April 19, 2008

Controlled Rotting

Filed under: food — origamifreak @ 9:11 am

It’s interesting how foods that rot on their own seem disgusting, but the ones which result from humain-aided fermentation are often delicacies: wine, cheese, bread.

Having grown up in the SF Bay Area, I suppose it was inevitable that I would develop a taste for sourdough bread. It helped that my mom made it weekly, baking it in round coffee cans, the tops rising up and over like enormous mushroom caps. Later, when the public were informed that the soldered lead seams on the cans could be toxic, she unfortunately switched to standard bread pans. I still have them.

In college one summer I lived in a co-op house where there were seven of us, mostly graduate students. Six nights a week one person would plan and cook dinner. The seventh person was in charge of baking bread for the house. I was this person.

My favorite and familiar source is the Tassajara Bread Book, written in the early 1970s, cataloging the breads made at the oldest Zen monastery in the US.

A few weeks ago a colleague brought in a loaf of “Amish friendship bread,” which very much resembled a quick bread. He is also from California, and the conversation turned to sourdough, which also typically involves shared leavening culture. This made me start craving sourdough again, so I sent off for some free starter, and it arrived this week.

Following the instructions for how to wake it up, I have been nurturing what started as a teaspoon of the dried culture. The rest of the dried culture is living in two ziploc bags in the freezer, in case I need to restart it. You begin with very small amounts of flour and water. It took about a day for the yeasties to start growing and making bubbles. Gradually I added in more flour and water. This morning I was able to add a whole cup of each, and I anticipate by this evening that there will be enough to start a batch for baking.

If you want to try this too, I highly recommend the book. If you just want the basic sourdough recipe, there’s a version here.



  1. Hey, there! You’ve moved! I hope you like WordPress better than Upsaid. I thought Upsaid was a cool name, though… So… You’re blogging about bread, eh? 😉 Did you ever get the ‘surprise’ book I sent you from Amazon?? If not, let me know and I’ll give them some grief… Anyway, I’m back from NY. I’ll give you a call!
    PS I think I like the layout of WordPress better – I find it easier to read than Upsaid’s template. I guess my eyes have gotten old… Oh! Better take my bread out of the oven…

    Comment by Lisa — April 19, 2008 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

  2. Hehe. I thought of you when I wrote this post. I also wondered if you might want some of this starter (in dried form, of course).

    Oh dear, I did not get a book from Amazon yet… When was it supposed to arrive?

    I’ll call you tomorrow AM – I want to hear how things went!

    Comment by origamifreak — April 19, 2008 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  3. Dough! I DID get a book from Amazon – it’s been hiding between the storm door and the front door… (Which tells you how infrequently I actually use my front door!) Thanks! 🙂

    Comment by origamifreak — April 20, 2008 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  4. I have a whole book E. gave me she found at the book sale about making your own starters. One in particular I have been waiting to try is “Peach Leaf starter”.
    Have finally located an unsprayed tree from which I can gather leaves.
    This year…

    Comment by Deborah — April 21, 2008 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  5. I’m skeptical about different starters providing noticeably different results – my inexperienced guess is that how you treat the culture and what you feed it on will probably make the most difference…

    On the other hand there certainly are different strains of lactobacilli and yeasts in starters – as well as different possible species – so I suppose they *could* impart a different flavor to a really sophisticated palette.

    Here’s a website that sells a dizzying array of cultures:

    And the current internet favorite way of making your own apparently involves unsweetened pineapple juice:
    I imagine the high acidity and the peptidase activity would inhibit nasty things pretty well and help the yeasties in the flour to get the upper hand early.

    Comment by origamifreak — April 21, 2008 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  6. I wonder if my freshly ground wheat flour would work on the pineapple starter method since the wheat was first parched? Sounds like you need wheat on which are living microorganisms. Peach leaves may harbor a different type of wild yeast.

    I might try this, even though my family had no great love of sourdough.

    Comment by Deborah — April 23, 2008 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  7. […] cheese, bread. Having grown up in the SF Bay Area, I suppose it was inevitable that I would develop Chicks: Amish Friendship BreadSomeone gave me amish friendship bread starter a few weeks […]

    Pingback by amish friendship bread — April 30, 2008 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

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