New sourdough starter for a new year

One of the new projects that I decided to start this year was a sourdough. I've done sourdough in years past, but my baking projects never really seemed to ever work out. The bread was always tough and dense...I lost interest. 

However, over the past year, I have really hit my stride when it comes to bread baking. I would like to say that I read this or that classic bread baking book, that a glowing light descended from the heavens, and I suddenly learned how to bake bread. The truth is that I just kept at it and something clicked. I now know what the dough feels like when it is ready to go in the loaf pan or on the hearth. It turns out that it really isn't that hard. If you can remember back to when you learned to ride a bike, it is sort of like that. Seemingly impossible at first and then rather quickly you just do it without thinking. That is the best analogy that I have for my bread baking experience. 

There are some basic bits of knowledge that I can pass along though. 

Don't necessarily pay attention to any recipe. The fact that you didn't use exactly the right amount of yeast has very little to do with the door stop sitting on your cooling rack. Trust me. 

What I have found to be the biggest single factor in my successes is the hydration and gluten development in the dough. This is especially true when it comes to using our Entire Grain flour. In simplistic terms, you need to knead. And you need to knead more than you think. Leaving the dough to rest between kneading is a good trick too. I use our Kitchen Aid with the dough hook for 95% of my kneading. It works well and saves me sore arms and time. I leave that dough kneading for a good 10 minutes and I keep adding flour until I have a really stiff, dry dough. This stiff dough gives me the nicest, lightest bread. Whenever my dough has been too wet and floppy the bread turns out like a brick. Trust me.

This newest incarnation of sourdough on our farm actually got its start when a friend came over for dinner before Christmas and brought us a bottle of homemade hard Apple Cider. At the bottom of the bottle is the layer of yeasty type tailings that don't taste very good. When I was building my starter I used a couple Tblsp of Apple Cider, but not the cloudy yeast tailings. You can follow any sourdough starter you like. Googling "sourdough starter" will give you more results than you know what to do with. 
Apple Cider Starter - 1 month old

I think that people like to make things fancier than they need to be so I simply use equal parts of water and flour and a little of the cider. Keep the starter out at room temperature and wait till it starts bubbling. Once this happens, every day for about a week take out about half the starter and replace it with an equal amount of the flour water mix. There should be some critical mass with your starter. I use a jar that holds about 2.5 cups of starter. Once your starter is really humming along you can put it in the fridge and repeat the feeding process once every week and a half or so.

When you want to bake some bread, simply take a cup of starter and mix it in with your dough ingredients. When baking sourdough without adding commercial yeast it is important to note that the dough will take significantly longer to rise. Patience is the key to a good sourdough. I usually have to leave my bread proof for the whole day. Adding proofs within an hour, maybe 2.

All in all, baking bread is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Taking things a step further and playing around with sourdough is another bit of enjoyment too. Don't be afraid to give sourdough a try.