Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sourdough Bread Starter

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but my family will rip each other apart for homemade bread. It's quite amazing.

We went to Disneyworld in January, and at dinner one night they gave us sourdough bread. This unlocked "the hunger" in my kids, who were too little to remember the sourdough I used to make when we lived in Boston. I think that I killed the starter at some point and never made any more.

Well, recently my neighbor brought us a loaf of sourdough, and since my kids knew what it was, it was eaten in about 15 minutes. It actually was eaten by my husband and son, and when my daughter found out that they'd inhaled the whole thing she mounted a sourdough pig protest that forced my husband to go to the store to get another loaf, he felt so bad about eating it all.

So I've decided to make some starter and get the sourdough train rolling again. I started by using the directions in The Bread Bible, which was a complete fail. It never increased in size, and it smelled naaaaasty. So I got out the Joy Of Cooking and used their quick method.

Day 1 dough ball
Step 1: Mix about 1/2 cup of flour (they specify bread flour) with 1/4 cup warmish water. Mix it well in a clean bowl, using a clean wooden spoon. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the wrap. Keep it at room temperature for about 12-15 hours.

(I will admit that I cheated and left the starter uncovered so that more yeast in the air could get into it. This can make a skin form on the top, so you have to stir it up occasionally to keep that from happening.)

Day 3 starter
Steps 2,3,4,5 etc: Every 12 hours, add 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water  to the bowl and mix it in. Cover it loosely with the plastic, or leave it uncovered and stir it to prevent the skin from forming.

Do this for a couple of days, and the starter should be bubbling and active. If it isn't, and it refuses to sour, keep doing it for another coupe of days.
After a couple of days my starter had started smelling like sourdough, so I knew that it was going somewhere, but I still hadn't seen it bubble and puff up. I figured that it might not raise the bread enough on its own, so I looked online for recipes that included starter and yeast.

I found one on the King Arthur Flour website, and since you can't find more reliable bread info than that site, I used it. The only thing that I did differently was to ignore the directions for spraying water on the dough before baking, since I don't like really crusty bread. Even without doing that it ended up with a pale, but fairly chewy crust.

My daughter ate some and said "oh my gosh, this bread is so good..." so it got the thumbs-up from her. It had a mild tang to it, and even though I prefer a stronger sourdough flavor it was still good. I think that when the starter matures it will get a stronger flavor.

I stored the starter in the fridge, so I'll be feeding it about every three days to keep it alive. To feed it you just remove some and replace it with the same amount of flour and about half as much water. If at any point the starter turns pink, green, or starts to smell "off," throw it out and start over.

Bring it to room temp before using it, and I've read that it works best to mix the bread dough a couple of hours after feeding the starter, when the yeast would be most active. With the recipe that I used, the extra yeast will assist the starter in leavening the bread so I don't think that's so critical.

If any of my neighbors want some starter let me know!


 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

1 comment:

Eva Farragher said...

I began a starter back in 2007 that is still going strong! My husband now has 'ownership' of the sourdough bread production, and makes a batch of sourdough dinner rolls every weekend. We freeze them and have them every night with dinner :-) it's the most amazing stuff...all you need is water and flour.I recently bought some spelt and we've been making spelt/ rye rolls which are very scrummy!

Good luck with keeping your levain going...yes, the sourness improves with time :-)