Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sourdough Starter

I pride myself on being able to feed my family in as many ways as possible, so when I am introduced to a new concept I almost always give it a try. Such was the case with Sourdough Bread. I knew what sourdough looked like and even tasted like but I did not know the ins and outs of making sourdough. Needless to say this has been yet another adventure; more like a long, drawn out science experiment really.

To make sourdough bread you have to have a sourdough starter. If you check the Internet you will find a dozen ways to make the starter but for the most part it is either warm water or milk and a whole grain flour like whole wheat or rye. Most people agree that organic flour is better than non-organic. You mix these ingredients in equal parts in a large mouth glass bowl using a wooden spoon and you let it sit uncovered for half and hour to four hours. After that you cover it with cheese cloth and put it someplace warm, 22º-27º C, and let the science experiment commence.

Ideally, within a few hours you should see some serious bubbling going on and a layer of liquid forming. This liquid is alcohol and is the by product of bacteria and wild yeast spores found in the air and in whole grain flour. The bubbling is caused by carbon dioxide which is also a waste product of the yeast and bacteria and is also what causes sourdough bread to rise. Once you get a good bubbling action you allow the starter to work for several days in this warm environment, stirring the liquid back in each day, until you get a very strong beer smell.

Once the beer smell arrives you have successfully made sourdough starter, but now you have to feed it. Like any good experiment it has to be kept fed on a regular schedule and needs to sleep in the perfect environment to allow it to continue to grow without starving itself to death. So, on the fourth day of the experiment you take one cup of this liquid goop and pour it into a clean glass jar and add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. Let it sit uncovered for about an hour until it starts bubbling again, then cover it and refrigerate. You can either throw out the rest of the starter or use it to make pancake batter. Every time you remove starter from the jar you have to replace it with equal parts water and flour. If you don't use it regularly, you have to throw part of it out and replace it with equal parts at least once a week.

Now, as I said in paragraph two, the operative word is ideally when making starter. In reality it is a little more hit and miss than that. I tried for over two weeks to get a starter going using every combination of ingredients I could come up with. The first day would go great but by the end of the day the starter would just be a big goop in the bottom of my bowl, flat and boring. Out of sheer desperation and frustration, I added three pinches of regular yeast to my starter, stirred and hoped for the best. I had already decided after four false starts that if this one didn't work, I was quitting because I was tired of wasting perfectly good and very expensive organic whole wheat and rye flour.

Low and behold, adding that small amount of yeast worked. I now have a perfectly happy and thriving sourdough starter, a lot of it. I can't bring myself to throw half of it away now that I have the silly thing growing. So I have three jars of starter sitting in my refrigerator, and trying hard to get all but a single cup of it used up before I have to feed it again. Because, like the Blob from the old Sci-Fi movie, every time it eats it doubles in size. Soon, I'll be swimming in starter.

Tuesday I made Sourdough Biscuits that turned out more like dinner rolls. Today I am making two loaves of sourdough risen bread. Tomorrow, I will make sourdough waffles for breakfast and maybe some more biscuits for supper. After that I plan on trying muffins, cinnamon rolls, and pizza shells. If I can get all these things made this week I'll be all right and won't get swallowed by the "Thing in My Frige".

1 comment:

PeterC said...

Mmmmm, science is YUMMY

Also, I edited a little, looked like your keyboard was dropping e's.