I really do -honestly- want to learn how to do a short post. Mostly, I want this skill, because I know good writers are those who know how to condense their thoughts into compact chunks of narrative. So, I must not be a good writer – maybe if I learn to do short posts, then I’ll be a good writer.
I’m tempted to stop right now, add a picture of today’s breakfast, and publish that as a post. But, somehow I think you’d see through it.
OK, let me try another approach – let me share with you one of my superb failures, and maybe that can be condensed, from shame, if nothing else. For some time now, I’ve been using my sourdough starter in various quick-breads – this, of course, calls for adjustments and adaptations, since the nature of quick-breads (breads which use baking powder or baking soda as their leavening) does not lend itself to sourdough. So, I’ve been having some interesting, if not successful results.
The quick-bread I’ve mostly used for this experiment is cornbread, and my experiments continue. I have an ongoing interest in the food culture(s) of the U.S., and if one cares to dig, there is a wealth of history surrounding these two ingredients. Corn was well established as a flour grain when the great migration west got underway in the U.S., and was commonly included in the basic food supplies because it was cheaper than was wheat flour. Yeast starters -in the grand tradition of sourdough- were the chosen way to leaven bread. Commercial dry yeast had not yet been invented, but bread yeasts as by-products of beer production were well known, and commonly used for baking breads. You may know that any yeast can be treated just like a sourdough starter, and used ad infinitum -if fed and maintained. This is how most pioneers started their starters, but as we all know too, if one keeps feeding that ‘yeast’ starter, it will soon pick up wild yeasts that will overpower the other yeasts in its mix – so the term sourdough in those pioneer days did not so much refer to a wild yeast leavening as much as to the fermented character of the resulting baked goods.
I mention all this only to suggest that leavening a quick-bread with sourdough starter may seem strange to us, but it has a solid historical basis. And in fact, fermented cornbread has a wonderful taste, even when the baker screws up the process.
A baker uses sourdough starter for two purposes, even if he doesn’t realize it – first, sourdough starter is used as a leavening, and second to add flavor. My use of sourdough starter in my cornbread was primarily to add flavor, which it does magnificently – and if used in conjunction with baking soda, one needn’t worry about the leavening part, since the baking soda uses the lactic acid of the sourdough starter to accomplish that. But my magnificent failure of today suggests that a baker may well suffer from an overkill of riches, such as using three leavenings at once – I used not only sourdough starter, but baking soda and baking powder – and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that doing so is to create a chemical imbalance that leads to a loss of leavening action.
My process is simply to mix my flours, cornmeal and white flour, along with the primary liquid used, in this case, buttermilk (which has its own lactic acid) and some sourdough starter, and to refrigerate that overnight. In the morning, it has risen nicely, but that will soon disappear as you add the rest of the needed ingredients for the cornbread. You may recognize that in order to use the sourdough as a fermenting agent, you must break the general quick-bread rule of only mixing your dry with your wet ingredients together at the last moment before baking. But I really don’t think that’s such a traumatic no-no, as this is what I’ve previously done with good success. I have made mental note to, next time, put together the entire recipe and to put the batter into the muffin tin before slipping into the fridge – in that case, I’ll not include any other leavening other than the sourdough – and I’ll bet the rise is beautiful.
I actually have no idea why these muffins did not rise well, since I did nothing differently than before – but there must have been some subtle difference that slipped by my senses – god knows that’s more than possible. But I am happy to report that regardless of their pathetic rise (they were higher before they went into the oven than when they came out!), they were delicious.
Well, I’m done with this post, and it’s only a little long – I guess it depends on your perspective. Whatever! It’s an improvement – and perhaps most notably, I’ve finished a post on the same day as I started it – and that’s a first!