Let me begin by saying I love sourdough bread. I mean, I REALLY love sourdough. It is indeed my very favorite type of bread and the sad thing is that I can’t find good sourdough anywhere by me. I have been to countless bakeries sampling their version and just can’t find one I truly adore. So when it came to this month’s First on the First with Carrie of Poet in the Pantry, I couldn’t wait to get going on it because I just knew that I was going to create fabulous sourdough bread and I would no longer be held hostage by the mediocre bread that is currently available to me.
Oh, how my dreams of baking the perfect loaf have been crushed. So, here’s how it all happened. I decided to make a sourdough culture using this method. During my first attempt, we got a cold snap here in New Jersey. Our weather went from being 70 degrees in October to having a huge snow storm a few days before Halloween! I can’t ever remember going trick-or-treating in the snow yet that’s exactly what we found ourselves doing for Maddy’s second Halloween.
My house has lousy insulation so my house was very cool which made for a sluggish culture. I popped it into the oven with the light on for a warmer environment. My first obstacle was successfully overcome. Everything was going along great… then I went into labor and along came Molly. While I was busy having a baby, I forgot to get someone to feed my starter. So that was that, sourdough bread attempt #1 went down the tubes.
When I returned home, I immediately began cultivating sourdough starter attempt #2. We were all settling in nicely two days in with Molly home when I developed this terrible back pain. It was excruciating. I sucked it up for a day thinking it was a kidney infection and desperately wanting to stay home with my newborn. I am very prone to kidney infections during pregnancy and my doctor told me I could still have issues with them for a few weeks after delivery. However, on day two I realized something was very wrong. This pain was even worse than past kidney infections so off to the emergency room I went to discover that I had two kidney stones, one of which was a whopping 9mm! The next day I was scheduled for surgery and my second sourdough culture went unfed.
For attempt number 3, I decided to throw in the towel on the idea of cultivating my own sourdough starter because clearly I wasn’t having any luck. I decided to make a sponge this time. Twenty hours later I had a bubbly, lovely sour-smelling sponge ready to be made into the perfect sourdough loaf. I followed the recipe and so began the great sourdough project for the third time. I made it all the way to the end. I had two loaves of bread. However there was one gigantic problem. My loaves were more like flatbread… they didn’t rise properly!
I racked my brain. Was it a temperature issue again? Was it too cool? No, that wasn’t it. I made sure I let the loaves rise in a nearly 80 degree environment. As I played back my actions, step by step I realized what the problem was. I mistakenly did not use instant yeast at the recipe said. I used active dry yeast which ultimately may have worked just fine however I just threw that yeast in with all my other ingredients. Active dry yeast requires that you first mix it with a few tablespoons of warm water.
The loaves tasted wonderful and didn’t go to waste. Mike made a sandwich on some of the bread while Maddy ate bite after bite continually requesting “more!” Despite tasting good, these flat little loaves chalked themselves up to be failed attempt number 3.
Not to be defeated, I decided to give it one last shot. I used the right yeast this time. What a difference! My loaves doubled in size with each rising, no problem. I formed them into lovely loaves and set them into bowls for their final rising before going into the oven feeling absolutely confident that this time, I had conquered the sourdough project. When I unwrapped the loaves to transfer them to the baking sheets I was appalled to find that they hadn’t risen during the last resting period! How could this be?!? I followed every instruction to the letter. I used the right yeast. Everything was going along so smoothly.
I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. According to the recipe, raising your loves in a couche, banneton or linen cloth will achieve the best results. It said just not to use a terry cloth towel. I had none of the above so decided a cotton sheet should do the trick. The only thing I can think of is that the weight of the sheet folded loosely over the loaves was still too heavy to allow the loaves to properly rise. That’s the only answer I can come up with given that each and every other step of this process was going perfectly.
In the end, I did not create the perfect sourdough loaf so for now I’ll still be scoffing down the mediocre loaves that I am able to find. After failed attempt #4, I’m tapping out on this project. In the future, I think I will revisit this once more and if I have different results I’ll certainly share them with you. In the meantime, if you’d like to try your hand at making sourdough bread hop on over to Carrie’s site and give her attempt a gander. I’m sure she had better results that I did. You can also use the recipe I tried. If you have success, I’d love to hear all about it!