So in the Fall I finally decided to join the Sourdough craze that everyone else had been participating in at the beginning of the pandemic. I ordered my sourdough starter from Garnish and Gather (they supply organic meal prep dinners and groceries in Georgia using locally-sourced ingredients and organic groceries from all of my favorite farmers and vendors from the local farmer's market. To say I'm a fan is an understatement, but I'll tell you more about them in a later post.) They sell starter in a jar and with directions from Georgia Sourdough Co.
I was not a good keeper of my starter, and had to get a second one. As a result, I learned all about how they are little eco-systems and need to be fed. And I was determined to take good care of this one. I'll do a future post on starters and how to keep them alive.
In the meantime, I did a lot of research on sourdough recipes before getting started. I decided to start with the Beginner's Sourdough Bread Recipe from Little Spoon Farm. Their terrific website is full of great tips and tricks, and I thought their clear recipe would set me up for success. I did everything by the book. And while the final product was pretty to look at, it was so dense you could hardly cut it. I couldn't even make croutons out of it. So I did some more research and tried again.
This time, I took some advice from The Traditional Cooking School and added baking soda before shaping. This helped a little bit, but not much. It was still dense. We could only slice it when it was warm. Once it cooled it was as hard as a rock.
After reading a bit more, I determined that the problem was the temperature of my house. This time of year (November) it is a chilly 65 degrees Fahrenheit. And the starter needs it to be around 70 degrees F to thrive. Heating my house enough to warm up the starter was only going to make Georgia Power even richer, and not something my hubby would approve of.
I found the solution on Amazon (of course) in a product that is used to grow seedings, or to help ferment kombucha. It's the VivoSun Heat Mat. This has been a total game changer. Now my starters (I have three going now) are alive and bubbly. I'll do another post on keeping the starters going, but this ended up being the key to my future success.
In the meantime, I made a few yeast-based breads since I wanted to have something to show for all my efforts. Hence the next post on French Style Country Bread and the Easiest Loaf of Bread you'll Ever Make, both with recipes from King Arthur Baking.
A History Bonus:
As an aside, I learned that one of the reasons that the west coast is so famous for their sourdoughs is that the Pioneer Women would carry their sourdough starter in a jar and keep it close to their bodies to keep it warm. They had no access to yeast no traditional baking methods. This allowed them to be able to make bread anyway.
I learned that the missing link in my sourdough success was the temperature of my house. The starter needed it to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, we keep our house at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and my hubby wouldn't be on board for heating the whole house just to make bread.
One alternative is to place the starter in the oven with the light on. While I found this to be very effective when letting yeast-based dough rise, it wasn't really feasible for ongoing sourdough starter care.
After some research I found the solution on Amazon (of course) in a product that is used to grow seedings, or to help ferment kombucha. It's the VivoSun Heat Mat. This has been a total game changer. Now my starters (I have three going now) are alive and bubbly.
I started another sourdough starter as insurance, and placed the jar adjacent to the jar with the mat wrapped around it. This turned out to be a very happy accident, and the glass acted as a conductor. Now this is the best jar of starter I've got going.
I also learned that by keeping my starter jars all touching, and in the corner of the kitchen with the coffee pot, that it created a nice and toasty environment. These happy starters ended up created the wonderfully successful sourdough that I'll share with you tomorrow. Yum!
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.