So I thought for this post, I’d start with something that seems to be intimidating to a lot of people when it comes to food…bread.
Let me start by saying, it’s ok…you can do it…it’s all just a matter of technique and knowing what to look for.
I’m going to show you a couple different types of breads over some posts in the future. By the time we’re done, you’re going to be a crazy bread making machine…
Sourdough is considered by many to be the king of bread. The main thing that makes this dough so amazingly delicious, is the harsh zing you get from the sourdough starter. In this post, we’re going to look at that starter.
Now not all of us are lucky enough to have a starter that has been passed down from our great great grandparents. Thankfully, making your own real wild yeast starter is as easy as mixing ingredients and giving it some time…
I know, I know…why use wild yeast when you just go to the market and buy a packet of yeast. Well honestly it all comes down to the flavor and texture. The best flavors are the ones that you do the right way, and this is how you start.
Wild yeast is literally everywhere…in the air, in a bag of flour, even on the outside of grapes. The active yeast you buy in the store replaced the wild yeast because it’s easier to be mass produced by companies. It’s easier to store and use, and it makes our breads and doughs proof in a fraction of the time…but faster doesn’t always mean better…
Real wild yeast can be harder to maintain, in that it needs a host, your sourdough starter. It has to be maintained and monitored. It needs a cooler temperature, high acidic environment, and it works much slower to proof breads.
So why put yourself through all of this? Because real wild yeast is an absolutely amazing thing! There’s just no comparison in flavor depth and texture in what we can get from our breads and other baked goods when using wild yeast! The flavors are more complex and interesting to our palette and the texture is a much better chew.
now you may be asking yourself…What is a sourdough starter?
A starter is the way that we make the wild yeast a transferable, tangible product that we can use in active baking. Since yeast is already present in all flour, the easiest way to make a starter is by mixing flour and water and allowing it to rest for several days. It’s just that easy…to start…your starter…pun intended….
Remember, yeast is highly adaptive to its surroundings as it changes. If you get a starter from California, by the time you’ve fed it and grown it in say Maine, it will be a Maine starter that is completely different from the original one you obtained from California. Yeast is alive and takes on the characteristics of its environment. Since the air and water are different in Maine, it develops with those flavors taking part.
You’re going to want a container that’s twice as big as the amount you’re starting with for this as the starter is going to grow as we feed it. You can always move to a bigger container as you feed it and it grows. A digital gram scale is a must! The more precise you are, the longer lived your starter will be. you’ll need a mixer or spoon for mixing and either plastic wrap or a lid for the container you’re using. Make sure you take note of the weight of your empty container, this will be important later…
We’ll be using bread flour for this. It has a higher gluten content which leads to a stronger more elastic starter that in the end run gives you a chewier bread. I also always try to use King Arthur brand flour because it’s the most natural and the least processed. No I’m not being paid to say that…
As far as the water, when I’m making the starter and feeding the starter, I always use filtered water. If you live in the city, filtered water is a must due to the level of chemicals in the water to sterilize it. I live in the country and have well water that’s naturally filtered.
Making the starter takes the better part of a week and sometimes more. Each day you’re going to “Feed” the starter with equal amounts of flour and water. As the wild yeast becomes stronger, the starter will froth more and become more sour smelling. As long as you see bubbles and signs of yeast activity, continue to feed it regularly.
Day 1 Start The Starter:
114 g of bread flour
114 g of filtered water
Mix flour and water together until no clumps are left. It should look like a smooth batter almost the consistency of thick pancake batter. As we feed it and the yeast reacts with the bread flour creating more glutenous strands, it will thicken up.
Wrap or cover the container and place it in a room that maintains a temperature of about 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. In our house that’s actually our laundry room. Walk away and just let it sit for 24 hours.
Day 2 Feed Your Starter
Take a look at your starter…do you see a few small bubbles here and there? This is good!!! Those bubbles mean your yeast is coming to life and feeding on the natural sugars in the flour. Now it’s releasing…well…gas! That’s right, your yeast is farting and making itself at home! Yeast releases carbon dioxide which increases the acidity of your starter, also fending off bacteria. At this point your starter should smell fresh, sweet and yeasty almost like beer.
