Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sourdough Starter, Day 1

Guess Kea and I are both back in grad school and have bread on the brain!

Last spring I started a new masters program in Public Health that took up all my non-work time, thus the lack of postings on this blog. Having taken the summer off from school, I've been happily filling all my free time with seeing friends that I ignored, picking up knitting projects I'd set down, and using cooking equipment that had been gathering dust.

One of my goals for this summer is to create a nice, healthy starter so that I can take that next step into breadmaking and tackle sourdoughs again. A few years ago I tried making a sourdough starter by following instructions from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. The starter went through all the textbook phases and was fine, but I was never happy with the bread that I made with it. Looking back, I was still too new to breadmaking, terrified of making any small mistake, and probably set my expectations too high (for myself and my bread). That, plus I couldn't bear throwing away all that starter every time I wanted to refresh it. This time, I am using instructions from Maggie Glezer's "A Blessing of Bread." Her starter instructions are the only ones I have come across that starts off by saying that she uses the minimal quantity of flour and water to reduce waste. Ahh...girl after my own heart! She also reassures her readers that organic flour, distilled water, and (after the starter is established) weekly feedings are all unnecessary, thus taking a lot of the expense and pressure out of the endeavor. What's not to like?

Unlike Kea, I can't complain of the same difficulty in finding good bread. Here in DC we have our fair share of respectable bakeries, but there is an undeniable gratification about making your own bread, and especially one from your very own starter. So for the next few weeks I will be documenting the process of my starter on this blog and hopefully inspire my fellow Bees to try their hand at one of their own, too. Wish me luck!


Kea said...

Hi Lana!
So you're back in school? Hope that's going well. How did your sourdough turn out? I still remember the first time I encountered sourdough bread. I was 16, on a trip to the US. I thought that the bread was sour because it had gone bad!

JW said...

My favorite book on sourdough is 'Breads From the LaBrea Bakery,' by Nancy Silverton.

She takes a very scientific approach to things, to help clarify what's going on in the bread, but it's clear that she still has the perspective on the topic of someone who has had their hands stuck in the dough for a while. It's very readable. And the bread is amazing.

One basic thing to remember: well fed sourdough isn't sour and punky. The starter is a balance between yeast and bacteria. Yeast makes more yeast, and alcohol. Bacteria feeds on dead yeast, and alcohol. If you haven't fed it well enough, the yeast starves, and the bacteria thrives. Then you get bread that tastes like rotten feet.

My starter was always a lot more liquid than what you're displaying in the picture... and it gave me a much clearer idea of what was going on. When the water was separating out on top, I knew the yeast was unhappy, and the bread would be way too punky. Thus, it was time to pour some off, and feed. (50/50 flour and water)

Another tip to pass on... yeast likes to produce Carbon dioxide. Instead of a glass canister, I used an acrylic one, and drilled a hole in the top to use a home-brewer's airlock, to allow the excess pressure to bleed off, while keeping the good stuff in the starter mostly isolated from day to day mold spores, and things like that.

Good luck!

prolix said...

That is so adorable!!! What a great idea!!

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