Sourdough Bread

It has been a busy summer in the office despite the short break from teaching.  The son is home after completing his first year of college.  No, I have not been busy cooking for him.  Young men who need not work through the summer prefer to spend long hours playing mind-numbing games on the Net.  This cannot be done during daylight hours because the computers are occupied by parents working to pay college fees.  Nights turn into days and days into nights (for the son) and we are lucky if we catch him at lunch.

It was good that we whisked him away on a vacation the moment he was home and managed some ‘quality’ time before he could react!  Around the same time my sister also visited us and it was great to extend the vacation and spend time together.  Even she was complaining that I haven’t been very regular with my blog posts…

grapes of summer

I lost the mint this summer, and blamed it on Sanjay, the gardener.  It really was his fault.  As summer progressed the promise of grapes came through. The grapes were special because they were home grown.  I have to admit that the crispness of a fresh grape is quite something.  You will have to grow your own to know.  These grapes were full of seed but the colour was unique; not what you find on the seedless common hybrids.  Is good wine not made from the old seedy varieties, now?  Hardly a case of sour grapes.

Right on time this year, on the last day of June, the monsoons reached Delhi and we’ve had a good spell since.  The slightest of showers is sure to bring my rain-lilies out in their splendor; a pretty sight from the office window.

In between I found time to write about another cup of tea, barely in time for A Mad Tea Party’s national TV debut. (Featured in the documentary Food – Feasting Fasting on NDTV 24×7.  Click on the link to watch it online!)

All of you remarked on the prettiness of the pink tea, and made appreciative noises about the minuscule TV appearance of the demure 🙂 lady behind the Madness here.  But you overlooked the beautiful slice of sourdough bread alongside the tea in the post.  I had hoped that there will be oohs and inquiries about where I sourced it from (and some additional exclamatory marks thrown in for good measure!!), followed by aahs on hearing that I baked it myself!  I would then elaborate further on how I had made it from scratch.  Really from scratch.  I cultured the animal myself!

Yes, the beast yeast is home grown! And how it grows!

Making biga from scratch had been on my list for some time.  While summer is conducive to yeast activity, is is not exactly the kind of weather when you want to muck about in the kitchen for much longer than absolutely necessary.  Breaking bread is not as elemental as drinking tea you might say.  So I started this project while it was technically still spring.

The first attempt bode well.   Here are the diary notes.

day 2

Attempt 1
Day 1:
10am: 3/4C atta+3/4C water+1″ cube of mexican gud (I had some :-); it tastes and look just like our regular kind.  Or just use some sugar). Stir in a steel jar.
Day 2:
9am: halve the starter (use half to knead dough for khamiri roti).  Transfer to glass jar. Feed 1/2 C atta+ 1/2 C (cold) water
rises steadily till 7pm then falls.
12:00 midnight: fed it 3/4C atta+ 1/2 C water. Transfer khamiri dough to fridge to use next day.
Khamiri paranthas for breakfast.
Tiny bubbles throughout starter. Bottle seems too small to store final quantity needed to bake.  11 am: Change to bigger bottle.
Bad idea.  Flop.

Attempt 2
Followed same steps, this time in the bigger glass bottle.  No activity.  Maybe it was not the transfer to the bigger bottle but the bottle itself?  The glass bottle had earlier contained salted pickles.


Attempt 3: Third time’s the charm!
Day 1: Used large PET bottle.  Used only atta, starting with 1.5 C of it.
Day 2-9: Same routine as attempt 1.
Day 10: Feed using maida. Doesn’t rise much. Changed to atta next morning. Back to normal!
Day 11:
rose and fell quickly by 2 in the afternoon. Refrigerated for the rest of the day. Fed at night. Morning covered with huge bubbles. Almost double but not exactly.
For another couple of days kept it refrigerated during the day, fed it and left it out on the kitchen counter at night.
Day 13:
In the morning find it doubled and covered with the most beautiful huge bubbles on the surface! My biga is ready!

day 13

I researched a lot on the Net before attempting to grow my own starter; this was my primary reference. I made changes as I learnt form the failed attempts.  Here are a few things you might wish to keep in mind should you attempt this fun mission:

  1. Whole wheat atta (I was using Shakti Bhog brand) seemed to work better for me than maida (AP flour).
  2. Delhi’s heat makes this process go much faster than whatever I read about making biga.  After the first few days I found the yeast multiplying very fast and the batter rising and falling in a few hours signaling the exhaustion of available food.  Rather than feed it repeatedly (for a few days I fed it every 12 hours) I preferred to let it stay in the fridge during the day and allow it to grow in the relatively cooler nights after a feed.
  3. Missing a feed will not kill it.
  4. Every feed involves removing half the biga and supplementing with fresh flour and water.  If like me, you are not prepared to throw ‘edible’ food, be prepared for fresh cooked breakfast daily using this leftover somewhat-sour biga.  I discarded it on very few occasions.
  5. Once the biga is at the usable stage you need to feed it just once a week and refrigerate.  Weekly sourdough bread baking takes care of the amount you need to remove!

