It is time to get your yeast on in the best way possible!
Wild fermentation is where it’s at and when you think about it, it is where it has always been. People have been either accidentally or purposely leaving things out to “go bad” for ages and the results are not only tasty but phenomenally good for you. One of the easiest and least intimidating ways to get started is to make your own sourdough starter at home today.
What is sourdough?
If you have been living under a rock or in a town without a bakery for the past few years then it is possible that you have never heard of sourdough. It turns out that many of the people who work with my Husband had heard of it but were not really sure what he bread actually was. Do they add vinegar or sour cream to make it sour? Is it baked differently? How does it get such a thick and sinfully chewy crust? Valid questions.
Sourdough is started not with the little packet of dried yeast that you might be used to but instead with a starter (we are getting to that) The starter is alive and contains lactobacillus which is living in a symbiotic little community with yeasts. As you feed them and take care of them, the lactobacillus produce lactic acid which has a sour taste. The result is a sour dough (see where this is going). Living happily amount the lactobacillus are yeasts which aid in the evening of the bread but also give it that unmistakably beautiful yeasty bread smell that you associate with early morning bread making. Once your stater gets going, there is nothing better than sticking your nose in and getting a good sniff other than perhaps attacking the hot and fresh loaf fresh from the over with a stick of butter. But I am off track… Lactobacillus and time, these are the starting blocks of a good sourdough.
So the biology is sorted, how do I get started? Good question. Like most quality kitchen experiments, you are going to need to round up a mason jar. The starter begins here:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup water
Add you one cup of whole wheat flour and your water to your jar and mix it together. Top the jar with a breathable lid (piece of cheesecloth, fabric, anything that will keep critters out and let air and airborne yeast in). Now you wait. I leave my starter for 2 days before I start to feed it. After 2 days, nothing much will have happened but you need to be patient. Add 1/2 cup of plain flour (notice that I only really started with wholewheat to get it going and am now using plain all purpose) and 1/2 cup of water and leave it again. You are going to continue on like this for a week or so feeding it every day with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water until it starts to change. At first, there might be a little bit of bubbling, then you might see the water separate out. This is a good thing. Keep feeding it! if you run out of room in your jar you can discard half of the mixture then keep feeding it.
Tip – Don’ just throw the starter down the drain as you run out of room, Use the discarded starter for pancakes or bagels or anything that I might be baking. You might need to add a little more yeast if your starter was in an early stage to get the bread going and that is perfectly fine.
After about a week, it will begin to really swell up over night and the bubbling will be more and more dramatic. Your best indication of whether or not it is coming along is your nose. It should smell more and more sour but still yeasty and good. At this point, you might start to feed it every day (when you remember). At week 2 if you like the smell and you have a good amount to get going with, then you can try out your first loaf. I am not going to write out a recipe for the loaf but the internet is packed with sourdough loaf recipes. The key is to have a great starter.
Tip- Transfer the starter to a new glass jar every few days as the old one gets crusty around the sides.
The sourdough starter becomes more of a pet than anything else. I have to remember to feed it every day or so and keep it out of the sun but at least once a week, I am rewarded with fresh sourdough. It might seem like a lot of work but it is well worth it when you dog into the steaming fresh bread. This is not for the gluten free!
Tip- Going away? Feed the starter and then pop it into the fridge. It will keep in there for a couple of weeks. I give mine to my dad and make him feed it but not everyone is quite so understanding.
Grab some flour and a jar and give it a try. The worst case scenario is that you forget to feed it for a while and it goes mouldy. You have a little cry and rinse it down the drain. You can always start over.