, getting a viable starter took me about four weeks. So! If you want to make your own any time soon, I’d be more than happy to share my starter and save you the hassle and emotional strain.

Once I had the starter bubbling along happily, I had two dilemmas.

Dilemma #1: Maintaining a starter creates a lot of “discard” – that is, a lot of excess starter that you don’t need for the bread making. The nice thing about discard is you can just keep it in your fridge pretty much indefinitely. It’ll naturally separate and look a bit nasty, but it keeps pretty well despite that.

Solution #1: oh my god, discard makes so many amazing recipes. Before attempting the bread itself, I had a fun time making some sourdough crackers with the discard, and they are AMAZING. Salty, a bit of oil, an almost cheesy flavour… and oh yeah, super amazing with some waste not, from scratch hummus. Yum! Recipe HERE. I also found a recipe for pizza crust that I’d like to try next, because maintaining a starter really does generate a lot of discard, if you plan on baking bread fairly often.

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homemade hummus and sourdough crackers!

Dilemma #2: TIME. The actual baking process of sourdough takes a lot of time.

Solution #2: Baking bread forces you to take time. This is a good thing. Continue breathing.

The night before baking, there were several prep stages that needed to take place, which took around an hour. Prep stage one: make what is essentially a super-starter, called the leaven. Prep stage two: soak all of the flour for the recipe in water overnight.

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left: soaked grains right: the leaven (after sitting covered all night)

The baking time commitment is not to be trivialized – I now have a whole new respect for my friends at The Night Oven, and why they begin their days so obscenely early. For a total of about 6 hours, the bread required something of me, in one way or another. A little fluffing here, a little shaping there… I even ran to work and came back home for it at one point. Day one ended with the dough shaped into two round loaves, left to proof in the fridge overnight.

Day two began by preheating the oven to 500 degrees to warm up the casserole dish I was using in place of a dutch oven. All recipes I found proclaim the glories of the dutch oven, but I found using my casserole dish with our last little bit of pre-waste not foil to cover it was a suitable substitute (for now). Next time I’ll need to find a lid, or upgrade to an actual dutch oven, now that I know I’ll be doing this on the regular.

The bread only ends up spending about 45 minutes in the oven (20 covered, 25 uncovered), which felt almost anticlimactic after the four weeks it took to get to this point. But man, oh man the satisfaction of that first loaf coming out of the oven was so worth all the time and energy! The best part is this is 100% waste free! And, once we’ve used up the last of our Bulk Barn flour, we’ll be switching to getting some fresh, local-milled flour from Two Stones Mill (through The Night Oven).

HERE is the recipe I used as my basis. She recommended taking notes on the process, and here are a few of my trial and error findings:

-she recommended using a mix of white and whole wheat flour; I only used whole wheat this time around. My loaf was quite dense as a consequence, which I actually like, but I’d like to play a bit with white flour in the mix to see if I can get my next batch a little fluffier.

-I added a bit too much water to my dough (more than she recommended), and found that later on in the process had stickier dough than I would have liked, and too much moisture to contend with. I will trust her water advice next go-round.

-loaf #1 I didn’t score the loaf as deeply as I should have, and also removed it from the oven a bit too early, so it was a little moist at the center. I corrected these issues for loaf #2

-overall, I feel like I’m all set to do this again in a week or so (when we need more bread), and I’m really excited to start personalizing the recipe a bit more with added things like raisins, nuts, spices, etc.

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Crumb shot! Hopefully fluffier next time around.


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