Sourdough Starter - The Gingered Whisk

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sourdough Starter

Do you have a sourdough starter yet?

Sourdough is a form of leaving that consists of a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and yeast in a mixture of flour and water. It likely originated in Ancient Egypt (around 1500 BC) and was likely the first form of leavening available to bakers. Even after yeast was cultered and used for baking, sourdough continued to be popular, and played a huge part of the culture of the California and Alaska Gold Rushes. Starters can be kept alive for years, and were often passed down through families. The older they are, the more personality it will get – becoming more unique and tangy, and bread made from different starters will taste differently because of this.

A friend gave me a bit of her sourdough starter a few weeks back, and I have really fallen in love with it! The scientist in me loves the process of each week weighing and feeding it (its not complicated at all, but it makes me feel like I’m in a lab again), and I really like finding unexpected ways to use it. Sourdough starter isn't for bread alone. There are tons of awesome things you can do with it, and I'll be showing you lots! 

Trying to look around online about how to feed and maintain your starter will make your head swim. There are, literally, 3 billion ways to do it. And everyone’s way is “THE BEST!” It is completely overwhelming – do you keep it in the fridge or on the counter?  How do you feed it? 50% Hydration, 100% hydration, 87% hydration? It is ridiculous. When my friend Grace gave the starter to me she told me to just google it, but I eventually had to call her begging for her help, because Whoa, it’s crazy out there.

Because I haven't made my own starter, I can't really tell you how to do it. Well, I could, but that would be cheating. I suggest you start asking around and see if anyone you know has some. Or, head over to The Fresh Loaf and check out the procedure for making your own starter. 

Maintain your Starter: 
I settled on what I think is the easiest method to maintain my starter. I keep my starter in the fridge, covered. 
Once a week (on Saturday, it just so happens), I take my starter out of the fridge at let it sit on the counter for a bit to warm up.
Then I get out my scale and weigh it, and the put it back in its bowl. Lets pretend the starter weighs 200 grams.
I get a bowl out and into I measure 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water.
Mix this up and add it to your starter, mixing it well. This is called a 100% hydration because you are essentially doubling your starter.
Loosely cover your starter back up and let it sit for a few hours on the counter.
Then I remove a cup or two (either bake something with this or give it to a friend), cover your starter back up and place it in the fridge again.
Now you are done for the week!

If you would like to bake with your sourdough starter more often, you may leave your starter on your counter, loosely covered. Make sure to feed it every 12-24 hours.

If you want to bake with your refrigerated starter mid-week, simply pull out 1/2 cup to 1 cup of your starter a few hours before you plan to bake with it. Loosely cover it and let it "wake up" on your counter. As it sits, it will rise a bit (ok, it will probably double, at least that is what mine tends to do), so make sure you place it in a container that is big enough or you will have starter oozing across your counter. 

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