Success, With Comments

After last week’s “trial loaf” that contained monoculture active dry yeast, though no sugar, and a modified recipe that was supposed to contain salt but did not, I have tried again and have it on reliable report that I have succeeded at making whole-wheat sourdough bread.


This is loaf one of four that will be emerging from this batch of dough. Why four, you might well ask. Funny story.

The day before the day before bread-making day I fed my sourdough starter. This involves taking one or two tablespoons of the existing starter, adding to it 40 grams of whole wheat flour and 40 ml of water, discarding the rest of the old starter. The next morning I had an obviously live and vibrant starter culture to work with, it was bubbly and occupied very much more volume than when newly mixed. This was a far different result than one week earlier…

The day before bread making day I took one tablespoon of this starter and mixed that into 100 grams of wheat flour and 100 grams of warm water. The idea here is to be able to inoculate the dough with a large sample of very vigorous starter culture. I say culture because unlike adding active yeast, my yeast will be living in a symbiotic balance with a bacteria, much like what happens in my Kombucha tea. Each lives in it’s environment, with the yeast waste feeding the bacteria, prolonging the healthy environment for the yeast to live in. It does not suffocate on it’s own waste, so to speak. This is the same reaction that makes apple juice into cider. Yeast eats sugar, bacteria eats alcohol, making acid. Acid eventually builds up halting the entire process, but you are then left with a very different product than the ingredients, which were juice and time.

Also the night before I intended to bake I mixed together the rest of the flour and water that I would be using. This promotes the starches in the wheat to convert to sugars, much like you would do if you were making beer. Making beer is another fermentation process that cannot occur without fermentation. I am beginning to see how all of these techniques are intimately related.

The morning I made the bread I was very worried about the salt adding step. When making bread there are moments of furious activity embedded in hours of waiting for germs to eat. Adding the salt to the dough is right in the middle of a whirlwind of things to do. My story is that last time I missed the step because of that. This time, I read the recipe:

“Add about half of the leaven to the bowl with the wet dough; reserve the rest of the leaven as your starter going forward. (If you use commercial yeast, put aside half the leaven before adding it.) Mix the dough thoroughly and let rest for at least 20 and up to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a cup, mix the salt in the remaining 50 grams of the warm tap water. After the dough mixture has rested, add the salty water and work it in thoroughly by hand.”

Excerpt From: Michael Pollan. “Cooked.” iBooks.

A page earlier it explains what “the salt” means in the above excerpt…

“25 grams kosher or fine sea salt”

Excerpt From: Michael Pollan. “Cooked.” iBooks.

Guess what I did instead of dissolving 25 grams of salt in 50 grams of water? I weighed out 50 grams of each water and salt. 50 grams of salt will not dissolve in 50 grams of water. You are left with undissolved salt in a slurry. I added it to my dough anyway, thinking it must be intended to dissolve in the water in the dough. As soon as I had mixed it in I thought maybe I should have went back to the book. A nagging suspicion came over me that if it were going to be a slurry of damp salt that my book would have mentioned that tiny detail.

I tasted the dough. Nasty! I wondered if I were to wait for the salt to finish dissolving in the dough would the saltiness even out. No! I thought to myself, that’s nuts. That kind of detail would be important and not left out of every single account of breadmaking I had ever read. I went back to the recipe and looked, but by this time I couldn’t remember how much I had weighed in, was it 25 like the book, was it 50 like the water? Dang! I put 25 grams of salt in my measuring cup and I was CERTAIN then that it was way less salt than I had put in before. I added 50 grams of water to be sure, and, of course it all dissolved right away. CRAP!

So, I then decided that I needed to double the dough recipe, hoping that I could even out the salinity. The only problem now was the fact that I had added enough leaven for one batch, not two. The ‘waiting for the yeast to eat’ step might take longer.

I finished cooking one of four loaves of bread last night at 1230 AM. I started making bread at 8AM, so about 16 hours end to end. You can’t rush it, but adding half the leaven more than tripled the time that this bread should have take to rise. Oh well, now I know that my bread recipe takes 25 grams of salt and 50 of water, and those values are committed to memory. Soldier on!


About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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