Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sourdough Starter

I have known about this for awhile, but have not had the opportunity to get started until today. In an effort to wean my husband and myself off of white bread loaves from the store, I am going to try to make more homemade bread this spring and summer. And it all begins with sourdough starter, or wild yeast cultivation, which is what our ancestors used to bake leavened bread for thousands of years before the invention of commercial grade yeast in little foil packages. (And btw, is quite expensive these days.)

So today I have begun the cultivation of my wild yeast. I'm sure Alex is much less thrilled about it than I am. He tends to see my little attempts at pioneer living 'cute' at best and a giant mess and many tears when I fail at worst. But if this turns out well, than we will be eating potato soup and clam chowder out of bread bowls and serving bistro sammiches on thick slices by summer.

Starting The Starter

1 Get a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of liquid, so a quart sized Mason jar will work well. (I have an abundance of them.) Do not use a metal container - it will contaminate the starter.

2. Different types of flours make different types of breads, but I recommend starting with white flour. Apparently whole wheat and rye starters have a tendency to rot before the beneficial culture of lactobacillus and wild yeast have had a chance to develop their symbiotic relationship.

3. Mix one cup of white flour with one cup of lukewarm water in the glass or ceramic container and stir until smooth. Put it in a warm place. Mine happens to be sitting on the furnace right above the heating pipe right now. (Ideally 70-80 degrees.) You can also put it on the stove if you have a pilot light to keep it warm. In the summer, I will probably keep it in the garage, in a box on the floor.

4. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of flour and a half cup of lukewarm water back in to feed what remains. The biggest mistake most people make and probably the most common cause of failure is neglecting to feed it every single day. Unfed starters will begin to mold very quickly and in any case will not creat a successful loaf. You MUST feed your starter EVERY SINGLE DAY without fail. I can't stress it enough.

5. The cultivation should start to get bubbly after a few days. A layer of liquid, sometimes called 'hooch' (LOL) will form on top. Don't be concerned, this is natural. Stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

6 After two weeks have passed, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that you can bake bread with. About a week after that, instead of throwing away that cup of starter in the morning, use it to make a practice dough. The starter gets stronger as it ages, but give it a try! Try it in sourdough pancakes if you're particularly brave and have an agreeable household! (I do not.....yet.)

7. After the wild yeast has cultivated, if you aren't going to bake every day, put the starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it two or three days of feeding before baking with it.

I will update you on the progress of this little experiment in a few days! I do not expect our house to become a bakery, but I do expect to be able to bake bread once a week.

UPDATE!!!! - The sourdough starter is doing exactly what the instructions said it would do! It is getting bubbly on top and the hooch started getting nice and thick on top today after I mixed the new stuff in. :) Alex said "It takes two weeks?? That better be the damn best bread I've ever eaten for how long I have to wait!"

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