Sour Dough Starter
Sourdough is used (instead of baker's yeast) to make the bread dough raise. It also gives the finished product a more earthy, stronger taste (but not, despite its name, a really sour bread, sour like in vinegar). However, it has a couple of disadvantages: first the starter has to be prepared and then it must be kept in good working order (we're talking about real living cultures here, not unlike the bacteria in yogurt, but more messy). The main drawback, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that sourdough is much slower than yeast when it comes to raising the dough. This means it takes at least two to three hours (instead of less than one) before I can put on the heat and start to bake the bread. So what I do, especially when I'm in a hurry, is to put a little baker's yeast into the dough anyway. (This is a purist's nightmare, of course, but I have found no adverse effects: the bread seems to taste no worse and it is even a bit more “fluffy”.)
Without more ado, here's the recipe and how-to for the starter:
- a glass or plastic jar that can hold at least half a litre (important: the lid must firmly close the jar)
- two cups of flour (I take a mixture of plain white flour and some rye but any flour (no self-raising though!) should do)
- one cup of warm water (or perhaps a little more)
Mix the warm water and the flour until you get a nice, smooth batter, not too liquid. Put this into the jar and place it at a warm place (around 25C). DON'T close the jar, instead put a kitchen cloth or similar over it. Wait one day.
What happens now is that yeast bacteria in the flour and from the air will get into the mixture and have a party. Some people put a tiny amount of yeast into the batter (a starter for the starter, as it were) but this should only be necessary in those germfree households that go through more bleach than wine or whisky bottles. And I suspect antiseptic people probably won't fancy this starter thing — with live bacteria! — anyway:-).
After the first day or so there will probably be a small amount of not-very-nice-looking liquid on top of the batter: throw that away and put a little more flour and warm water in, so that you keep about the same amount of batter. Continue to wait.
At some point, depending on the ambient temperature, the flour and many other things, there will form small bubbles, perhaps, if your batter is rather liquid, even a sort of froth. That is a good sign because it means that the starter has, well, started!
After about five or six days (a little more if it was colder) you should have a nice bubbly batter. That is your sourdough starter. It should smell slightly sour and slightly gone off, but this is completely normal. If it smells really bad and has dark spots (never happened to me), throw it away and start over.
Close the jar FIRMLY and put it in your fridge, until you bake your first bread. The starter will keep in the fridge for ages, but if you don't use it regularly (every week or so) to make bread, you should every now and then (perhaps twice a month) get rid of any liquid in the jar and put a little fresh flour and water in. The yeast culture in the starter is almost impossible to kill (prolonged heat over 45C will do the job, though), so there's not much you can do wrong with your little pets. And don't be afraid that the whole thing will go off or turn bad and contaminate your fridge or other foodstuffs: in the eight years or so I am doing this now, it has never once happened to me (and I have at times, ie for the Cyprus trip, left the starter in the fridge for four weeks without checking). Really, these bacteria are very well-behaved creatures!
$updated from: Sour Dough Starter.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:24 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$