Sourdough starter status

A few of you mentioned that you would take me up on my offer to send you some starter. Finally, after weeks of travelling, xmas activities, and general post-holiday catching up, I’m back to my routine and my starter is in a good enough state to be given away.

I’ve got some drying right now and I’ll email those of you who commented before to get your addresses. Oh, and if you’re in the Ottawa area, I would be more than happy to share the love.

As for working with the dried starter, there are no guarantees, but it’s worth a try! I would love to know how it works out though.

Okay, I’ll be in touch.

Sourdough starter care

Since I started my no-knead sourdough bread, I haven’t been relying on my starter as much. Instead I’ve been using a cup and a half of leftover dough to start the next batch, which is as it should be. By taking my starter out of the baking equation, I now have a chance to give my starter some of the TLC that it deserves.

I told my daughter today that she does have a sister, since my starter is my other baby. I don’t think she quite got it.

Anyway, I’ve been a bit neglectful of my starter lately, leaving her out all the time, feeding her irregularly, not measuring quantities, and she’s been showing it with sluggish behaviour, early hooch, etc. So I’m back on a proper diet and schedule and she’s already showing signs of improvement.

I got my starter care advice from the rec.food.sourdough “Starter Doctor“. Their version they call the “one tablespoon method” but I use the following quantities:

1 oz starter

1 oz water

1 oz flour

I mix together these three ingredients and leave the starter out for 24 hours at room temperature.

Then I put it in the fridge for minimum 12 hours.

Then I do it again, taking 1 oz from the mixture in the fridge, and adding 1 oz each of starter, water and flour. Leave out for 24 hours, refrigerate for 12 hours, then start again.

Keep this up until your starter is vibrant. The link at rec.food.sourdough has a good rubric for figuring out the health of your starter. Once it is vibrant, or as they call it, “fresh”, you can start baking bread with it.

Another thing you can do to help it along is to feed it with rye flour. For some reason the rye makes it really go crazy, like mine did yesterday.

Good luck with your starters!

The miracle of life–a sourdough starter

I started my new starter three days ago, according to Peter Reinhart’s new “Artisan Breads Every Day”:

Day 1: combine 1 oz flour with 2 oz pineapple juice. Stir together and leave at room temperature for 2 days, stirring three times per day.

Day 3: add 1 oz flour and 1 oz pineapple juice to the Day 1 mixture. Stir together, and leave at room temperature until it becomes frothy and bubbly, stirring three times per day.

The idea is that the pineapple juice prevents the bacteria leuconostoc from taking over, and the stirring  prevents the mixture from getting moldy. The next step is adding 2 oz flour and 1 oz water, leaving for 1-2 days and stirring intermittently. Then adding 3 oz flour and 1 oz water to 4 oz of the previous culture, at which point you let it ferment and then it is ready to become your Mother Starter.

So today is day 4 and I am delighted to report that my goop is starting to bubble! It is delightful to be bringing a new starter to life. It holds the promise of amazing tasting bread to feed my family. The promise of not having to go out and buy bread because I’ve just baked up a couple loaves. Just the smell of sour yeasty goodness makes me verklempt. (Really. I get choked up very easily).

Now, if only I had thought of doing this at the beginning of winter instead of the beginning of summer!

Stepping back into Sourdough

I’ve lost my sourdough starter. By which I mean, it got so polluted and gross that it wasn’t working at all any more. So I’m starting my starter over. Again.

I actually gave it a try not long ago, and found my starter infected with leuconostoc, which imitates a true starter by getting bubbly and smelling sour, but it is actually bacteria, not yeast, which is bubbling. It gets very sour right off the bat, and doesn’t have that yummy beery/yeasty smell that makes bread taste like bread.

Peter Reinhart says to make the starter with pineapple juice, so that is what I am going to do. I’ll start it tonight and will report back soon. Once my starter is established, I’m going to follow the methods described in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, which incorporates the no-knead approach with sourdough techniques, exactly what I set out to investigate last summer. Fortunately, Peter Reinhart, with his big team of testers, has taken the challenge instead!

I’ll let you know what happens . . .

Sourdough Starter

I have never had much luck in starting my own starter, although there are many books and websites that practically guarantee success.  I was lucky enough to have been given some starter years ago that a co-worker of my mom’s brought back to Sudbury from a bakery in Ottawa.  I was living in Montreal at the time, so it was quite the journey for this little lump of single-celled organisms!