If no bubbles have started yet, don’t panic! Depending on a bunch of factors (average room temperature, elevation etc.) your yeast may be just a little slow to start.
Weigh your starter. Remember how i said the weight of the container would be important? Here’s why! When feeding your starter you want to take the weight of your starter minus the container, and divide that by 4. This will be the amount of both flour and water you’re going to be adding to your hungry starter! So if your total weight is 300 g of starter, you’re going to want to add 75 g each of water and flour.
Add the flour and the water to the starter and mix to combine. Adding the water first and breaking up the starter a little bit in the water makes your starter happy. It also makes it easy to incorporate the flour evenly.
Loosely cover the container with plastic wrap or place the lid over it, slightly ajar. Put it back in your consistent room temperature place again and let it sit for another 24 hours!
Day 3 Feed Your Starter…Again
Check that starter! By now there should be bubbles dotted all over the top of your starter. It should also be starting to smell slightly musty and sour. It should also be bigger than before as the yeast is releasing it’s gas to blow it up. If you stir the starter, it will still feel like thick pancake batter, but as you do, you should hear the air bubbles popping.
Weigh your starter the same way you did the last few days and add the necessary amounts of flour and water. Combine until it resembles thick pancake batter again. Loosely cover or lid and place in your starter spot again for another 24 hours.
Day 4 Feed Again
By now your starter should be looking very bubbly and should have almost doubled in size. When you stir it, it should feel looser than before and be almost honeycombed with bubbles. It will be starting to smell very sour and pungent, almost like vinegar!
I know it’s seeming like it’s taking forever, but that’s a good thing! Do your weighing and feeding for the day. Put your baby back in it’s spot again for another 24 hours.
Day 5 READY!!! (Maybe)
It’s been 5 days and by now your starter should be bulked up, very frothy, bubbly, sour and beautiful! If you stir it it should feel very loose and be completely webbed with bubbles. When you unwrap it, it should almost knock you off your feet with how pungent it is. IF it’s smelling ripe, then it’s ready to use in your favorite recipes!
If it’s not quite there yet, don’t worry. It may just be a little slow. If so, then continue feeding it like every other day so far until it gets to that wonderfully ripe stage.
Day 5 and After
Once your starter is ready to go and nice and “Ripe”, you’ll no longer need to bulk it up. From here on out, you can use, give away, or discard about half of the starter every time you feed it. Every time you feed it will be the same.
If you’re going to be using your starter in the next few days, leave it out on the counter. Continue to use or discard half and feed the remaining half. If it’s going to be longer than that, cover it tightly and keep it in the fridge. Being cold will help to retard the growth of the yeast. Whatever you do, do not forget to feed it once a week. When feeding, let it sit out overnight to allow the yeast to have a chance to feed a little more actively before you cool it down again.
If there’s more starter than you need, discard half as you usually would, and feed it with half of the normal amount you usually would until you’ve lowered it down to the amount that works best for your baking habits.
What if I can’t remember to tend to it?
Life happens. We all have things that make us need to leave home for a week or two at a time. Maybe you’re taking a vacation, or going on a business trip, or maybe you’re just not wanting to care for something every week for the rest of your life. If this is the case, then there are a couple options for you.
- Feed your starter double the amount of flour. This will make it very thick and dough like which will help to maintain the yeast over a longer period of time. If you do it this way, you will still need to feed it, but only once every few weeks. When you go to use it again, just be sure to add the proper amount of water to offset the amount of flour.
- If you just don’t have the ability to feed your starter even every few weeks, then there’s a way to get the yeast to basically hibernate. Just take your starter and smear it on a silpat and let it dry. Once you’ve let it dry, just store the flakes in an air-tight container. Doing it this way your starter should hold for months! To wake it up when it’s time to use it, just dissolve about a ¼ C of the flakes in 114 g of water. Once it’s all disolved, add another 114 g of flour…sound familiar? you need to feed your starter to wake it up. Just like me on a cold day…breakfast in bed? Why not?!
Next step, and post, will be baking your first loaf of real sourdough bread…Hungry? I know I am!
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