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The City Journals

Sourdough bread can be rich in flavor, beauty and history

Jul 01, 2021 02:32PM ● By Karmel Harper

By Karmel Harper | [email protected]

It is amazing for grilled cheese sandwiches. It makes the perfect bread bowl for soup. Or you can simply dip it in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to enjoy the tangy flavors your taste buds will thank you for. While sourdough bread can be used for a wide variety of baking delicacies, sourdough is unique as it does not require yeast but rather a gooey, sticky batter which consists of only two ingredients: water and flour. 

This batter, or “sourdough starter,” is basically fermented water and flour which is “fed” regularly, even daily, by mixing in more flour and water. The practice of feeding your starter keeps it alive as it feeds on the sugars and microbes in the flour. When starting from scratch it takes weeks of feeding your starter daily for it to be ready for baking. A well-fed, well-fermented starter has a gooey, bubbly consistency, a vinegar-like scent and is the magic ingredient that leavens and flavors sourdough bread. 

Mindy Muller of Eagle Mountain, who is a huge proponent of preparedness and maintaining your family’s food storage, began baking sourdough during the pandemic when yeast was in short supply.

“When yeast disappeared in 2020, I figured I should make my own and researched sourdough bread,” Muller said. “Because it took two months for my starter to be ready after feeding it daily, I decided I would always have sourdough starter and flour on hand. Now I have both dried and fresh starter available at any given time.” 

Another benefit of starter is it provides better health aspects compared to supermarket loaves. The long fermentation and natural acids help aid digestion by breaking down the gluten and making it easier for the body to absorb. 

Because sourdough starter rises and increases in volume every time it is fed, it is easy to share and maintain for years. People who want to jump into baking sourdough but do not have the time to invest in cultivating their own starter can find sourdough starter from neighbors or friends who are usually eager to share. When someone posted in a neighborhood Facebook group looking for starter, Nicole Hirase-Baker of Herriman offered to share hers, which is approximately 300 years old, meaning it was cultivated centuries ago, fed regularly, shared and passed down through generations.

“My husband gave it to me for my birthday,” Hirase-Baker said. “He got it from San Francisco, and I have had it for 10 years.”

Kaysville’s Isaac Hoffman’s love for baking sourdough came from his mother, Linda Hoffman of Farmington, who received her starter in 1974. Her starter is purported to be a direct descendant of the Klondike Gold Rush sourdough strain circa 1896–1899. Hoffman fondly remembers his mother bringing her starter everywhere they traveled to keep it alive. It has been to several countries including Chile, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Argentina. 

“Working from home during COVID seriously accelerated my breadmaking, and at peak, I was making three loaves at a time, sometimes twice a week,” she said.

For some bakers, like Muller, the frequency of breadmaking allows them to express their artistic side often. Muller loves to experiment and try different designs in her scoring, the necessary step of cutting slashes into bread dough to control its expansion and minimize cracks during baking. Her scoring designs result in beautiful artisan loaves that perfectly dress up the table. 

The variety of other baked delights that stem from sourdough is endless. Waffles, pancakes, and even focaccia bread are delicious offshoots that adventurous bakers can experiment with. However, while the ingredients are basic, when the additional elements of history, artistry and sharing are added in, every loaf of homemade sourdough bread consists of much more than merely flour and water. If you would like to start your own sourdough adventure, many websites provide instructions on how to cultivate a starter from scratch such as www.thekitchn.com and www.kingarthurbaking.com. If you would like to purchase sourdough starter that has been cultivated and tended locally, contact Muller at [email protected].