Sourdough from Scratch: Baking with Wild Yeast

I'm happy to report that I've checked off two of the three resolutions listed in my New Year's post. There are two cottontails in my freezer and a loaf of fresh baked bread on the counter. The bunnies were as simple as stepping onto the front porch early one morning with the Ruger 77/22 in hand. The bread has been a bit more challenging.

Part of my bread-baking resolution was not using any commercial prepared yeast. Instead, I would bake my first loaf with wild yeast, captured in my kitchen with a slurry of flour, water, and honey set out as a trap. Not as simple as it sounds, at least not in the dead of winter when wild yeasts are least active. Still, after a few fits and starts, I had a bubbling bowl of what I hoped was an original sourdough starter. I named it Black Dog, after the mood these cold days bring and my preferred color of Lab.

Never one to stick to a single recipe, I used pieces of knowledge I gathered here and there, with How To Cook Everything and The Lost Art of Real Cooking as my primary guides. I'll admit to kneading the dough the lazy man's way with a food processor. For my next loaf, I think I'll dive in with doughy hands, but the shortcut was pretty handy.

After the initial, electrical kneading, the dough--a simple mix of the Black Dog, water and flour--was left to rise overnight. The next day, after working it into boule and letting it sit for a few hours, it went into a 450-degree oven, along with some ice cubes to create a hot and steamy environment. Forty-five minutes later, my very first loaf of bread was done.

I could barely wait for it to cool before trying, and, while it wasn't as good as I hoped, it wasn't as bad as I expected either. The starter appears to be still a little weak, creating a dense loaf. I also forgot to add salt, so the flavor isn't what it could have been.

I'm encouraged enough to try again but would like to hear from you. What advice can you give an admittedly bumbling baker?