Sourdough References & Links

A quick note of apology: for some reason, my eyes and brain are frightfully exhausted, and I fear that this post is going to break the blogging commandment that thou shalt not write too ghastlily--okay, I checked, and in fact "ghastly" is also the adverb, but don't you agree that "to write ghastly" sounds strange and just plain wrong? Or perhaps my tired brain is not even up to deciphering old Merriam-Webster tonight, and somehow I have grammatically led myself astray.

I've been wanting to write about sourdough starters since before I began this blog, and was finally prompted to do so because, sniff, today part of my starter went to a new home. So young and already propagating (the starter, not me, much to my mother's foot-stamping indignation). Anyhow, I rather irresponsibly passed my friend a little tupperware of starter when we met today for lunch (during which I made molten chocolate cake--more on that some other time, but honestly I have not much to comment on this first, and possibly last, attempt at baking them) without ANY instructions or at least a list of online references. Like dumping a new puppy on someone who's never owned a dog. Tsk, tsk.

So for all starter owners and anyone else who might be interested...

...This is where I'm supposed to first enlighten all the newbies on what a starter is and then describe my early starter experiences, etc. etc. But I'm just too tired. And my poor friend needs information. So for now, I'm going to include below a nice bunch of links and will add to this post...some day.

But why do I even need to add my own two cents if there's so much info out there? Because I did do a fair bit of research before trying to grow my own starter and the truth is that there is just too much conflicting information out there, as well as plain incorrect information and make-you-waste-a-whole-lot-of-damn-flour information too. I don't even agree with everything on the sites I am recommending, but these are the ones that have helped me the most.

Just one quick note to friend with new starter: I wasn't kidding about the bottled water (they aren't just being snooty yeasts) because the chlorine in Japanese tap water could hurt/kill them.

1) Sourdough Home -- An Exploration of Sourdough
After lots of online hunting, I finally decided to follow Mike Avery's instructions on how to roll a new starter. And it worked. I trusted this site the most because it was clear, simple, and logical. No telling you to add fruit, instant yeast, sugar, or anything like that (and explaining why not)--just flour and water. I often go to this site for recipes, tips, and pure reading fun (for someone interested in bread baking). I must admit that Mike's feeding instructions didn't work well with my starter... but that could be because I changed flour-type on my starter too quickly and it objected. Now that I know my starter is a one-flour starter (Starter (histrionically): There will only ever be one flour for me!!!), we'll see if we can hussy it up a bit and get it to consider other kinds of flour. But I'm first going to go back to whole wheat and try Mike's feeding instructions again.

2) How to make a natural rye sourdough starter and bake bread with it
I think one challenge of trying to learn about starters on the Internet is that not all sites have clear pictures, and sometimes words are just not enough to know whether your starter is looking the way it should. Although I didn't actually follow Samartha Deva's recipe, his website VERY thoroughly takes you through each step with tons of close-up photo shots along the way. Even if you're just feeding an already established starter and are wondering what it should look like or what should happen, this is a great place to double check. It is also an excellent illustration of how getting involved in the processes of sourdough can make you go completely bonkers and have you doing things like painstakingly charting your starter's progress for three days straight, hour upon hour, bubble upon bubble. Scary. But impressive.

3) Sourdough Starter Maintenance

This page has excellent, detailed info on what a starter needs, but the most important section, to me, is section "2.2 HOW MUCH?" The thing my inexperience with starters cost me the most was flour. I wasted SO MUCH FLOUR when I ignorantly complied with the feeding instructions of various websites that told you something like "mix half cup of starter with a cup of flour and a cup of water; next day, throw half away, then double volume with more flour and water." The truth is that there are millions of little yeasties swarming around in just the tiniest teaspoon of starter, and they multiply very quickly if you give them lots of food. So, first of all, the less starter you use in a feeding, the more food to go around, see? Second, you really don't need to increase your starter volume that much during a feeding. When I take my starter out of the fridge, I usually mix 1 tsp of starter with 1/4 cup water and 1/3 cup flour; after starter has peaked, I will double the volume. But if you want to adhere to Mike Avery's instructions, I don't see why you can't *roughly* halve his amounts (so instead of 2 tablespoons starter, 1/2 cup water, and 6 tablespoons white flour: 1 tsp starter, 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons flour).

4) Sourdough Bread
This page has everything: how to buy starter or make it yourself; how to recover a sick starter; how to refresh (feed) a starter; sourdough links, tons of photos; but most importantly, a very clear step-by-step lesson on how to make bread from sourdough starter.

This basic, no-nonsense recipe for a sourdough boule is the reason I come back to this page again and again. As Jack Lang, the teacher of this lesson, writes: first master this recipe/technique and then feel free to add to it any way you like--shape, flavor, etc.

But there were also wonderful tips here that I rarely find in other sourdough bread recipes, like:
-it gets you to make a nice wet dough, which bakes up airier bread
-it tells you to put your dough in the fridge overnight to retard (unlike some recipes that have you baking the bread after one or two rises), which I like because I always think bread baking should be time-consuming and the less you rush your dough the more delicious your bread will be
-it tells you that it's okay to put the bread straight from the fridge into the oven; this makes me happy because the chilled dough is MUCh easier to slash, it's a lot sturdier, it spreads less (remember this is a wet dough), and there is no danger of deflation when you slide your bread into the oven
-and the first time I followed this recipe, I got this pretty okay loaf:

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Okay, okay, I am not going to kill your baby with tap water. I just thought that maybe he should be raised tough, prepared for all situations. Like in an earthquake, maybe the only water available would be rainwater.

Anyway, did you give the links at the end? I don't see any.

10/04/2004 11:18:00 AM  

Oh Lynn! It warms my heart to think you'd still be worried about your starter during an earthquake. I can just picture you, clutching your crockery jar of yeast in one arm as you trudge through the dessimated streets of Tokyo. How very poignant!

Sorry, I didn't make it very clear. If you look at each of the website titles, they are clickable.

10/04/2004 12:16:00 PM  

A-hem, not to forget Libby, trailing behind tail wagging wondering what yummy treats I have for her in the jar!

Of course they are clickable. For once I don't read a page with mouse pointing and I miss the links. Thanks!

You know this is almost like the pickle jar, but a version with lower maintenance.

10/04/2004 12:55:00 PM  

Ooh, the pickle jar. Now THAT'S something that I could never devote myself to. Doesn't it require daily care? Also, I know it would be different for someone who adores home-made pickles, but for me there isn't the same magic. The pickles are not only dead, they are...well...pickled! But the starter grows and shrinks, breathes, eats, and even affects the quality of your bread. I read a really interesting article about the difference between commercial yeast bread and sourdough bread. Let me search for it and post it.

10/04/2004 02:29:00 PM  

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