Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter

 

Sourdough StarterA few months ago I started an experiment in bread baking. I had been using the basic bread ratio in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio cookbook. It gave consistent results, but it was never quite what I wanted from bread. The texture was a bit too dense, it was low on flavor and it didn’t have any of those nooks and crannies that an artisan loaf should have. No matter how I tweaked the rising times, baking times and oven temperatures I couldn’t get what I was looking for.

So I decided to strike out on my own and see what I could come up with using no recipes and a homemade sourdough starter. The first hurdle was getting the starter. I read quite a few articles saying that it was just mixing flour and water, feeding it every day, and in 3-5 days the starter should be ready to make bread. The first attempt resulted in a pile of paste after 5 days. A few weeks later I tried again, feeding every day and monitoring the temperature where it was sitting. After 3 or 4 days I saw a few bubbles and thought it was on the right track, but after a week it settled down and I assumed whatever had been living there briefly had died. So I went back to the Ruhlman ratio.

About 6 months ago I thought I’d give it one more try and did a little extra research. Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice suggests beginning the starter with a darker flour and pineapple juice. He mentions that a certain strain of yeast can produce carbon dioxide bubbles at the beginning, which gives the appearance of a successful starter, but once this strain dies out it will appear the starter is no longer active. This sounded like the problem I had with the previous attempt. The book’s timeframe for a successful starter was the same as others I’d read: 3-5 days. After 6 days it should be easily doubling in volume every day.

After mixing pineapple juice and whole wheat flour and feeding diligently every day, after 5 days I had: nothing. Not even a bubble. The pineapple juice is only used for the first 2 days, after that it’s a switch to regular flour and water. I even used bottled water on the chance that the chlorine in tap water might be interfering with the starter’s development. At this point I couldn’t think of much else to do differently so I just kept it going. Every morning I poured out half of the paste, added a new scoop of flour and an equal amount of water and stirred it all up. After 10 days of this, still nothing.

Sourdough Bubbles

But then, around the 15th day, bubbles started emerging. I added the rubber band in the photo to keep track of its expansion and kept discarding, feeding and watering every day. Eventually, after about 30 days and a full 5 pounds of flour, I got the expansion in the photo above. I have no idea why it took 4-5 times longer than any method I’d read about.

I’ve managed to keep the starter going for about 4 months now and haven’t used any commercial yeast in that time. The next step is taking the starter and using it to produce some consistent satisfying bread. My goal is to document various attempts and show successes as well as failures and see what works and why.

Sourdough Starter

Serves1
Prep time5 minutes
Meal type Bread
From book The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Ingredients

  • 100g Whole wheat flour
  • 100g Pineapple juice
  • 100g All-purpose flour
  • 100g filtered water

Note

This isn't much of a recipe, but in general, after the 3rd day, discard (or compost) half the starter and add equal amounts of flour and water to the remaining starter. Stir together, loosely cover and store in a warm location.

Directions

1.Combine whole wheat flour and pineapple juice. Stir, but in clean container and loosely cover for 24 hours.
2.Combine whole wheat flour and pineapple juice. Stir, but in clean container and loosely cover for 24 hours.
3.Repeat first step with only half the amount of each without discarding any starter.
4.Repeat first step with only half the amount of each without discarding any starter.
5.Add 100 grams each of all-purpose flour and filtered water. Stir, cover loosely and set aside.
6.Add 100 grams each of all-purpose flour and filtered water. Stir, cover loosely and set aside.
7.After 24 hours, discard half of starter, and refresh with 100 grams each all-purpose flour and filtered water. Stir, cover loosely, and set aside.
8.After 24 hours, discard half of starter, and refresh with 100 grams each all-purpose flour and filtered water. Stir, cover loosely, and set aside.
9.Repeat as needed until starter roughly doubles in volume.

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