I love making bread. Sourdough is a different beast than all other breads. I read tips and tricks from many cookbooks and all over the web, but it was still daunting. Do this, don't do this, etc. Ultimately, some of the tricks worked with SOME starters, and some of them did the opposite of the desired goal. I decided that I would maintain several starters and keep notes along with the starters based on the changes and tweaks with each loaf of bread. My sweet husband loves sourdough so he endured our kitchen looking like a bakery taken over by science experiments for over a month.
Here is what I learned:
- Don't be afraid to follow your instincts!
- If your starter is active, but it doesn't have enough power to make the dough rise, try adding 1/4 t. active dry yeast and 2 T. of warm water to the dough (mix and allow to rest for 5 minutes before adding to the bread dough), and try waiting to add the last cup to cup and a half of flour until after the dough has risen once and you're ready to shape it for the final rise.
- If the starter is too sour, start by adding a 1/2 t. sugar to the bread dough. If you like it better, then add 1/2 t. of sugar to the starter.
- All starters are different. Some are much thicker than others. It's OKAY.
- I read somewhere to not "overwork" your dough, because it would lose too much of the air and not rise properly. What I found was that in an effort to not overwork it, I was to cautious and didn't properly combine the ingredients to work the glutens together. Don't overthink this. Just don't beat until smooth and elastic like you would for brioche or challah.
- If you get frustrated, seal your starter in an airtight container for a week in the fridge and take a break. (Just be sure to feed it again after 5-7 days.)
- Sourdough can't be "rushed" to rise the way some other doughs can. If you bake it before it's truly finished rising, you'll end up with a very dense bread.
- Don't be afraid of experimenting with additions. Some I've tried are pine nuts, walnuts, pistacchios, brown rice, roasted garlic, and varying amounts of wheat bread flour.
- Be patient. After 2 months (and at least 30 loaves), I certainly don't have what I would consider a "perfect sourdough", but I do have a recipe that we're happy with and enjoy. I know I'll continue to experiment, and hopefully by the time we return to Paris I will have a sourdough as amazing as the one in my memory.