Meet Sheryl

No, Sheryl isn’t Tertia’s real name. Sheryl is my sourdough starter. That’s right; I’m becoming one of those people.

A few months ago, my bread machine committed suicide by dramatically leaping off the kitchen counter in the middle of a knead cycle, thereby shattering itself into about seven pieces. It was pretty spectacular. Anyway, since then I have been baking our sandwich loaves most weeks, and I’ve really enjoyed doing it. Baking bread is something that always seems like a larger job in my head than it is in reality; it takes a long time, but very little of that time is active. And kneading dough is very satisfying! I love the way you can feel it transform under your hands.

Anyway, the sandwich bread is just a regular wheat bread made with commercial yeast. But yeast can be kind of pricey (and, apparently, subject to quarantine-related panic buying) and keeping track of how much I have is annoying, especially when the jar is almost gone and there’s not quite enough for another full batch of something. Which made me think, well, why not give sourdough a shot?

I followed this method from The Kitchn to make my starter, which took about five days. At first nothing dramatic was happening — I had little bubbles but not much of that good yeasty smell — but then on day four I could smell the sour yeastiness I was hoping for, as well as the alcohol created by the bacterial action. (I wonder: is sourdough moonshine a thing?) And then on day five — pow! Sheryl had doubled in size overnight and was ready to rock.I knew I wanted to do an overnight rise and bake in the morning, so I followed this recipe, which is literally just the first result I got when I searched for “overnight sourdough bread”. The active time is even shorter than it is with a commercial yeast bread. I measured out some starter, water, flour, and salt, and mixed it with my hands for about a minute. This is what it looked like at that point, as it rested for thirty minutes:

After the dough rests, you gently stretch it and fold it over on itself for about a minute. You can immediately see the difference in the texture between the last picture and this next one: from dry and crumbly we have moved on to stretchy and hydrated.

After that… not much happens for quite a while. The recipe says to let it rest for eight hours; my dough rested for closer to sixteen, which didn’t appear to do it any harm. (The longer rise probably helped, in fact, since we keep our house on the cool side.) But in the morning, it had smoothed out and bulked up, as promised:

When I was ready to bake, I took the loaf out and quickly shaped it. Now, next time I will transfer the dough into an oiled clean bowl before leaving it overnight, because it was really hard to get the dough out of its bowl without squishing it and popping the interior bubbles. It was very and I ended up leaving some behind in the bowl. But what was left had a nice rest before I popped it into the oven. I don’t have a proper Dutch oven for baking; fortunately, my casserole dish also does the trick.

And here is the result!

You may be able to see right by the bottom crust that it’s a little underdone there and could probably have used a few more minutes in the oven. But I am supremely happy with this first attempt! The bread is chewy and tangy, and tastes amazing toasted with some butter and cinnamon sugar. Sheryl and I? I think we’re going to get along.

One thought on “Meet Sheryl

  1. Pingback: Sourdough: the first eight bakes | In this Ordinary Time

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