Streams

Recipe: Sourdough Starter

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day One:

Mix together

  • 50g whole rye or wheat flour
  • 50g whole wheat flour
  • 100g cool water (either tap water that has been sitting for several hours or bottled water. Water straight from the tap can have a high chlorine content that will kill off the tiny number of organisms present in the flour.)

Total: 200g starter

It’s good to start with whole rye flour because it has higher trace levels of the desired microorganisms in it, but just whole wheat will also work fine.

Let sit for 48 hours at 60-65F. If you don’t have a suitable spot, you can leave it in the fridge for the first 12 hours and then put it in the coolest spot in the house. The window sill at night is great for this step. The important thing here is to prevent undesirable organisms from invading your starter. Once the colony is established it will be too acidic for anything but the yeast and bacteria you desire. Clean hands and tools are essential.

It will do NOTHING for the first 24 hours, but it should double in size by the end of 48. Seemingly, from nothing, you have begun something. Should smell slightly alcoholic, but not necessarily sour. If it gets fuzzy with mold, pitch it and start over; and wash your hands next time.

Day Three, etc:

Discard half (or build a second starter for a friend) and feed with:

  • 50g rye, whole wheat or white flour
  • 50g water around 75F

Total: 200g starter

Let sit for 24 hours at room temperature (75F).

It should double in size by the end of the 24 hours.

After a few days of regular feeding, it will begin to ripen more quickly. Once it reaches a point where it doubles in size in 8-12 hours, you can begin to think about baking with it, but your first loaves will be noticeably lacking in sourdough flavor. While you have built up a healthy colony of bread-raising yeasts, the bacterial colony that gives sourdough bread its distinctive flavor takes more time to develop. Now is a good time to work on patience, one of the most important characteristics of a good baker. With regular care and feeding the little guys will flourish.

You can skip all this nonsense if you know a baker who keeps a starter... just ask, they always have extra and you only need a little.

Ripeness: Your starter is ripe when it is bubbly and aromatic. There will be tiny soap-like bubbles. It will smell slightly alcoholic and taste noticeably sour. A pinch off the top will float in water. It should have some structure, like a thick batter. If it is watery and thin, with a layer of precipitated gluten on the bottom of the container, it is over fermented. Discard half and double the remainder before baking with it.

Care and Feeding: I keep my sourdough starter at 125% hydration (that is, for every 100g of flour there are 125g water). This recipe gives you a starter at 100% hydration. You don’t have to convert it, but I like it better at 125%. I think it’s easier to manage, because it’s too loose to double in size like a 100% leaven does. The balance of acids produced is also slightly different and to my palate more pleasant.

The starter shouldn't spend all its life in the fridge. It’s best not to refrigerate starter that’s super ripe, since the bacteria will continue to work even at refrigerator temperatures and will continue to acidify the culture. As the pH drops the culture will become less habitable for the yeast and bacteria. For periods up to 36 hours, it's not a big deal, but it is not suitable for long term storage.

It is also not good to refrigerate a starter that has just been fed. In this case, the yeast and bacteria make up an exceedingly small portion of the overall volume and the culture is not acidic enough at this point to prevent other, undesirable microorganisms such as mold from infecting your culture.

If you want to take a break from baking you can convert your starter into a stiff starter (60g of water for every 100g flour) and let it ferment for a few hours before refrigerating. The lower hydration will keep the fermentation in check and it should keep for up to 3 weeks in this state. It will need refreshing before you bake with it again, but your colony should survive.

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