Khamiri Parantha
Sourdough Parantha

This is one of my fave paranthas during summer. Usually I don’t need to use a starter – the dough turns bubbly and sour in two days even under refrigeration in Delhi’s summers! Nothing to the recipe really. Take your sourdough (or knead some dough using your starter) and knead in some oil, salt, and red chilli flakes. Roll out and pan-fry as usual. My preferred way though is to chop some onion really fine, and roll out and cook as with stuffed paranthas!

buckwheat pancakes

Buckwheat Pancakes
There are many recipes for sourdough pancakes so it wasn’t such an original idea as I thought at the time. I remember I used a mix of buckwheat and whole wheat flours, an egg, some milk, oil, salt, and sugar. Check out some recipes that use yeast and replace yeast with sourdough starter. Remember to allow the batter to leaven for a couple of hours at least. These were surely amongst the best pancakes I have eaten.

buckwheat pancakes

Sourdough Bread

sourdough atta bread

I have baked enough bread now to not need a recipe anymore. Besides, I know most breads are forgiving. I loosely follow this recipe of mine, knead well for at least 15 minutes. If you are using a mix of atta and maida (whole wheat and AP flours), then add one heaped spoonful of wheat gluten, if you have some, for every cup of atta. It will result in a lighter loaf.  For the same reason wait as long as it takes till the dough has doubled.

When I used only the sourdough starter for leavening the finished bread was too sour for our liking. The next time around, I added a little bit of yeast while kneading (1 teaspoon) which reduced the rising time a little and resulted in a not-strongly-sour bread, which is how I remember sourdough bread tastes. That may not be artisan enough for some but it is how I am baking mine now. Sourdough bread has given me the best crust yet! This was my best loaf ever! 

[PS: I returned to Sourdough in 2016 and it’s a whole different ballgame since! Incredible breads with just a hint of sour and 100% sourdough, no commercial yeast.]

31 thoughts on “Sourdough Bread

  1. W00t! A sourdough starter is what I am doing next week for injera so this post is very timely for me! Thanks for all the research, too! I think I may have said something about your bread, you might want to check! Lookit that texture! Beautiful. A long piece of steel might have made that pic more complete though. Just saying.

    I like the idea of khamiri parathas but I don’t like the idea of having of rolling them out or the cleanup thereafter. Your maid cleans up for you, no doubt. My maid is lazy and simply refuses to let me indulge in these activities so they remain a fantasy.

    And, what? No bananas in them pancakes?!

    Did you know that Lexulous does not allow the word ‘injera’? 🙂
    I did have a picture of the bread with that steel (which was prominently featured in the film, btw) but you know how some people are about “white balance;” i didn’t want the interjections to be “WB!”, “WB!!!”
    My maid is looking a lot like yours these days. Yet, this morning I baked 2 loaves, instead of the usual one! I actually feel I get more free time when my maid goes on vacation!! That is the absolute, honest truth!
    I wouldn’t dare add them bananas!

  2. You don’t get your own chakki fresh atta? I used to buy good quality wheat and send it to the local chakki for grinding until we moved. It’s something I’d do in a heartbeat if we ever move back again. The texture and quality don’t compare to anything you get in branded packages.

    I agree with you about the quality of chakki ground atta but local chakkis are no more the norm. The neighbourhood chakki closed a couple of years ago – it had stopped being profitable. Same old economy-of-scale story. Sad but true; it’s the price you pay for urbanization. The other thing is that it has become inconvenient to bring wheat home, wash it, dry it, and then get it ground. I worry about the pesticide residues still on the grain if I buy wheat and get it ground at the chakki without washing it. I am hoping that the industrial process at least tries to wash out some of that.

  3. Hey Anita! proud of you for being on NDTV. I had missed that documentary when it was aired live so got to see it now. Nice sour dough bread. I still fear it. Have you tried Brun? it is quicker and crusty too. I haven’t baked in a while…time to try I guess

    Thanks, Anjali!
    The shorter time needed to make the starter makes it a doable job. Definitely worth a try! Go ahead, the season is right!
    Will have to try brun!

