12/12 Note: this post has been updated to reflect how I use sourdough now and the lesson is: have patience and with time and practice regular sourdough bread is a real possiblility!
When I started down the sourdough path last year I had visions of turning out great breads on a weekly basis using just the wild yeast that hovers around us (this, by the way, completely freaks my daughter out- she’s always asking about how that works and if we’re “killing” them when we cook the bread. My answer? I don’t really get how it works, either, I just go with it).
I had read about the benefits of sourdough and even that some people think all our grains should be soured before consuming. I knew that we loved sourdough bread. And if you’ve been reading here long, you can guess I liked the idea creating my own bread starter and not always relying on store bought things- how frugal is it to not have to buy as much yeast?
However, in the last year I’ve discovered some things about me, my family, and sourdough (now with updates from December 2012):
- It takes a LOT of planning time- usually the night before, which in all honesty, just doesn’t happen for me very often. In order to make one artisan loaf, I have to start making it 24 hours before I’d like to serve it and be home for the times I need to deal with it. Hence, it’s hard to fit into our lives on a regular basis, unlike the Easy Artisan Bread I like to make a couple times a month. (UPDATE: I have perfected a quick and easy sourdough artisan loaf and which I can make on a weekly basis!)
- After many failed attempts (read: brick-like loaves), sourdough will not keep our family in sandwich bread. Our 100% whole wheat sandwich bread provides our family with loaves that are soft enough for sandwiches with minimal time output. (EXCITING UPDATE: I use this soft sourdough sandwich bread from my friend, Gina, that is wonderful and has replaced our yeast-based sandwich bread – it IS possible, so keep trying!)
- There are some sourdough recipes that just. don’t. work. Sourdough pitas? Ugh- awful. Sourdough tortillas? Even worse. (Sadly, no update here – I haven’t found any recipes that have worked for us…sigh).
- Sometimes weeks will go by where I haven’t even thought about sourdough or the starter languishing in my fridge… (update: this is a constant, though, and the reason why these tips are still relevant)
All this has lead me to the conclusion that I am an occasional sourdough user (Updated to read: weekly – I just need more time and practice).
Here are the sourdough tips that I’ve learned along the way:
1. Use an online guide to grow a starter. I made my original starter over a year ago by following the steps outlined at Heavenly Homemakers. It took 7 days and worked perfectly. I’ve read that some people have trouble and resort to buying starter, but at $10 bucks a pop, I’d try these steps an awful lot of times before buying anything.
2. Don’t try to make bread with it right away. No matter if it looks bubbly to you, it needs to be fed and grow for months, actually, before it will be strong enough to raise a loaf. Make things like waffles, crackers or even English muffins to grow the strength of your starter before trying a bread recipe.
3. A once-a-week feeding is best, but every two weeks is okay, too. Keep it at room temperature for 24 hours after feeding and in the fridge for the rest of the time. When it’s in the fridge, keep it in a quart jar with the lid on the top, but not screwed down, and when it’s being fed, use a bowl with a muslin cloth over the top and put it in a warm place- like the top of the refrigerator. However, sometimes I forget and…
4. Surprise! It doesn’t die easily. Fish it out from the back of the fridge, dump it into a clean bowl and feed it with 1/2 c. flour and 1/2 c. warm water. The blackish water that forms on the top is normal and called the “hooch,” and wet starters will have more of this. If little white things are floating in it, it’s just particles from the starter – I’ve never had mold form. One time it had been almost a month (I think around the holidays) and I really thought I’d killed it, but I saw bubbles 12 hours after one feeding, so I fed it twice more (over the course of three days) and put it back in the fridge. Voila! Wonderful starter again.
5. Don’t throw away starter. Many sourdough guides say to throw away almost all the starter and feed only the 1/4 cup or so that remains. I suppose I don’t need to tell you that I would NEVER do this- there’s no way I could throw away perfectly good food (or potential food). And I’m here to say you don’t have to! Just plan to use some of it in a recipe, and feed the rest. But if you don’t have time to make anything- go ahead and feed all the starter without taking any out. It’s OK, it works, I’ve done it many times and I’ve kept it alive for more than a year (update: more than two years!). No way am I goin’ to all this effort and then throw the stuff away. No way (gee- you don’t think I have any real feelings on this subject, do you?).
And one of my favorite ways to use my starter is to make these incredible waffles, as well as the other recipes you’ll find in AOC’s recipe index.
Do you keep a starter and use it? Do you have any recipes you like to make with sourdough?