I did take a sourdough course in Toronto several years ago, and most students in the class were able to get a starter going, so I have faith that it can be done.  I will do my best to summarize the guidance on starting a starter, and then tell you how I keep my starter going.  Then I will list some resources that I have relied on over the years when I get stuck.

What Is a Starter?

A starter, also called “barm” or a “mother”, is the mixture of flour and water and yeast and bacteria that you keep around to use to start your breads.  Most starters are wet, with a 50-50 mix of flour and water; however, some people prefer to keep a “firm” starter that is more like bread dough.

I keep mine wet using a 50-50 mix of organic bread flour and tap water.

How to “Catch” Some Yeast

If you do a Google search, you will find lots of “recipes” for starting a starter from scratch.  You will see additions ranging from honey, milk or grapes, to commercial yeast.  I don’t think you need any of these.  The yeast and bacteria you want live either in the air around you, or in the flour you buy (depending on what you read), so these additions are unnecessary and may lead to some pretty gross concoctions after leaving them sit on your counter all day.  Also, sourdough yeast is a different animal than the commercial yeast you buy, so that won’t work–I promise.

Most instructions for catching a culture instruct you to leave a large bowl out on the counter with a mix of flour and water, with strict timing for refrigerating the mix, dumping out half or more, and adding more flour.

Here is a summary of the instructions from the rec.food.sourdough “Starter Doctor“:

– mix 2 cups of flour with 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water in a clear glass bowl (you will be inspecting for bubbles, which are easiest to see through the sides/bottom of a bowl, but it won’t affect the process if you use an opaque bowl)

– stir vigorously and fan some air across the mixture, then let sit for 24 hours in a warm place (80 – 85 degrees F).  Fan, mix, then fan again after 24 hours, and let sit again for another 24 hours.

– once 48 hours has passed (since the beginning), remove 1 cup of starter and add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir it in vigorously and then continue as above.

– you will continue this 48-hour cycle until it is clear that bubbles are forming in your mixture.  This may take anywhere between 3 and 8 days.

– once bubbles start appearing, pat yourself on the back–you have caught a starter!  Now you will treat your mixture like “new starter” and follow the instructions below.

Taking Care of, or Reviving Your Starter

New starters can be very unpredictable, and will take anywhere from 1 week to 4 weeks to become hardy and abuse-resistant.  Make sure to take good care of them during this stage.

Most recipes call for cups and cups of flour and water, most of which gets thrown out, for no good purpose at all.  I keep a very small amount of starter, around 3 oz max, unless I am baking with it and then I will increase it to what I need for my recipe, plus 1 oz to work from next time.  However, I can also work with less.

I have also revived my good ole starter many many times.  Usually what happens is that I take a break from baking and my starter sits in the fridge, sometimes for months, slowly drying out into a hard puck in the bottom of a drinking glass.

But I can always get it back by following these steps, adapted for smaller volumes, from “The One Tablespoon Method” in the Starter Doctor document:

– use 1 tablespoon, or even 1 teaspoon, of your “dead” or “barely living” starter.  This refers to either new starter that HAS shown some life (bubbles) previously, or old starter that used to work but seems dead at present.

– in a drinking glass, add starter, 1 oz flour and 1 oz lukewarm water, and let sit, or “proof” for 24 hours in a 72 – 77 degree F environment.  Then check for bubbles.  If the starter looks “healthy” (see the Starter Doctor for these definitions), you’re good to go–time to make some bread!

– if your starter is still “dead” or “barely living”, refrigerate for at least 12 hours and then follow the above procedure again & again until the starter is “healthy”.  This WILL work–it just takes some time.  You can also try different flours to see if you get different behaviours.

Sourdough Links

There are lots of resources here, from the rec.food.sourdough newsgroup.  The newsgroup is hilarious to read but they can be very mean to “Newbies”.  Lurk awhile and you will pick up more info about Sourdough than you ever needed to know.

Also try baking911.com for all sorts of amazing baking tips.  Here is their Sourdough section.

Good Luck!

Now go and make some bread.  And remember, if you’re not quite confident that your sourdough will really rise, you can always add 1-2 tsp of yeast to the mix and follow conventional rising times (1 1/2 to 2 hours first rise, then form into loaves and let rise 60 to 90 minutes before baking).  It won’t leave enough time to fully develop the sourdough characteristics (full flavour, sourness, chewy texture), but it can be a way to ease yourself into the Sourdough frame of mind.  Good luck!