  4. Congratulations on the documentary. The sour dough bread looks very inviting. Still I haven’t got the courage to bake such breads at home. I hope to get started.

    Thanks, RV.
    Breads are usually forgiving – it is the cakes and pastries that are trickier. Just bake some rolls and there will be no going back!

  5. Last week I visited a friend who is originally from Jammu and he was telling me about all the foods he ate as a child. We even discussed your blog 🙂

    Loved your piece on NDTV. Congratulations!!

    Thanks for watching, Mints!

  6. I too bow in awe. I also attest to the flavor of chakki-fresh atta, though here in Calif I grind it myself in my Vita-mix. Buckwheat pancakes are a fave in my family, but we haven’t tried sourdough ones yet. Also haven’t ground buckwheat flour yet. Do they roast them first like besan? Is it desi? What do you call buckwheat in Hindi? My inquiring mind craves to know!

    Wow – to grind your own atta is serious dedication!
    Some people tell me buckwheat flour is same as Kuttu ka atta which is used during fasting. I have been meaning to purchase some and compare with the buckwheat flour I have…I don’t think it is roasted.

  7. Oh Anita, the slices of sour dough bread along side the tea, in your previous post, were as beautiful as that available in the bakeries of Germany. The crust looks Purrrfect!I’m a silent reader of your blog and am now writing just to let you know your bread didn’t go unnoticed or “un”-admired!!!I’m craving for that bread ever since I moved to the UK. English bread is nothing to write home about. Now I can bake my own from your recipe.

    I’m just as surprised as Manisha is….Anita doesn’t see the wheat which her aata if made from.

    And the rain-lilies……….I’m sure Bangalore has it’s bloom too, just that I’m not there to admire it!

    Seeing your home grown grapes and not tasting them is a sure case of ‘sour grapes’ for me!

    Eagerly awaiting your next post!

    Thanks for the ‘Oh’, Farzana! How nice that it made you de-lurk!
    Breads are pretty easy, so go ahead and bake yourself a golden loaf, sourdough or not!

  8. 🙂 So sorry I was one of the lax ones who missed the sourdough bread – what a labour of love. Those step by step instructions were amazing….I wonder what will happen if I start a biga in this heat and humidity which is Delhi right now – will the biga multiply overnight into a mutated monster and walk into my bedroom asking for a feed?! 😉

    Lovely bread and even better are the recipes for the leftover starter – I love it when someone gives me tips not to waste – like recipes for egg yolks when only the whites are needed!

    You have been warned! 🙂
    I also made wheat dosa one time, and rava dosa another morning!

  9. That loaf is absolutely beautiful! I have been a lurker for quite a while, at least a couple of years and have tried quite a few recipes from your blog, all with great results. Would love to give this a shot too. One question though…where do you buy wheat gluten in India?

    Hi, Reva!
    I don’t know if we can get wheat gluten in the retail market here in India. If you live in Delhi, you may want to enquire in Old Delhi.
    Otherwise, you have to accept a heavier bread (which I find is less noticeable when I make rolls), increase the proportion of maida to atta, or use only maida 😦 .

  10. Gorgeous, ooh-aah bread, Anita! How’s that? 🙂 But I really would like to try these Kamiri paranthe… they sound so good!

    I hate grapes without seeds. It just isn’t natural…plus I like chewing the “dry-tasting” seeds. When I was little, my sister and I knew of a grape-vine that covered a fence on a remote walkway that passed through the middle of a city-block. In autumn we would always pluck a few of these- large, sweet and yes, crisp! They looked just like yours! So full of flavour!

    And speaking of grapes and biga…somewhere I read (don’t ask me where because it’s been too long) that grape-skins and cabbage-leaves contain a layer of said yeasties that can be mixed into the first avatar of the biga to culture it (it’s that white “bloom” on the surface…blueberries too). I’ve never tried it so don’t quote me. I’m “just saying” as someone often says.

    Isn’t it? 🙂 You will like these paranthas – great with some salty pickles, combines perfectly with the sourness.

    These were definitely the prettiest and the freshest grapes I have ever eaten. City-slickers that we are, we did find spitting out the seeds a bit of a pain…but we appreciate the flavour so we will learn to be more accepting!
    In our weather we hardly need any additional help from skins and stuff to invite the yeasties; they are part of our biodiversity! Just sayin’!

      1. Yeah…see its still on organically-grown ones…and wild ones! It’s a bio-layer ready to dine as soon as the grape ripens enough to split. There are even some wines that are made from grapes that are over-ripe and a bit taken over by the various microbes.

