Friday, 15 May 2015

Basic Sourdough Bread with Wild Yeast Starter

When I first read about the sourdough bread, it reminds me of  Chinese old dough mantou (老面馒头), a steamed bun with wild yeast starter before commercial yeast was commonly used. Growing up in northern China, I have been eating old dough mantou as an alternative staple to rice during my childhood. 

I learned the skill of making old dough mantou from my mom and grandma. First-generation old dough is made with flour and water with 40-50% hydration. After mixing, cover it and let it ferment at room temperature. It's ready to be used after a day or two depending on the weather. It's known that old dough of many generations of age produces fluffy mantou with more distinctive flavor. In the past, almost every family in northern China has an old dough reserved from the previous manto sessions. Speaking of this, it was 30 years ago, and I am not so sure our neighbors in China still have the old dough at home. At least, my mom does not have one now. Commercial yeast has replaced naturally occurring airborne yeasts in fermentation due to its fast rise and predictability.

Similar to Chinese old dough,  traditionally sourdough starters were passed down from generation to generation. If you don't have one, you can make from scratch. All you need is flour, water, and time.  Simply mix equal part of flour and water (by weight) . Let it sit in a container for a few days at room temperature until it bubbles.  Then, feed it with new flour and water on a constant schedule for about five days, or until the starter is strong enough to levin a loaf of bread. I learned this through internet recently (refer to here and here for the method I used).  Now my sourdough starter is only one month old. I am feeding it on weekly basis. Believe me,  there is real joy and satisfactory to keep the starter alive! I call it my "pet".

Look at the bubbles in my sourdough starter. It shows that wild yeast is active and multiplying! I bake once a week using my sourdough starter. After each use, replace with new dough to maintain its weight. With proper care,  sourdough starter can last for years!

Both old dough mantou and sourdough bread takes 4-6 hours to ferment during Summer time whereas commercial yeast bread/bun only takes 40-50 minutes.  The long and slow fermentation process has great health benefit. It improves the nutrient features of starch, and important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. After learned all the science and the health benefit of naturally-leavened products, I am thinking of making old dough mantou and sourdough bread the starch staples for my family, from now on.

My sourdough bread has mild sour taste and soft chewy texture with a crusty outside. As the starter matures, I believe the bread will be more mellow and complex.   There are so many wonderful sourdough bread recipes out there, I will explore more and bring more sourdough bread to my family's dinner table.  My whole family love sourdough bread,  it goes perfectly with all types of soup, especially creamy tomato soup, full of flavor!

(make 2 loaves)

  • 250g active, fed sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 500g Bread flour 高筋面粉
  • 250g water 水
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 盐
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil  橄榄油
  • egg wash : 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water (optional)
  • semolina for dusting

Directions: (Weather : Summer; Temp: 28-30°C)
  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, starter and water until all combined together.
  2. Cover with cling wrap and leave it in a warm spot and let rise until double in size, approximately 4 -6 hours.

  3. Remove the dough from the bowl, and place onto the floured station so that it does not stick. 
  4. Sprinkle salt over the dough, gently fold the edges from the outside in to form a round loaf. Add olive oil as you fold and shape the dough.
  5. Coat the bottom of the baking tin (* my oven is not big enough for the dutch oven, I used a 26cm oval ramekin ) with semolina. Place the dough inside for a second shorter rise, about 1-2 hours. It is ready when the dough is puffy.
  6. Right before your bread goes into the oven, make shallow slashes about 2 inches long in the center of the dough. Brush the top with egg wash, or sprinkle with semolina. 
  7. Preheat your oven at 230°C.
  8. Place your bread into the oven and reduce the temperature to 200°C.  Pour boiling water into a pan beneath to keep high humidity. Bake for 50-60 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of baking, crack open the oven door. This allows the moisture to escape, leaving your bread with a crisp crust.
  9. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing. 

Recipe and method referenced here and here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I’m a novice sourdough baker and keen to make some old dough as I love steamed buns (mantou especially as my father is from northern China originally). I wonder if you can tell me how long it might take to make old dough, without commercial yeast? I made my sourdough starter and this took 10 days with daily feeds. Do you feed the old dough daily too? Thank you!


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