Making Sourdough Starter

still

My obsession with yeast continues.
Many of the bread or pizza dough recipes I’ve been trying call for sourdough starter – which is a bit of a misnomer, since (with the exception of “San Fransicso style” sourdough) it doesn’t really taste extremely sour. While many breads can be entirely leavened by a sourdough starter, I’ve been using somewhere in between 15-25% starter in combination with normal baking yeast. It adds amazing flavor, better, crunchier crust, and the bread actually stays fresh longer.

Sourdough starters can be made in countless different ways; they don’t require skill as much as they do patience. It’s pretty cool when you think about it: you’re mixing flour and water to create an atmosphere that lures in wild yeasts (either from the air or from something in your starting mixture). And then you’re just feeding it regularly. Like hungry little yeast babies. Here’s a recipe and a few results from my experiments.

One of the easiest and most foolproof ways to create a robust starter is to ensure that there are already wild yeasts present when you make your mixture. Whole or Rye wheat berries contain wild yeasts on their husks, which will be a “booster” of sorts for our starter. You can buy whole wheat berries in the bulk grain section of Whole Foods. Grind it up finely in a coffee grinder (you can easily clean a coffee grinder by running some rice through it for a minute or so to scrub off the coffee remnants).

The idea is that you feed the ground wheat a sugar boost (equal part fruit juice to wheat) for 3 days. This builds a solid yeast culture. From then on you give the starter a daily feeding of all-purpose white flour (non-bleached, of course). You don’t need a truckload of starter, so for each feeding of flower you’ll discard half of your starter (x) and add .5x flour and .5x water. Do that for a week and you’ll have a nice yeasty smelling sourdough starter!

I followed this recipe with pretty good results. After day 2 I had some serious bubbling going on:

bubbling

It then sat dormant for 2 days. I added a bit of apple cider vinegar to lower the pH. Yeast needs an acidic environment to grow, so this helps “wake up” the dormant yeast.

After day 5 I had a distinctive layer of lactobacilli on top of the starter. It also smelled like yeast and apricots – perhaps some wild strain of yeast from the air.

lactobacilli

One word of advice – this works so much better if you use a scale. Once you start adding the flour to feed the starter it really helps to add equal weight flour and water. I fed a starter I had been keeping in the fridge for almost 2 months with equal weight flour and water (as opposed to equal volumes) and it just took off like crazy!