Thursday, January 29, 2009

Further experimentation with sourdough

Ever since my friend, Angie (farm mom), sent me some of her dried sourdough starter, there has been a lot of baking going on in my kitchen.

I feel like a scientist these days, testing new recipes, tweaking measurements and quantities, controlling temperature and humidity - all in my quest for that perfectly wonderful sourdough taste that my family adores. But guess what? This is harder than I thought it would be!

No matter what I've made, nothing has had anything more than an extremely subtle sourdough flavor. Some things had no sourdough taste whatsoever! This is even despite using starter that has had weeks now to grow and develop.

I've made:
...multiple batches of sourdough pancakes:

Two batches of sourdough cinnamon rolls - using two different recipes:

This second batch was lovely fresh out of the oven, but they turned into fist-sized rocks by the next morning:

A sourdough pastry crust:

..for an amazing chocolate tart:

Sourdough carrot cake (yes, they are cooling outside on top of my barbecue):

Frosting queen is Marcee:

Beautiful, isn't it?:

This is probably the densest, moistest cake I have ever made. Truly delicious. Sadly, no one has been able to detect any kind of sourdough flavor:

Finally, last night, I had some success. I made sourdough french bread. Aren't these lovely? And they smelled so good!:

They are delicious, too. Three of us could definitely taste the sourdough flavor here, but my husband, the perfectionist, still demands STRONGER sourdough flavor:

Yet, despite my less than perfect results, rather than have this take the wind out of my sails, it has made me more curious and determined. I've done a bit of online research about sourdough and have found a few recommended tips to enhance and grow that sought-after sourdough flavor.

1) Keep the starter stiff (reduce the ratio of liquid to flour)
2) Spike your white starter with whole rye (Apparently, "rye is to sourdough microflora as spinach is to Popeye" - wow, sounds worth a try to me!)
3) Use starter that is well-fed (I've been doing this, so no change needed here)
4) Keep the dough cool (I've tried warm and cool and not noticed much of a difference)
5) Extend the rise by degassing (This just means folding over the dough after an initial rise and allowing a second rise)
6) Proof the shaped loaves overnight in the fridge (Supposedly, doing this, in addition to steps 1 through 5, might make the starter "too sour" for one's taste. Hard to imagine, but I'll definitely be trying this, too!!)

I've also learned that sourdough flavor can be regional, so, before my friend, Marcee (a.k.a. frugalmom) left to go home last Saturday, I packed up a small bit of the starter to go back to Illinois with her. I wrapped it up in multiple baggies and said a short prayer that it wouldn't "pop" mid-flight:

It will be interesting to see what kind of success she has with it.


  1. Danni I still think that cake looks fabulous. Funny about the sour dough taste being mild to none in some things. But your bread looks wonderful. It looks like something I would buy at a bakery. I think we need a tutorial on that.

  2. You're doing great. I never thought of making a cake with the sourdough starter, but just looking at that cake and imagining the taste is sure inviting me to try! I love the fact that we can share our starter and now, with Marcee getting some of yours, it'll be traveling across the country and become its own degree of "sourness". Ken's the bread baker in our family, and we both have heard of those tips except for #6 which we'll soon try.

  3. And the goatfather says adding citric acid (or vitamin C)...although he has yet to try this. BUT, perhaps it is something you can research more? Wonder what sourdough Peanut bread would taste like?

  4. You have been a very busy baker! Your carrot cake looks delicious. I am about to go into my kitchen to make a carrot birthday cake (Jack's birthday is tomorrow), but it won't be a sourdough cake, just regular carrot (with crushed pineapple).

    I have been experimenting with white sandwich bread recipes this week (see my blog posts) and have been happy with the results, but your sourdough French bread looks fabulous! You are an accomplished baker, and I am just a beginner. I could learn a lot from you, so keep posting your tips please. I have heard of most of those sourdough tips, but have never tried to make sourdough anything from scratch.

    BTW, I love your pancake griddle. It's so roomy looking. I am thinking of getting a small cast iron griddle/grill combo since I have recently fallen in love with cast iron cooking.

  5. Every one of those pictures of your delightful baked goodies looks absolutely amazing and yummy!! You're killing me!!! I can just imagine how very good your kitchen smelled while all this baking was going on. You must have more patience and more time than I shall ever hope to have.

  6. Ohhhhh...ahhhhh...I had those...those pancakes. And that cake. Mmmmmm...that cake was heavenly. And that chocolate tart. Yummy. And those cinnamon rolls...I had those, too...Oh. Wait. I didnt actually get any of those cinnamon rolls. I remember now. You guys ate them all.

    Danni, that sourdough french bread looks fantastic. I am having sourdough french bread envy right now. I second that. What Egghead says. A tutorial would be a good idea.

    More to come(sometime) on my starter's trip across the country.

  7. The rye really does add that sour flavor you might be looking for. I'll also agree with the overnight fridge raise to make it more sour, regular dough gets more sour when raised in the fridge.

    If you get Peter Reinhart's "Bread Baker's Apprentice" from the library it has a great section on sourdough. Might give you some more info.

