Jess is a homesteading mama and photographer. She, her husband and three children live on three acres nestled atop a mountain in Washington with her husband and three children. Their small farm includes chickens, babydoll Southdown sheep, Holland Lop bunnies and gardens. She most enjoys artfully photographing life on their homestead.
In March, our state shutdown. Our schools closed, my photography business screeched to a halt and my husband began working full-time at home. There are a lot of mixed emotions that came with this shutdown. But we were grateful for our new home and land to stretch out. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a better place to call home during these times. As a way of channeling my anxiety and worry into something positive, I did what many of us did and jumped on the sourdough train! For me, it was something small that I could control. A distraction from all the uncertainty. It took me two tries to build a successful sourdough starter because creating natural yeast is a slow process and a bit tricky. Persistence and patience are key. There are many wonderful starter recipes online and I encourage you to choose one and give it a try. I chose the starter and bread recipe offered by Elaine Boddy. Her recipe, tried and true, also includes detailed instructions, and I love how passionately she explains her process.
I score each loaf before it goes into the oven. As a creative, I always crave ways to express myself and must always be making something. So, making food that is both beautiful, wholesome and delicious is very rewarding. I was gifted a beautiful wooden-handled bread lame from my family and use it to score simple designs into my bread.
When my first loaf came out of the oven, I was in love! I knew, right then, that I would bake sourdough the rest of my days. The idea of creating something so beautiful out of nothing more than water, flour and time was remarkable to me. Creating my own starter was an important part of that process and, though my starter doesn’t bubble over like some I see on social media, I don’t mind one bit. It’s mine. I made it myself. I feed it myself. And my family devours it. Does anything else really matter?
My family’s hands-down favorite sourdough treats are my homemade bagels. (Traditional sourdough loaves fresh out of the oven with butter and honey coming in a close second.) My boys ask for sourdough several times a week, so I feed my starter and proof dough nearly everyday. Baking in our newly renovated kitchen and watching my family enjoy these loaves brings me so much joy! Here is my bagel recipe:
- Make a batch of sourdough in a large bowl using your favorite recipe, cover the bowl with loose cling wrap, and let it proof overnight.
- The next morning, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C) and bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a few pinches of sugar to the boiling water.
- Lay parchment paper over a baking sheet and sprinkle it with rice flour.
- Stretch the dough onto the floured paper and divide it into 8-12 relatively even sections.
- One by one, hold a piece of divided dough with both hands and begin to twirl it in small circles like a jump rope. It will naturally stretch, allowing you to then connect and pinch the ends together to make a circle. Carefully drop your shaped dough into the boiling water. I drop in 4 bagels at a time. The bagels sink to the bottom and then float back up to the top within a couple seconds.
- Boil for 2 minutes on each side and then place back on your parchment paper cookie sheet.
- Sprinkle with your favorite toppings (a pile of Colby Jack cheese is a family favorite in my home but you can’t go wrong with salt or just plain either) and bake for 20-25 minutes until they turn a beautiful golden brown.
I often pair my bagels with homemade chive whipped cream cheese using a handful of chopped garlic chives from the garden.
Lastly, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve discovered on my sourdough journey.
- Invest in a digital kitchen scale. It allows you to have the most precise measurements, which is important when creating, feeding and boosting your starter and when baking bread. I found mine on Amazon for $12 and I use it nearly every day.
- Be generous when discarding starter in your yeast growing process. It’s so hard and seems counterproductive, but it is vital to the growth process. If the starter gets too large, it will go flat and become dormant and your bread will not rise.
- When I’m growing my starter or letting dough rise, I keep them on the kitchen counter near the oven (or near the fireplace during the cold months) so it gets a little extra heat boost!
- I found Reynolds Kitchen parchment baking sheets at the grocery store and they are wonderful! They are pre-cut sheets of parchment paper folded into quarters. Before unfolding, I cut the stack of open corners of one sheet into a curve so that when I open the sheet, it’s a circle. Then I lay it over my dough in the round bamboo banneton and then flip it gently to transfer the dough onto the sheet with minimal disruption. The cut sheets fit perfectly with just enough leftover space around the perimeter of the loaf to use to lift your hot loaf out of your cast iron pot but not so much that it causes creases in the edge of your loaf.
- Keep in mind that the kind of flour you use, the amounts of natural yeast and moisture in your home, state and country, and the temperature in your home and in the area you live all play a role in how your starter behaves and how long it may take to grow it or how often you may need to feed it. Patience is key and don’t be afraid to tweak your starter process and experiment along the way.
I hope that, with this guidance in your apron pocket, you will consider giving sourdough a try. It’s such a rewarding, delicious experience!