Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Project Sourdough: Making a Starter

Sourdough. Human beings have been making it for millennia. How hard can it be, right? Famous last words? Picked up a tiny, expensive but exquisite loaf of quinoa sourdough from Gail's this morning, and thought, enough is enough. I gotta learn how to make this.

First and foremost, I need a starter. What is a starter? It's a live culture of yeasts that you maintain, feed and otherwise fret over and it would replace the quick (dried) yeast that I currently use in my bread baking. We typically bake bread twice a week, and while I love the convenience of quick yeast, sourdough is just better bread, and supposedly it's easier to digest. Having consulted t'internet on the matter many times, I understand you can make your own starter by cultivating wild yeasts in your very own kitchen. Sounds awesome. This recipe from the Guardian website looked simple enough, so it's what I'm using.
So into my jar went 200g of organic rye flour, and the equivalent weight of water. Looks a bit like cement.

Then using the state of the art equipment of a tea towel and rubber band, I'm to leave it for a few days. I have actually done this before (but I accidentally killed it by neglect before I could bake with it), and what happens is that it bubbles, starts to smell a bit like beer, and can develop a little pool of liquid on top. These are good signs. Whenever I meet a bread baker, I'm full of questions, so this is the advice I've received that I will be looking out for:

Not all yeasts are created equal. Some starters are simply tastier than others. Apparently the aroma is difficult to classify, but it shouldn't smell BAD. Fermented, beery, overripe, clean, sour, complex - but not like garbage.

If you haven't been able to 'catch' any yeast, you have to throw it out and start over. Bummer.

If you have to start over, you can add a little yogurt or rhubarb to help. I believe this has to do with the beneficial bacteria. It's actually a combination of yeast and bacteria that you want to cultivate.

If all else fails, borrow some. When you feed your starter with fresh flour and water, you might have to get rid of some, so there's always the possibility of some excess starter going begging if you are lucky enough to know a proper bread baker. I know a neighbour who is quite a serious baker, and rest assured I will hit her up if I can't get mine going after a couple of tries.

I will update with our progress! Think yeasty thoughts! Actually, don't. That sounds gross.

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