Here is an idea. If you haven’t got any kids yet and you aren’t sure if you are ready to take care of a pet, maybe a sourdough starter is a good thing to start out with? If you nurture it right it can help you create infinite amount of breads, it can live forever (we’ve heard rumors of living sourdoughs that date back to early 1800’s), and you only need to feed it once a week. Doesn’t it sound like the perfect companion?
If you don’t know what a sourdough starter (also known as Levain) is you can read all about it here. But shortly explained it is a mixture that contains a living Lactobacillus culture, which you use instead of yeast in baking. It is especially effective when you bake with rye. You can grow it yourself or get a small part of someone else’s.
The sourdough gives the bread a special tangy taste that we really love in our family, but depending on what ingredients and flours you mix it with you can achieve all kind of different flavors. In this recipe we have added some dried figs to give a sweet balance to the tanginess.
Sourdough is in almost every aspect healthier than cultural yeast, but it is not merely as used since it is a lot more time consuming to bake with. We urge you however give it a try, you won’t regret it. And once you have your sourdough started, what’s the point of going back to yeast? Also, the starter makes a great going away gift.
We would love to tell you the story about how we grew our sourdough starter ourselves several years ago. And how we have been feeding it regularly and singing songs for it ever since. But that would be a Big Fat Lie. We have tried growing sourdough starters many times, but we have managed to kill every one of them somewhere in the middle of the process. Starting a sourdough apparently isn’t one of our greater talents. So instead we actually bought a starter (we know, it’s cheating) that we now have been feeding for a few weeks. And we can finally report that it is thriving in our company. Just see (above) how happy and bubbly it looks.
We won’t tell you how to grow your own starter since we are such losers on the subject. Instead we will just give you some links to some different starter recipes, try this, this or this. Or you can ask your friends, relatives or colleagues if anyone has a sourdough starter tucked away somewhere that they are willing to share. You can also buy a starter online here or here or in certain bakeries.
Walnut & Rye Sourdough Bread (adapted from the book Surdegsbröd by Martin Johansson)
This bread has go a thick crust and a great taste, with lots of walnuts inside. We added figs to the original recipe to give a sweet hint to the tanginess from the sourdough.
Day 1, evening
80 g (1/3 cup) rye sourdough starter (read above how to get/make/buy one)
240 g (1 cup) lukewarm water
150 g (1 cup) rye flour
Mix sourdough starter, water and flour in a large bowl. Cover it with plastic and set aside on a warm place over night, around 73F – 75F (22°C – 24°C) degrees.
Day 2, morning
Sourdough from yesterday
480 g (2 cups) cold water
340 g (2 1/2 cups) fine rye flour
500 g (4 cups) wholegrain wheat flour
20 g (1 tbsp) sea salt
250 g (2 cups) whole unshelled walnuts
150 g dried figs, roughly chopped
Add all ingredients, except salt, walnuts and figs in a large bowl or a stand mixer. Stir with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes or use the stand mixer (with dough hook) on lowest speed. Add salt, walnuts and figs and knead it for about 5 minutes. Place it in the bowl, cover and let rise/proof for about an hour.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two pieces. Kneed them into two round doughs that you leave to rise for about 3 hours. Use round rising baskets/bannetons if you have. Dust the baskets generously with flour before placing the dough inside them. If you don’t have a rising basket, place the breads on parchment paper and cover with a clean towel. Preheat the oven to 525F (275°C), place a baking sheet or a baking stone in the middle and a baking sheet on the lowest possible.
Slash the top of the bread a few times with a sharp knife. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the rising basket, upside down, on to the sheet (or place the parchment paper on it). Place it in the oven and put a few ice cubes on the lower sheet, close the oven and lower immediately the temperature to 490F (250°C). After 15 minutes lower the heat to 400F (200°C), open and close every 5 minutes to get the steam out. Bake for 20 minutes more, or until golden and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool on a rack.