        Don’t buy non-organic grapes; I recall them being near the top of the don’t-eat-because-of-pesticide-residue list. Not that I didn’t eat a few last week…

  11. And don’t feel too bad about the mint! Not only is it easy-enough to have another potful, but our gardener here has done some real winners over the years: horrid prunings, mowing over peonies and rhubarb plants, installing his own clamps on the house to hold up the lower ends of the down-spouts when he mows. He’s pretty-much limited to just tending the lawn now.

    I keep an eagle eye on mine yet there are slips, and I really watched the mint slip, with enough reminders to the gardener that it would happen unless…All pruning happens under my watchful eyes. Have planted some fresh stems…let’s see how they take and if the mint is as good as the previous one was. But you are right, mint is easy enough to grow and regrow!

  12. Superb.. very inspiring.. definitely wants to make me try a sourdough loaf. Where do you get separate wheat gluten?

    Just skip the gluten…

  13. Perfect.. well explained…yummy.. luks delicious
    first time here .. u have a lovely space and good collection of recipes.. happy to follow u …if u find time do visit my blog

  14. Hi Anita, I have just started reading your blog, and wanted to say that I am really enjoying it! I’m from California and all I know about Indian food is from eating curries in the UK for the last few years . .. clearly I have a lot to learn =)
    Thanks to the link to the fasting and feasting program – so interesting, and it was nice to “meet” you in the video.
    and I will try out your tips next time I make a sourdough =)

  15. That was a wonderful piece on NDTV. Just watched it. You look so glam Anita

    And yes the bread was perfectly in view

  16. I watched it…It was really a well made video and I loved it! Yes, the bread looks perfectly baked!

    Thanks for watching, Preeti! I believe there have been many telecasts since at different timings.

  17. Is your next post in the same state as my sourdough starter? Nowhere? 😀

    Right the first time! 😀 Work leaves little time for other pursuits… One hopes all the time, nevertheless.

  18. Oh wow! You are still blogging?!!With just as scrumptious fare as ever! (I used to ardently browse Indian food blogs back when I married my Tamil boyfriend and moved heart and soul to Chennai. ’06)

    There werent this many foodie blogs back then, but those that were regular had such refined tastes…KWIM? Now there are so many but with the same old recipes. Same old. I know, Iknow, there is just so much tweaking that good food can take, but IME upma and parathas are the most abused ones. Heck, the Swede in me can start an Indian food blog and I’ll get at least 10 ooh-aah comments for my first post of Radish Parathas.

    So, pretty sad that your sourdough bread didnt catch much eye. It sure caught my green eye; as I miss baking. We are back in Chennai for the next 2y and I really want to buy an oven this time.

    Sorry to be hijacking, but which oven do you use? Somehow, the thought of adding more heat with an oven to the hot Chennai kitchen is daunting.

    Could you please help me out here? Have you baked any cakes/cookies?

    So when are you starting your Indian food blog, Becky? But, please, do give us some Swedish recipes as well! 😉
    I know what you mean, and that is why some resort to this? Blogs are hard work and even though I am still blogging (as you remarked!), the posts have been less frequent.

    I am used to hijacking of this section… 😀
    I have a Faber cooking range which has a good oven but the burners leave a lot to be desired especially if you make roti. If you are a Swede in Chennai, they may not bother you at all (paranthas are not a problem)! It gives me great cakes, pizzas, bagels, muffins, cookies, cheesecakes even! Just check the breads and desserts here!

  19. Hi Anita …
    Congrats for your national TV debut , i missed it n will watch the link.
    I have tried making sourdough bread a couple of times n was not satisfied with the result , now after seeing your post i am thinking of doing it again…your’s looks gorgeous !!!
    The khamiri paratha look great too , i make khamiri paratha a bit thinner , this thickness looks better.

    Thanks for watching, Sangeeta!
    There’s a picture of khamiri paranthas in the post?

  20. Dear Anita,
    I was thinking of starting this project today-but it is not clear as to what i should start with-in your attempt 3 you say 1.5 C atta, but is it with more water or same water as attempt one? if you could mail me actual details with quantities / containers to be used – i will be very grateful 🙂

    In the third attempt I started with an increased amount of flour – the proportions of water to flour stay same! This post is the best log of the process I followed. Also read through the link that was my main reading and which I modified with the attempts (which are noted here). It is quite easy, just needs the time it takes!

  21. I am so in awe of this. To try when we are back from our holidays next week!

    Haven been working on this again for a year. Much improved and so many other things to try on way to bread!

  22. I am joining the party late …. better late than never! Thanks for the awesome tips and love your blog 😍

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