Friday, June 8, 2012

Getting the starter started (again)

The thing about sourdough starter that is sometimes easy to forget is that it is alive. It is a culture of yeast and bacteria. It eats, breathes, and even belches. Each one is a little bit different, depending on what kind of cultures are growing. And most importantly, it can die.

I can honestly say I have horrible luck with sourdough starter. However, for the most part, that's because I don't treat it right. Commercial bakeries use and replenish their starter daily. Me...not so much.

I did read in an old sourdough cookbook that it should be used at least weekly. I have kept starters doing just that for months on end. My last starter, though, had been used an re-fed to make pancakes exactly a week before I went to use it again and found it covered in pink and orange mold.

I had been treating this starter pretty well. Using it, feeding it if I wasn't using it, and keeping it in the refrigerator. Yes, it was chillin'. Yeast is active when it is warm. When it is chilled, it slows down. It doesn't break down its food as quickly as it does when it is room temperature.

The thing is, because I figured I was going to try those biscuits that week, I left it out. So it got too active, ate up everything, and died. The mold was feeding on the dead yeast.

So, for about the tenth time since I started this maybe two years ago, I am restarting the starter:

You need:

1 cup flour (I use all purpose, but I'm told almost any flour will work
Filtered water, about 1 cup, at room temperature
1 packet active yeast
Non-metallic container to hold starter
Non-metallic spoon or spatula for stirring

I particularly like the Cool Whip container for starter, because it's small and you can pour the starter into a measuring glass. Plus, the lid can be left cracked open, so it's not airtight but is sealed enough to keep bugs and dust out. Other than that, almost any non-metallic container will work. Sourdough does react to most metals when exposed for any length of time.

Mix the ingredients together. It should look like a lumpy, thick pancake batter:

 Scrape down the sides, as this is prime area for mold to grow. Leave out for about 24 hours before refrigerating

The key things to remember:
  1. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  2. Leave it at room temperature for 24 hours or so to ferment each time you feed it.
  3. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  4. Never use metal until it is in the pan
  5. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  6. Feed it with equal parts flour and water each time you use it. Some recipes call for “fresh” starter (fed before using) and some call for “ripe” starter (fed after using)
  7. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  8. Remember it will grow if you feed it without using it, so use it regularly. Feed it weekly if kept in the refrigerator, daily if kept at room temperature
  9. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  10. It's easy enough to restart if you screw up. I've done it enough.
  11. IT'S ALIVE!!!
    And most importantly...
  12. IT'S ALIVE!!!

Sourdough starter does not need as much attention as my quaker parrot, but it does need tender love and care. With a little patience and a little luck, you'll at least be baking quick breads soon.

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