Making Sourdough Fit Your Life
Maintaining a sourdough starter can sometimes feel like adding an additional family member. Remembering to feed it regularly and allowing for adequate rising times may seem burdensome, but it doesn’t have to. Here are some suggestions for making sourdough fit your schedule instead of ruling your life.
Letting a starter go too long without being fed or refreshed can cause it to take on an undesirable flavor that is hard to get rid of, especially if it is a whole-grain flour starter, like spelt or whole wheat. While it may be ideal to maintain your culture regularly, life happens. You may go on an extended vacation, get too busy to tend to your starter, or just get tired of baking every week. A good option for these instances is to mix a dry starter.
Making a Dry Starter
Once you have used the fresh starter to mix your bread dough you’ll need to allow adequate time for it to rise (proof) before baking. Most sourdoughs benefit from at least an 8-hour rise time. You can adjust this time upward or downward depending on how sour you like the bread (see article on Manipulating the Sourness of Sourdough), the percentage of starter culture used in the dough, and the ambient rise temperature. While only one rise is essential, often it is easier to refrigerate the dough after mixing it, allowing it to have one slow, cool rise and another warmer rise at room temperature right before you are ready to bake. Rather than having to stop whatever you are doing to tend to your bread dough, you can shape it, give it the second quick rise at room temperature, and bake it when it fits your schedule.
Another option is to let the dough rise for about an hour before shaping into loaves, then put the loaves in the refrigerator to rise slowly, again baking at your convenience. If the refrigerated loaves seem to have risen too much, just reshape them and let them rise again. Dough that is over-risen will often flatten in the baking process and have a crumbly texture. To determine if the dough has over-risen, press your finger into the side of the loaf. If the loaf starts to deflate it has risen too long and will benefit by being reshaped. Once you have baked a few over-risen loaves you’ll have a good eye for what the loaf should look like. You should bake the bread within 24 hours of the initial mixing, but you don’t have to be tethered to the kitchen the whole time, afraid of letting the dough rise too long.
Many sourdough recipes can be proofed in the refrigerator, freeing you up to bake when it is convenient. Some doughs can even be mixed, proofed, and then frozen to be baked at a later date. (Sourdough Rosemary Cracker dough works especially well with this technique.) Don’t be afraid to experiment with your sourdough recipes to find which ones are the most flexible. Most of all, don’t let your sourdough starter intimidate you! It’s really quite forgiving.
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