Sourdough focaccia success

So, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve officially given up on my sourdough starter. It actually ripened after about eight days in April of consistent feedings, but because I didn’t have whole wheat flour at the time, I put the ripened starter in the fridge to “slow down” and become dormant until I got my hands on a bag of whole wheat flour. When I finally did a week later, I took the starter out of the fridge and fed it with whole wheat flour, and for whatever reason, it was NOT pleased. It did not grow or bubble much, and I was at a loss for what to do. But I kept on feeding it anyway, hoping it would miraculously revive itself. It didn’t. It still bubbled and was alive, but it just lacked the activity it used to. Then, it did what I had no idea how to respond to: it started getting watery!

Finally, I asked my colleague, who is an experienced bread head, and he suggested I try to source rye flour, as the increase in protein may be what my starter was lacking. Well, this seemed to do the trick… it grew three times every single day for a week! At this point, the starter was over a month old, but it kept failing the much needed “float” test to prove that it would be strong enough to leaven a real bread loaf. And after eating a lot of discard starter through endless crumpets, pikelets, and pancakes week after week and actually getting a bit bored of eating these, not to mention having used at least 6-8 pounds of flour, I finally decided to throw in the towel and give up. So, I’ve used the discard starter since I am anti-waste, but I have stopped trying to grow my sourdough starter baby anymore.

I realized that I still had one dry-active yeast packet left, so I tested it on Wednesday to see if it was still alive, as the expiration date was last autumn. To my surprise, it WAS alive, as it grew three times in the measuring cup with some warm water and sugar. So I used this along with about a cup of my discard sourdough starter to make a focaccia bread. My starter was likely about 50/50 all-purpose: rye. And I decided to make the dough about 80 percent all-purpose to 20 percent whole wheat (we all need more whole grains, right?). After two nights of proofing in the fridge, I baked it today with the best results ever: it was airy with a beautiful, moist crumb, crunchy on the outside and edges, and had a delicious and addictive sour taste. Topped with olive oil, rosemary, sel de guerande, and eaten with dollops of orange blossom honeyed ricotta, I probably ate way more bread today than I realized, but it was truly that good. I nearly inhaled my first three bites.

I totally get why bread making can be so satisfying, so gratifying, so heart-warming to one’s core. There’s something about making something seemingly so basic and pure that just brings so much joy. I always get excited making bread from dry active yeast, but that’s just basic bread making. Actually making one’s one starter — that is truly back to the basic of the basics…. and for me, most daunting.

So, now the question that still lingers is: if I got this excited and was this proud of my sourdough focaccia, which had a dry active yeast to help it along, what would happen to me and my psyche if I actually succeeded in getting my sourdough starter to fully ripen to the point of being able to get a real sourdough loaf to work…..?!!

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