A “SOURDOUGH STARTER”… HOLD THAT THOUGHT, LET ME TAKE AN ADVIL
IF a consistent, punctual biological clock is the indicator of good health and well-being, surprisingly as evidence suggests, I may live much longer than I expected.
On a daily basis, for past 2 decades, my body insists on living breathing sleeping and eating, in a strict and firm accordance with… the Parisian time-zone. They say that your body is always trying to tell you things that you may not realize about yourself. To that, I have no argument. Then on a monthly basis, the beautiful reminder that I am, again, one-month-less away from entering menopause, always comes reassuringly and dependably… 10 days late. Punctual in her own ways, she loves suspense and once in awhile, watching me peeing on sticks. But here comes the part where I’m most proud of, a yearly reoccurrence, the kind that only wild animals who are most in tune with nature will demonstrate…
The pre-winter hair-shedding and my October flu.
OK, fine, maybe that sounded a little over-dramatic. Maybe I just count the hairs on my pillow more nowadays as a sign of mid-life crisis, and instead of a full-blown flu, it’s more like a passive-aggressive, trickling but ever-flowing stream of runny nose. The kind that is incompetent of granting me a whole week of in-bed movie-marathon, but at the same time, makes damn-well-sure that I look, walk and feel like a days-old, soggy unglazed donut. So this year, in response to a seasonal time like this, a new behavioural pattern has emerged. I bake breads.
Post my bread-baking-phobia, I’ve since realized that it’s just one of those things that requires… no, demands minimal attention. All a good dough ever wanted, like the October-me, is to lay low and expand. And so it is at this particular time of the year, we are ever so synchronised and compatible. I wobbled towards the window to the outside world sitting on my desk, decided it was a good time to introduce myself to a specifically tangy rustic bread that I’ve long been curious of.
Well… it was, I believe, 3 clicks into the outside world when I decided it was best to stay inside. What… “sourdough starter”? Who the fuck are you? Trespassing is illegal and what did you do to my good, old friend Idy (instant dry yeast, hello!)? Wait, whatever it is… hold that thought. Let me take an Advil…
Just when I started reconsidering that movie-marathon my flu promised me, at the corner of my fraudulent eyes I saw a tub of plain yogurt sitting alone in all its trickery… You know how they say, dead ends are… new streets or whatever? I thought hey, maybe I’ll walk this way. I mean why not? Yogurts are used in plenty other “bread-named” thingys (for the life of me I can’t understand why they can’t just call them “cakes”), so why not actual actual breads? I heard some yogurts are alive. I heard they get up in room-temperature and do things to make themselves tangy. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t mind making my bread tangy, too? So I did, using the notoriously easy no-knead method, in the most productive manner a soggy donut could ask for… I baked a fake sourdough, with yogurt.
And it was a beautiful impostor.
Without surprise, the tested no-knead method yielded a golden browned crackling crust, with big and small air-bubbles within. But most of all, it was deceivingly tangy, with a gentle and flavorful tartness that seeped in as you chew. Any other clues that shouts yogurt, were muted during the baking process. In fact, there was very little yogurt-flavour left, except for a subtle, mysterious tang.
It was my own Pretty Little Liar, too beautiful and perfect for all the things my yearly biological schedule wouldn’t allow me to do. Bread-and-butter picnic in the park? So last season. Sourdough eggs benedict for Sunday brunch with friends? You mean my Parisian friends? Well, how about the deep winter swelling underneath a thick, thermo new-grown coat?
Well, that. Yes. Nothing can stop that…
Let’s talk yogurt for a little bit. It’s important to use a sharp and tangy yogurt for this recipe for the “sourdough” effect, but how do we control that? I’m not, by any means, a yogurt or live culture specialist. But I do know the “older” a live yogurt is (meaning the longer it cultivates at room-temperature), the more tart it tastes and thicker in consistency. If you already make your own yogurt at home, you’d have no problem controlling the desired tartness and thickness of the yogurt. But if you’re using store-bought like I do, choose a plain, unsweetened yogurt that contains pro-biotic/active live culture, with a nice tang to it. If you find your store-bought yogurt not tangy enough, let it sit in your fridge for a few days as the bacterias will continue to grow, and makes the yogurt more tart and thick.
I’m making this bread roughly based on Jim Lahey’s dutch-oven-no-knead-bread recipe via New York Times. I found that the loaf fermented for 18 hours, was tangier than the one fermented for 6 hours only. But another loaf fermented for 24 hours got a little bitter. So I would stay within the 18 hours range just to be safe.
- 3 cups (405 grams) bread flour
- 1 1/2 tsp (8 grams) salt
- 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast (if fermenting for 18 hours), or 3/4 tsp instant dry yeast (if fermenting for 6 hours)
- 1 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (385 grams) plain unsweetened yogurt containing active cultures
- In a stand-mixer with dough-hook, or in a large bowl by hands, mix bread flour, instant dry yeast, salt and plain yogurt on medium-low speed for 2 min until a dough forms. If the dough is too dry and has difficulty coming together, add 1 tbsp more plain yogurt. If you'd like, continue to knead the dough on medium-low speed, or with your hands, for a few more minutes until springy. The dough should be very sticky, but able to retain shapes.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let ferment at room-temperature for 18 hours (NO MORE than 20 hours or the yogurt may spoil and become bitter!), or 6 hours depending on your schedule (note that the amount of yeast varies). The dough should almost doubled when finished.
- After fermentation, dust the counter with flour then transfer the dough on top. Use just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking, fold the dough gently (without crushing all the air bubbles inside) over itself like folding a letter. Turn 90 degrees and fold again. Then shape the dough into a ball-shape. Transfer to a piece of floured parchment paper, then cover a large bowl on top and let proof again for 1 ~ 2 hours. The dough is ready when it almost double in size again, and should not spring back when you press it with a finger.
- 45 minutes before the dough's ready, preheat the oven on 450F/225C with a large dutch oven, or a heavy-bottom pot (both should come with lid) inside. To bake the bread, lift the parchment paper to transfer the dough into the preheated pot, cover the lid and bake for 30 min. Then remove the lid, and bake until the crust is golden browned.
- Let cool on a rack for 20 min.