This is my starter. She’s a messy girl, ain’t she?
Whatever, man. We both know you don’t read my blog because I kiss up with overly-stylized Country Happy Times Living glamor shots of my yeast culture.
Glamor shots of my yeast culture: something you never even knew you wanted.
So why make sourdough?
The best and most beautiful breads I’ve ever made started with a homegrown sourdough starter.
Not having to buy yeast.
Increased gluten tolerance/improved grain digestibility.
Enhanced nutrient availability.
Superior sexiness. So many reasons, really. So let’s have at it, shall we?
People can be annoyingly, EXASPERATINGLY stickler-ish about this. But really? Just use some fucking flour. White? Okay. Wheat? Great! Rye? Fantasticats!
The fastest way to start your starter is with a whole grain flour, because there are more live microorganisms on it. But like I said, use what feels good. Some people have multiple starters: one white, one wheat, one rye…etc. To me, this is a waste of space and more starter than I can realistically handle with a regular bread-baking schedule. If I’d like a half wheat bread, I’ll just keep that in mind when I’m measuring out flours for the bread recipe. If I want something that’s all or mostly wheat, same deal. And if I want rye bread, it’s not gonna snag my fishnets if I have to use a white or wheat or white-wheat starter and then use 100% rye flour in the recipe. That’s bread, misfits. Diversity, bitches. The staff of fucking life. It should adjust to MY needs, not the other way around.
The staff of fucking life!
Sorry, I just wanted to say that again. Anywhoo…
I like to use filtered water, because it’s devoid of chlorine and other stuff that can keep your yeast from reproducing as aggressively. Yeah, you heard me: yeast likes it ROUGH, and I’m not gonna stand in the way of the yeast’s getting some the way it wants to get some. So filtered. Bottled. Whatever.
But honestly? Your straight-up tap will probably work just fine.
Additives, or, Just Say No
Some people like to add things to the flour and water mix when they’re getting going. Things like whole, unwashed bunches of grapes and other such manner of fluff. They feel that this increases the amount and diversity of flora in the mix. Now you may be asking yourself, “Self, how does Bad Mama Genny feel about the use of grapes and other additives to start off a sourdough starter?” Well, you should just ask me, folks, just ask.
What’s that? You want to know how I feel about the use of grapes and other additives to start off a sourdough starter? Well, I’ll tell you!
The BMG is not impressed.
Does this increase the number and variety of organisms in the initial starter? Yes, indisputably yes. Well, isn’t more better? Not in my opinion. You want the organisms that naturally feed on grain. And when we drop a bunch of grapes into the mix, what kind of microorganisms are we introducing, hmmmm?
The kind that naturally feed on grapes.
Oh, but wait a minute, aren’t we making bread? Not grape jelly?
BINGO, MOTHERFUCKERS! We are making bread, NOT GRAPE JELLY!
Plus, the use of such additives is vaguely insulting to yeast. Yeah, I said it. If I were yeast, I’d be fucking insulted if someone dropped me a condescending bunch of grapes and was all, “oh, you look like you could use some help there, wussy yeast.” NO I DON’T, BITCHES! I mean…uh, no, the yeast doesn’t need that help. And it doesn’t NEED YOUR PITY, either. There are PLENTY of microorganisms in your air, TRUST me. Your flour and water will be FINE. I began my first starter in a New York City apartment building that was completely devoid of natural light, regularly sprayed for roaches (lovely), and infused with the vapors of my angst. And my starter was bubbly and active just one day in, people! If yeast can thrive in those conditions (THE ANGST, people, THE ANGST!)…
well, let’s just say, I feel pretty confident about your starter’s chances.
Doing It, Already
Day 1: Grab yourself a one-quart container with a lid (glass is ideal, plastic is okay, not a fan of metal). Now toss in 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup water. Mix vigorously, being sure to beat in plenty of air. Scrape down the sides as well as you can. Starter that stays on the side can dry up, die, or grow mold. Cover it with a kitchen towel or the lid just kinda balanced on top (not screwed on tight, and not sealed. This baby produces CO2). Then leave it in a room-temperature, draft-free place until tomorrow.
Day 2: The next day, take a look. You might see some bubbly activity–this is great! Dump out half the mixture and feed again, just like before. Cover loosely and let it sit undisturbed, just like before.
Day 3: Dump out half the mixture and feed again.
Day 4: Repeat.
Day 5: Repeat
And so on. After about a week, it should be ready to use–you’ll know because it will double in volume between feedings and smell strong and sour.
At this point, loosely cover that starter, move it to the refrigerator, and keep it there for maintenance.
If this happens earlier than a week, fantastic, go ahead and proceed to maintenance. But as a general rule, I don’t trust the microbial stability of sourdough starter until it’s at least five days old. At this point, it’s usually strong enough to maintain its pH and fight off mold and other undesirables.
At various points, you will probably see a dark liquid floating above your starter–this is just alcohol, a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation, separating out. Just stir it back in and carry on.
Maintaining your Starter
Your starter will live in the refrigerator, where yeast will reproduce slowly. Slowly, they’re not dead or suspended indefinitely all Walt Disney-style. Don’t forget about it or anything–ideally, you should take starter out to play once a week. But.
People can be such whiners about this. They’ll be all, “OMG if you don’t feed your starter every week the manatees will die and the stability of democracy will be compromised oh no oh no oh no!” Screw that, man. Ideally, once weekly. But I get it. Life happens. At times, I have neglected that starter in ways both humorous and appalling. It bounces back like you would not believe.
SO! Taking your starter out to play entails either:
*tossing half the starter and feeding it equal parts flour and water (you should be experiencing deja vu here) before putting it back in the fridge
*taking out half the starter to use in a recipe, feeding the rest equal parts flour and water, and putting it back in the fridge.
Using Your Starter
Most recipes calling for starter will want you to use “fresh” or “proofed” starter–this means starter that has been recently fed and puffed, NOT starter that’s been sitting in your fridge dormant for three weeks. So go ahead and feed the rest of the starter and put it back in the fridge, but then turn your attention back to what you just removed for the recipe. Feed it equal parts flour and water, cover it loosely, and let it sit and “proof” for at least 8 hours before you use it.
As your starter ages and develops, the flavor will only become more interesting and complex. Some bakeries in France claim to be using the same starter they developed in Napoleonic times. And you know? That doesn’t gross me out even a little. In fact, it gives me a serious ladyboner.
If Your Starter Grows Mold:
Here’s how to save it. Scrape off the moldy part and a few inches under it. Spoon out the starter as carefully as possible, avoiding knocking into any moldy areas, and put it into a new, clean container–you may not have much, but it doesn’t take much to start a new civilization. Now give it a good feeding. Flour, water, some vigorous stirring. Really beat in the air bubbles. Then lightly cover the poor, sick beast and leave it alone for a day. Feel familiar? Yup. I want you to follow the steps you followed when you began this whole thing. You’ll want to rehab your starter by feeding it once a day for a few days in a row. When the starter doubles itself easily between feedings, it’s back to its old self, and you can go back to maintenance.
Feel confident? Feel good? Feel ready to get tangy?
Stay tuned, for a basic, no-knead, overnight sourdough loaf recipe, and a Sugar ‘n Spice Sourdough Cookie recipe.
In the meantime, motivate your fine self with…
© 2011, Genevieve P. Charet. All rights reserved.