  8. Sourdough can't be too sour for me either...unless it's sour of course!

  9. I've never been able to get sourdough sour enough either. I've always done it with a first overnight proof and then 2 rises the next day. The longer it proofs the more sour it is supposed to be. I haven't started my starter yet. Maybe I'll do it today.

  10. Hi egghead! I was SO thrilled with how that bread turned out and it was SO simple. Seriously, I just followed the directions and put a pan of water in the oven while it baked and this is how it turned out. I hugged these loaves all night. :-)

    Hey CaliforniaGrammy - I was so tickled when I got a comment from Ken the other day!! The carrot cake was so yummy - even without the sourdough taste. I couldn't get over how moist it was! And I am really in love with cream cheese frosting. Yum...
    BTW, I want to give you the link to the page where I got those #1-6 sourdough tips because there's a really interesting bunch of comments following the post that are helpful, too. It's called "Squeeze more sour from your sourdough:

    Hi Marigold, Citric acid, huh? Interesting - I'll look that up, too. And I've gotta say...peanuts are scaring me a bit at the moment. Or is it just peanut butter?

    Hey Farmer Jen - I am SO behind in my blog reading, I've been trying to get to you for're my priority, though, so I'm on my way! Please wish Jack a most wonderful birthday!!

    Hi c-ingspots - Thank you for your nice compliment - I've had fun baking this winter. It will come to a sudden and complete halt, though, once the weather improves. Then my kitchen will pretty much shut down for 6 months. My husband better fill up now while he can, lol

    Hey frugalmama - I'm so glad the sourdough starter container made it across the country in one piece. i was really worrying about that. We're getting pretty good at this sourdough stuff, aren't we?

    Hi chiot's run - I'm definitely going to go and get some rye flour to experiment with. I'm also anxious to try the overnight refrigeration. I would love to hear my husband say just once '"now *that's* sourdough!!" :-)
    Thanks for the book recommendation - I just put a request in for it at my library...I'm #4 on the wait list!

    Hey warren - Now clarify for me, please, you do or don't like sour? :-)

    Hi Christy - Going in to this, I just had no idea that it would be so complicated. lol. Who would've thought I'd become a sourdough nerd. :-)

  11. I'm glad to hear of your success! I'm still trying to get the regular breads right, think I found it too. But your bbq is waaayyy too clean! Those are great tips if I ever try sourdough.

  12. All good looking goodies...and the adventure continues!

  13. Will I get hate mail if I proclaim to love regular, grainy homebaked bread over sourdough? Even having said that, I wish you succes on your quest.

  14. Glad you're having fun with your starter, Danni. We've been happy with ours as is, as we're not too into the whole sour thing. But I've got to say, there is nothing like the moisture and texture when using sourdough. Keep us informed, I'm really curious about your experimentation with the rye. Have a great weekend! ;)

  15. I have to admit, I'm not a big sourdough fan, so it seems I'll be spared the trials of attempting to cook with it.

    Everything you've made so far looks absolutely delicious and, literally, picture perfect. Those who enjoy your baked goods will simply have to have a more discerning taste in order to detect the subtle sourdough nuances that you've baked into every morsel.

    Good luck!

  16. Goodness me, that carrot cake looks superb! Makes me want to try sourdough, just to make a carrot cake!

  17. Hello - just found your blog via the Inadvertent Farmer blog.
    I've been baking with sourdough starters for a while and I hope some of my tips will help you out:
    I've always had better luck with rye starters than with wheat.
    With wheat starters, I have to be careful with the type of flour I use. Organic and stoneground wheat flour works the best, and so does bread flour.
    If you have trouble getting a starter "started", lol, you can try adding a bit of plain yougurt to the mix. The bacteria in there usually gets your starter going.
    Good Luck! I'll see if I can't dig up some recipes and post on my blog.
    Your writing is great - hope you had a great weekend!

    Lena in SC

  18. Many people associate the sour taste in commercial breads as true sourdough... when it is in fact nothing more than the taste of acids added to the bread as flavoring.

    A true sourdough is less about taste and more about creating active, well-fed yeasts... the joy of baking with it is more in getting your product to rise without commercial yeasts, than it is to create a very sour flavor.

    It sounds like perhaps you are more interested in a particular than in trying to bake without commercial yeast... in that case, you might look for some recipes that allow for added vinegar, which will probably help give your baked products the acidic, sour taste you are looking for. Here's an example

  19. Thank goodness i don't know where you live i would come and eat all your goodies!! Everything looks YUMMMMY!

  20. DK,

    Sorry, I've been remiss in coming for a visit lately. I see you're venturing into one of my favorite pastimes-- trying to get sourdough right. I've got a disgusting jar of San Fran starter in my fridge that I'm going to stir up and use tomorrow because of you.

    For what it's worth, my experience is just that it takes a real long time to get the acid levels high enough to taste them.

    What's more, did you know... that sourdough doesn't really come from 'sourness' as such. It refers to wild yeasts. I.e., you can have perfectly prepared sourdough that's not noticeably sour. Wikipedia and I take issue on this topic.

    It's the particular combo of yeasts and bacteria that determine the actual acid levels-- hence, sourness.

    Anyway, nice to see you've been taking advantage of your downtime. If your place is anything like mine, it looks like the party's startin' pretty soon.


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