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Putting a rush on sourdough


Cooks who teach other cooks how to bake with sourdough often recommend mixing in some ordinary yeast. That serves as a kind of insurance against total bread failure for inexperienced bakers, and it greatly hastens the process. For a long time, I refused to use any yeast. Sourdough was sourdough, and yeast was yeast, and I would not mix the two.

But making sourdough bread is a long process. If you start the night before, you can have bread for supper the next day. But what if you take a notion in the afternoon to have hot bread for supper? Only yeast will get you there. But so will a mixture of sourdough and yeast. To mix the two offended my sense of integrity until I realized that the combination of yeast and sourdough tastes great. It also gives you something to do with sourdough starter that you might otherwise throw out when feeding your starter.

Another factor is that, when I go to the trouble of making sourdough bread, I make a large loaf. Because of the lactic acid, sourdough bread won’t mold the way yeast bread does. A sourdough loaf is good for toast for a week. For sandwiches, it’s good for at least two or three days. But quicker loaves can be smaller loaves. Smaller loaves equal smaller waists, and hot bread for supper.

So, to mix the two, pour two-thirds or more of your sourdough starter into a mixing bowl. Feed the starter and put it away. Then add enough flour and water for a small loaf, plus a teaspoon or so of yeast. In a couple of hours it will be ready to bake.

I’m always experimenting with ways to bake with steam. In the photo below, note that I’ve fitted a Pyrex bowl to an iron skillet. As long as the loaf is not too big, it works nicely to keep the loaf steamed while it’s springing in the oven. Breads that contain very much whole wheat won’t spring very much (at least, not for me), but the steam still improves the quality of the crust and helps give it that texture that shatters when you break it. The loaf in today’s photos contained another experiment — a small potato is mashed into the dough. It made a heavier crumb and didn’t improve the bread in any way. No more potato, at least for everyday bread.


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