All you really need for great tasting bread is flour, water and salt. Sourdough starter is made out of flour and water and captures the wild yeast, it gives rise and flavor to the best breads in the world. The bread I'm making is getting better and better with all the practise I've been getting. I think my favorite everyday bread so far is sourdough french bread, the added flavor of the sourdough brings out tangy notes, and makes all the difference in a bland bread or a flavorful one. To make french bread crust taste authentic, brush cold water on just before putting in the oven, also add a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack for the first 10 minutes, then remove. When the loaves come out of the oven brush them again with cold water. This is what gives a good french bread crust the texture we all love.
I actually love kneading bread, and pour spirit, soul and song into my loaves as I knead them, I believe this makes all the difference in the heart and soul of good home-made bread... the love it's made with.
Sourdough has it's particulars, like not using metal, stainless steel is said to be fine, but I still use only wooden spoons, and ceramic bowls for all my sourdough. I also store it in glass quart jars, and keep everything very clean and sanitary with hot water. You learn to be clean and sanitary when making all ferments, like sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, yogurt, and sourdough. All vessels and spoons should be washed and rinsed in hot water before use. Most ferments like warmth to get going, and then you can slow down the growth with cool refrigerator temperatures.
In my bread making adventures, I've learned how valuable quick breads like cornbread, muffins, biscuits, scones, and coffee cake can be, they fill the need for bread in a hurry. You can even use sourdough to make all of these quick breads using the sourdough's natural leavening action, rather than the usual baking soda and baking powder. All you need for sourdough to work with quick breads is a half hour rise time. So while it takes an extra half hour, the final quick bread has a much better flavor.
Bread making is something of a ritual, it doesn't take a lot of time, just steps that need to be followed. The first rule with sourdough is to get a sponge going the night before, then it likes warmth, 85 degrees to rise the dough is very important. I was rising the bread by the fire, but had to fiddle with the fire so much to keep it at an even temperature, so now I let it rise in the oven, and just warm it lightly every half hour. I keep the door closed, and check on it frequently. I do this because we heat solely with a wood stove, so temperatures on my kitchen counters have been too cold for sourdough, and the woodstove is fickle. I still love the woodstove though, and use it for rising bread, rolls, and setting the sourdough by it at night.
I haven't let my sourdough starter go in to the refrigerator for weeks now, I simply use it almost everyday. Yesterday morning we had the most delicious sourdough waffles, melt in your mouth, made with eggs still warm from the hens, separated and whipped the egg whites effortlessly because of the freshness.
Sometimes sourdough bread is variable in the results for different people because of chlorine in water, iodine in salt, sourdough breads should be made with sea salt, or another non iodized salt, you need the freshest flour. If sourdough starter is not going strong enough, the dough will not rise, if the temperature is too cold, bread will not rise, and on and on. It can be finicky, but when you learn the idiosyncrasies of sourdough, and what it needs to be happy, and you use is regularly. You will be sold, and never look back.
Did you know sourdough is made from the wild yeasts in the air, made from your environment, from the very air you breath, and the environment of your home? I believe it makes a biodynamic bread, that is one of the best suited carbohydrate foods to feed our bodies. Especially with grains milled right before use, I have a grain mill that is manual, and I need to use it more than I do. The ultimate in healthy bread, is using just milled grains, I may look into an electric mill to use while we have power, and the manual as a back up.
My favorite sourdough french bread recipe to be coming soon.