Not too long ago, I posted a story about my experience at the Culinary Institute of America's Hearth Breads Boot Camp. If you didn't get to see it then, or want to take another peek at it now, you can do so here.
Now that my family has finally eaten its way through the breads I brought home and put in the freezer, I knew it was once again time to put on my CIA apron (but not the toque, which is approximately one-fifth of my height and makes me look/feel like a gnome) and bring my sourdough starter back to life.
The sourdough starter I received at the Hearth Breads Boot Camp is one that has been in action for several months. A sourdough starter, properly fed and cared for, is actually quite long-lived. Theoretically, if you tend it well, you can keep your starter alive for years. There is reportedly a starter out there that has been active for centuries. I was just hoping that I'd managed to keep mine alive for the two weeks it had lain dormant in the fridge.
Reviving a starter is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. It is, in fact, a three-day process. It involves weighing a very sticky substance with some degree of accuracy. It involves variables like temperature and humidity. It involves waiting three days before you get to eat your bread. Not difficult, per se, but it does take a level of commitment that is more often associated with, say, a pet than a sandwich component.
Essentially, the process starts with breaking down the starter in a bit of water.
Adding a measured amount of flour . . .
This mixture is then allowed to ferment at room temperature overnight.
The next day, the process is repeated; and the day after that, too.
and placed, seam-side down, in a lined basket or banneton to rise.
The dough can then be baked or placed in the fridge overnight. The latter allows the appropriate acids to develop, enhancing the flavor of the dough. On baking day, the dough is brought up to room temperature, floured, scored
and ultimately baked. The whole house is perfumed with the aroma of baking sourdough, and suddenly every step of the 3-day process seems not only perfectly reasonable, but a spectacular idea.
I'm happy to report that I was able to produce two really nice loaves of tangy sourdough bread and return a portion of starter to the fridge to hibernate till next time. The only snag I hit was an error in judgment on my part, one of those things you learn mainly by doing it wrong at some point. I didn't score the top of my loaf deeply enough on one side, and the bread expanded unevenly in the oven. Did it ruin the bread? No way. Was it a grave error? Not really. Maybe my bread wouldn't have won any beauty competitions, but you can believe that it was gorgeous to me.
Why not check out the Hearth Breads Boot Camp for yourself? Gift certificates are available if you want to make a special baker or foodie in your life really, really happy. Information on all the Boot Camp and other enthusiast programs is available on the CIA Web site.