Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011: Sourdough Starter Recipe

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While winter is still upon us and the temps outside continue to be cold, there’s no better time to create sourdough starter.

I was lucky enough to get my starter from a friend who got it from a friend who had kept this particular formulation going for 50 years! So I didn’t have to create my own starter, but it’s not difficult to do and it’s incredibly cheap, requiring only flour and water - no yeast necessary. That's why "Cookie", in charge of the chuck wagon during an Old West roundup, used sourdough as the basis for his bread.

Sourdough starter is a living thing – somewhat like a refrigerator pet. So once you get it started, remember to occasionally give it some care and feeding.

The first thing you need is a clean container with a lid. I use a canning jar but you can also use any type of glass or ceramic jar. Some people use plastic containers but I don’t recommend it because it is very hard to get them, and keep them, sterile. Don’t use metal – and don’t use metal utensils to stir the starter when using it in a recipe.

The recipe is:
1 cup warm water
1 cup flour

Just mix these ingredients together in your jar. If you want to boost the growing process, you can add a bit of yeast (1 packet) to this mixture, but it won’t be a purist sourdough starter and won’t have the same distinctively sour taste in baked goods.

Place your jar in a warm place (70 to 80 degrees is ideal). Too hot and you’ll kill the yeast present in the flour; too cold and it will take much longer to get your starter growing.

During the growing process, you will need to feed your starter every 24 hours. Discard half of your mixture and add a half cup of water and a half cup of flour to your container. Do this until the mixture gets bubbly throughout (as in the photo on the left) and smells yeasty, about three days to one week. Then you’re done! Just make sure the lid is attached loosely and then place it in the refrigerator.

At this point, some people recommend feeding your starter weekly as described above but I’ve never done this and y starter has done just fine. It may be that after a certain period of time (several times or so) that feeding is no longer necessary. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know.

At any rate, every time you use the starter, you will need to replace what’s missing by adding in at least one fresh cup of water and one cup of flour then allow it to “proof” in a bowl overnight. When it’s frothy, you will take one or two cups of the starter to add to your recipe then add another half cup each of flour and water to what’s left and store it back in your refrigerator.

Often the sourdough starter will develop what is called “hooch”. This is a grayish liquid that forms on top of the starter. It’s completely harmless. You can choose to pour it off or stir it back into the mixture.

Once you’ve gotten your starter created, you can make some lovely, crusty bread or some incredibly tender pancakes. I’ll share those recipes with you soon!

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