Monday, June 30, 2008


My refrigerator is filled with defrosting meat; my kitchen sink holds a container of frozen sauce and a package of frozen pasta; but I'm obsessed with baking bread. I copied the recipe for "No Knead Bread" but don't have any bread flour. I also enjoy the kneading part, but figure I get to use my beloved Le Creuset Dutch oven for the recipe. But wait! During this morning's "blog walk" (I try to visit a dozen new ones a day), I saw the word sourdough starter and remembered the many "Friendship" loaves I've baked over the year. I Googled "sourdough starter" and the best hit was "Sourdough Baking: The Basics" by S. John Ross.

Most everyone has eaten sourdough bread, but you may not realize that sourdough bread is made without added yeast. Rather, it is made by creating a starter in which wild yeast grow. This is the way it was done in the years before you could pick up those little packets of yeast in the grocery store.

Making a starter takes about 1 minute. All you need is something to keep your starter in. This starter is a "live" thing which you will keep in your fridge and feed. It's a batter made of flour and water that becomes filled with living yeast and bacteria. Yummy, did you say? Well, yes, the bread it makes will be. The yeast and the bacteria form this symbiotic relationship; it's actually a thriving colony of micro-organisms. Did I hear science project? To make your bread, you blend some starter with some flour and you make dough. The yeast propogates and leavens your bread. Easy, peasy.

So, let's get that starter started:

STEP 1: get a wide-mouthed glass jar (or a small crock with a lid, or a Tupperware container, for heaven's sake)

STEP 2: blend 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour

STEP 3: pour your starter into the glass jar

You're done! I didn't say this was rocket science! Now, keep the starter in a warm place (70-80 degrees Farenheit). This will allow the yeast to grow rapidly.

STEP 4: every 24 hours, feed the starter. Do this by throwing away half of it and then adding another 1/2 cup of flour mixed with 1/2 cup of water.

Within 3 or 4 days (though it CAN take as long as a week), you should start seeing lots of bubbles throughout. There should be a pleasant sour or beer-like smell. Your starter may begin to puff up as well. When is it done? WHEN IT DEVELOPS A BUBBLY FROTH. When that happens, put it in the refrigerator with the lid on. Then, aside from a weekly feeding, you just have to keep the "hooch" off it. Hooch is that layer of watery liquid, sometimes dark, that contains alchohol. It builds up in your starter when it's in the fridge. Just pour it off if your starter is wet, or stir it back in if your starter looks dry. Just don't worry about it.

That's it for now. In a few days, I'll tell you how to proof the sponge and bake your bread.

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