Monday, April 4, 2011

Sourdough Bread: A Beginner´s Experiment

In Estonia the bigger supermarkets offer a daily choice of probably just under 100 types of fresh bread (I´ve never counted, just shelves and shelves of breads): typical black, dark brown rye breads which are called "Leib", white wheat breads called "Sai", a little darker wheat breads called "Sepik". Plus, one can buy all of these with or without a variety of additional ingredients like seeds or bran or raisins. The fact that we have a different word for different types of bread means that bread is something very important for the Estonians. In the past people used to call food "leivakõrvane" meaning "everything besides the bread", when a piece of bread fell to the floor people picked it up and gave it a kiss to express the sense of honour, the family was also referred to as "leibkond" or "a bread community", people who shared the same bread, when a couple moved together they would put their breads in one cupboard, instead of saying "Bon Apetit" -as the apetite was normally good anyway- people would say "Jätku leiba!" or "may the bread continue"...

Like the choice between tens of dozens of breads wasn´t enough or maybe because of the wide choice it has become very popular again to bake your own bread. My Mom and sister often make their own now. The dark bread is usually made from sourdough that people keep "refreshing" for years. This means putting some dough aside for the next time, it can also be frozen. The sourdough is the starting raising agent instead of the yeast that one can buy in a shop. The white bread is mostly made with the normal yeast. During my last trip to Estonia and talking about the bread making I wanted to find out what if the sourdough was used not with the dark rye flour but with the wheat flour, however I did not get any satisfactory answer. My dear sister advised me to experiment myself. So I set off to make my first ever bread without any yeast which is a very important ingredient.

Having read about how to start the sourdough I took 3 slices of rye bread I had brought back and 0.5l of apple juice and put the two together in a bowl and let it ferment for 3 days under plastic in a warm place. Fortunately the juice started to ferment forming little bubbles. So far so good. On day 4 I added to the fermenting bread-juice mixture some wheat flour, about 400-500g. I let this new dough, still quite liquid, ferment and raise for another night and on the final day added more flour, probably another 400-500g, some salt (at least 0.5 teaspoon) and sugar to reduce the sour taste. This time really working the dough with my hands for about 10 minutes to pump the right oxygen into the dough before putting it in a form fitted with baking paper. Again in a warm place it rested and raised for a couple of more hours before baking in the oven for at least 45min first at 200C, after about 15 min at 170C.

There is no recipe as I was only experimenting, ready for a failure, therefore it is all in approximates as I remember it without real measurements.
But....it had worked!! The result was tasty, the smell of a fresh warm bread so sweet . Truely satisfying, quite unexpectedly. I had actually managed to produce a nice loaf of bread from 3 slices of another bread, a bottle of apple juice and a kilo of four. Here is the result of the experiment:



Jätku leiba! May the bread continue!

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