One of the public libraries nearby has a cart with three shelves of used cookbooks for sale. A few months ago, I decided to purchase one, because it was written by a local bakery. The first recipes are actually for how to make your own starter by gathering natural yeast from the air.
The description on page 5 convinced me that it would be worthwhile to follow their instructions so that when the weather turned cool enough to fire up the oven I would be prepared to bake my own loaf, “characterized by intense, lingering, earthy flavors; by a chewy resilient texture; and by a thick, crackling crust”.
With such a simple list of ingredients (flour, water, apple juice) who would imagine how much time would go into strengthening a yeast culture? On days three, four, and five you skim, discard, transfer, and add. Day six, you graduate from “the chef” recipe to “starter”, only to start another series of refreshments, adding, whisking, covering and moving the bowl in and out of refrigeration. By day ten, I wasn’t entirely confident that there was leavening life in the wet, pasty mass, but having put so much time and effort into it, I couldn’t just throw it out without trying.
At my husband’s suggestion, I used part of it to make pretzels. I added some egg and salt to the dough, plucked off little nubs and shaped them around dabs of horseradish-apple cream cheese spread. These were dipped in a baking-soda wash, salted, and sent to the preheated oven. They turned out tasty enough, but the 10-day sourdough starter wasn’t necessary for their production.
The other 2/3 had to go to an attempt at bread-making. After at least five minutes of mixing and kneading, I spread out my dough, then rolled it up, making sure to pinch and seal it, then tuck the ends under. I left it covered in a greased bread pan and went to the office, hoping to return to a nicely domed loaf. That afternoon, the dough had barely grown, and my last hope was that perhaps the heat of the oven could puff the sad material into something worthwhile. In the end, it sort of worked. We waited an hour for it to cool, because I had read somewhere that if you don’t you risk a gooey interior. Surprisingly, it did have somewhat of a loose grain. We ate a lot of it because almost anything is good if you get it fresh. Toast the next morning was as much as we could make of it before tossing the last bit out (too hard to slice more).
The strange thing I realized, while looking through the recipes in the same cookbook, is that most of the recipes call for active dry yeast. However, the French Bakery Rolls ” a wholesome small bread, bursting with sun-dried berries flavored with malt extract and wheat germ”, does. Maybe when somebody else is successful and shares a portion of a friendship bread starter with me, I’ll invest money in the rest of the ingredients for that experiment.
p.s. sourdough crepes are not a good idea.