“This book may be titled Sourdough Mania, but it is a true one-stop encyclopedia on sourdough baking, and cooks will find it a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.”
A Slovenian proverb states that “Bread is a gift from God,” and Anita Sumer’s book, Sourdough Mania, brings that celestial gift right into the hands of home cooks everywhere.
Bread making has become something of a fad in 2020 but in ancient agricultural societies, a loaf of homemade bread was a sign of prosperity, nourishment, and even a method of payment.
A Slovenian native, Sumer is a self-taught baker and took up baking after her husband Saso had his gallbladder removed. “. . . he could no longer eat ordinary bread made with baker’s yeast,” she writes.
And so began a journey to find the perfect loaf. She shared her recipes on social media and with the help of her followers made the first edition of this cookbook a huge success in Europe.
“The more bread I baked, the better I got. The beginnings were vastly different than my products today: too flat and sour.”
Using just flour, water, and salt, she made a starter (which she still uses) and after her husband’s death continued baking.
If the directions in the book confuse or intimidate you, Sumer reassures the cook, “When baking bread, forget about the clock. Instead follow the dough with all your senses: touch it, smell it, observe how it changes.”
She named her sourdough starter “Rudl” and encourages all bakers to name their starter.
“Rudl has been with me from the very beginning and has become an indispensable part of my baking activities. Rudl excels at both bread and sweeter treats.”
Sumner takes the cook on a guided tour around the world to learn about the grains and flour before taking them into the kitchen to prepare the starter. The difference between grains and cereals and how flour becomes bread are discussed at length.
Then the real question: What is sourdough? The secret behind good cheese, beer, pickles, vanilla, or coffee is microorganisms and that is also what makes a tasty, tangy sourdough loaf. Flour is abiotic, but when it is mixed with water, it comes to life and begins to bubble and swell. This is the basis of sourdough bread and it has different names in different countries. In America it is “sourdough starter,” which corresponds with German “Sauerteig.” In France it is called “levain,” and the Spanish term is “Masa Madre” (mother dough). Whatever the name, it is always made with just flour and water.
The beauty of the sourdough loaf is that it has many health benefits from digestibility, reduced gluten content, lower glycemic index to softer crumb, and better use of nutrients and minerals. And most importantly, it tastes delicious.
The rest of the book contains Sumer’s knowledge and vast research into baking sourdough. The process of making the starter is simple, but figuring out when it is ready for baking takes some practice. Sumer has taken most of the guesswork out of baking. She provides detailed and step-by-step information on preparing the dough, kneading, pre-shaping, and finally baking. All the instructions are clear and concise with beautiful photographs. There are also detailed instructions on how to decorate the loaf.
A chapter titled Bread and Bread Products has everything from Bread in a Flash to Sourdough Pizza and Dark Beer Bread. There are more complicated flavor combinations such as Spelt Loaves with Caramelized Onions or Sourdough Pumpkin Bread.
Sumer also has a recipe for a sweet starter which can be used to make such treats as Danish Pastries, Vegan Banana Bread, Spelt Fruitcake, and Semolina Cheesecake.
But what about the discard? Or if there is too much starter? Sumer has this covered with recipes that use the discard to make Khorasan Biscuits, Sourdough Pancakes, and Wholegrain Crackers.
What if the starter is refusing to rise? Or what if it smells like acetone or paint thinner? These and many more questions are answered in the back of the book.
This book may be titled Sourdough Mania, but it is a true one-stop encyclopedia on sourdough baking, and cooks will find it a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.