Homemade Breads and Buns
About Sourdough Starters
Hundreds of years ago . . .
... back in the olden days... before I was born and even before you were born... there was no packaged yeast; baking breads and goodies was still work --- people used Sourdough Starter to keep yeast alive and ready for use.
Live culture was kept in a flour / water medium and was "fed" daily or weekly to keep the yeast "alive" and active.
Understanding How Sourdough Starter Works:
To understand how sourdough starter works, let's make some! You'll need:
- A pottery crock or bowl (plastic container or glass jar) with a loose-fitting lid
- A clean cloth
- A Wooden Spoon
- Water and Flour without preservatives
- Do Not Use Metal Containers or Bowls!
To start your culture, add 2 cups of flour to 2 cups of warm water (I use potato water) and mix well.
Cover with a clean cloth (tea towels work great) and let it sit on the warmest part of your kitchen counter.
The warmth helps activate the "yeast". Did you know that there is yeast floating around in the air all the time? Some of this yeast will permeate your flour and water and start the mixture growing and dividing.
Let this mixture rest for a day (24 hours).
Pour off about 1 cup and "feed" it with another cup of water and another cup of flour.
Mix well. (Three cups total mixture.)
Within a few days your mixture will become frothy as the yeast grows.
The yeast generates carbon dioxide which creates the "froth".
Your starter will have an acrid sour smell. This is caused by the bacteria lactobacilli that is now present in your starter. The alcohol that the yeast creates combined with the lactic acid combine together to give your baking that unique sour dough flavor.
Why doesn't the starter mould or become infested with a lot of harmful bacteria?
The starch in flour, unlike sugar or apple juice, contains something that most bacteria cannot easily handle. Yeast creates special enzymes that deal with starch, while foods like sugar and apple juice do not. The yeast and lactobacilli also "poison" the culture with the alcohol and lactic acid they produce which keeps other bacteria out.
Leave the starter on the kitchen counter for 5 days. It will begin to smell very potent as it ferments, not at all very appetizing.
Every day or two, repeat the above directions by taking 1/2 cup of the mixture and feeding it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. You can throw out the rest if you like, or if you have a lot of baking to do, use the other half of your mixture and "feed" it in the same manner.
Always mix it well. When you notice a watery substance on top, stir it. Bakers call this substance "hooch".
Keep your starter covered.
By the end of the week, your starter will have a yellowish color and will be of the consistancy of pancake batter.
Now you have two options. You can refrigerate it to slow down the yeast process, covering it with a loose fitting lid and feeding it only once every 5 or 6 days, or continue to store it on the counter, "feeding" it every day.
(I usually keep it out longer, up to two weeks, before refrigerating.)
Every time you use your starter for baking, replace the amount you used with equal amounts of water and flour.
There are other ways of beginning your starter:
- Use the method above, only add a package of yeast as well.
- One cup is given to you by a friend. When you receive a cup of starter from a friend, add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water to it right away.
Starter can last for years if handled properly.
- Or, you can purchase a sour dough starter mix from your grocery store.
Some starter recipes use milk or sugar or honey. This speeds up the fermenting process. My own personal experiences of using milk have not been good - my starter always "soured" eventually and became mouldy.
Some call for the use of potato water, which is my personal choice.
When you bake bread, add a cup of this live culture to the dough to provide the yeast needed to leaven the bread.
Always replenish the pot by adding back an equal amount of flour and water. Regular feeding and mixing keeps the culture alive.
Personal Note: Don't give up if your starter fails! Learn from it. Try adding some sugar or yeast to the starter. I've discovered that water plays a big role in the success of sour dough.
When I lived in the country, my sour dough worked very well, but when we lived in the city, it didn't matter what I tried, it would always fail. The only change in the recipe was water. Our water was straight from the ground in the country - no chemicals or treatment. So, if you don't live in the country with your own water system, try boiling the water for about 5 minutes then cooling it before adding it to your starter. If that doesn't work, try bottled Spring Water or Distilled.
Softer water works best, so if you are in the country and have very hard water your results could vary greatly.
I prefer using potato water. I boil the potatoes until they fall apart (are mushy!), strain the water and use it in my starter. My starter works every time.
My point is, keep playing with your starter until YOU find a solution to why your starter isn't working. It may be that you need to keep it out longer before refrigerating, or that you need to change the water you use, or the room temperature. Whatever change you make, keep notes so you don't repeat failures. And, you definitely want to repeat your successes.