Smell the fear! Yum.
When I went back to school for chocolates and pastry, I had one teacher/chef, maybe more, who kept on saying, "Don't fear the chocolate. It will know if you fear it." I still haven't a clue why he was saying that. Even after he elaborated, "Pastry Chefs and cooks who come back to learn about chocolate always fear it. There is nothing to fear if you do everything right." I had no clue. Be afraid of chocolate? What's next, terrified of sugar? Wary of honey? Hostile to flour?
Oh, and he is right about precision. Chocolate is not forgiving. You must do everything right. Especially when making ganache. Ganache season is coming up. So, don't fear.
Likewise, I say to you, don't fear the sour dough. Now, I finally understand that indeed, chefs, trained chefs, fear ingredients or fear techniques as beyond them. If you don't fear, and you love food, you will prevail. The food can't out think you. Only you can out think you. So, don't start from a bad place.
How have I come to this realization? I was interviewing someone, a graduate of a culinary school in pastry arts. She was staying here in a nice room while she looked over the town and I took her measure. She was nice and had some basic skills. Meaning, she wasn't a home cook but had been trained and yet had never worked and hadn't taken her internship. People think that by going to school you can learn a craft. No you cannot. Rather, what you learn are basics. Both academic basics and culinary basics. Those basics are the same basics that a chef or baker or pâtissier would take years to teach a young, 8 or 9 year old apprentice. So school gives you a leg up over the old apprentice system but you really only start learning when you start working. This is especially true of crafts and of engineering, the ultimate craft.
One day I mentioned that we were going to do sour dough and she said to me, "I don't do sour dough." She had a wild look in her eyes. "It's too hard." Her eye were white with fright. She feared the sour dough and the sour dough knew it. The sour dough owned her. She passed out. OK. That last didn't actually happen but you get the idea.
There is nothing to fear. But as Bo Friberg has written, "..making bread with a sourdough starter is not completed in a few hours like most other types of bread. Instead, it requires several days while the starter...ferments." So, let me teach you how to master sour dough.
Let's start with the simplest thing in the world. How long do you proof sour dough? Yeast dough is proofed in hours. Sour dough is proofed in days. You could put yeast dough in the fridge and proof it over the course of 12 or 24 hours, something they don't teach you in school. But sour dough must be proofed for days because the little wild yeast and bacteria take days to do the same thing their tame cousins do in minutes.
If you wish to make your own starter, I recommend you to Bo Friberg.
So, first you make a starter, a mother sponge. I would recommend you either buy a live one, say from King Arthur
or get one of those San Francisco dry ones. If you get a live one, feed it when you get it.
How to feed a starter. Mix equal parts AP flour and water in a Tupperware and drop the starter in. Shake and let sit out for 24 hours then put in the fridge.
The white pit of yummy. Hi mom!
To use the mother sponge. Take out a cup of the starter plus the fluids. Mix this with the flour and salt and sugar of the recipe, say 6 cups flour, 1 t salt, 2 T sugar and mix together. Slowly add 1 cup warm water or as much as needed to form the dough. Probably no more than 1 1/8 cups of water. Knead for 8 minutes.
While the kneading is going on, feed the mother sponge just as you fed the starter. Replace the cup of goo with one cup flour and one cup water. Let sit out for 24 hours and then refrigerate. You must do this every week.
Then put the dough into a Tupperware and let sit out for 2 days. Shape, say in a bread form, and let rise for 12-24 hours before baking.
Rising away. This has been rising for 8 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 F. I put a pan of water, 1 cup, in the oven 10 minutes before I put the bread in. You wont get that much oven spring here but you'll get some. When the internal temperature reaches 205F, you are done. About 35-40 minutes. You might want to turn the bread in the oven after 20 minutes, just in case your oven has hot spots.
Take out of form and put on rack to cool Let it cool for 1 hour before slicing. Do NOT leave bread in a bread form, or pan, or loaf pan. Always rack it. Take it out of the rack. Even my assistant pastry chef, Nancy, forgets this detail and she's a baker. And there you have it. Nothing to fear.