I’m assuming that by now you’ve tried and successfully made your own starter with the recipe from my last blog. Hopefully you’ll soon also make your first sourdough loaf as well. What I would like to do now is give you some tips for sourdough, that once you have made the starter, will make your life easier. Bread and sourdough are amazingly adaptable and once you get the hang of it all, you’ll realize how to bend some of the rules. First of all, if you need more starter, you can take a portion of your existing one, and use it to start a new crock. Take about a cup of it into a good sized jar or crock, and add one cup flour, and one cup water, mix well, and let it sit on your stove or countertop for a few hours. It should become bubbly or foamy. Once you have a head of foam, stir it together, and just proceed like your original starter. If you’re ambitious, and you got an early start in the morning, you can be baking with your starter in the evening. Of course, the more time it has to “ripen” the more tang you will get. At one day old, it won’t have much tang, but if your really into it…..
Here’s another tip: Only take out one to one and a half cups at a time (unless you have a larger batch going). You should have a good one cup of the original remaining in the crock. After taking out the portion you’re using, replace it with equal parts water and flour. In other words, if you put in half a cup of flour, you should put in a half cup of warm water; 1 cup flour, then 1 cup warm water. You get the idea. This is “feeding” your sourdough, and the method I prefer. You should feed your sourdough once a week, but if you forget for another week or so (I’ve heard even up to a month), don’t panic. Just take out the amount you want to use after stirring it all together, feed, let rest, and proceed as normal. Personally, I’ve only pushed my sourdough to two weeks. Another issue I’ve heard about is people putting their starter in a crock that’s too small, and having it overflow the counter. Use one that is at least twice the amount of what’s in there. This allows for expansion (and always better to be safe than sorry). That way the foamy head doesn’t get carried away (do I sound like a brewmaster here? They’re related, I mean, the yeast at least). Also, glass or ceramic is best.
When you first look at your starter that hasn’t been used for a while, don’t get grossed out. It doesn’t look too pretty. Kind of, maybe, yucky. This is normal. Just give it a stir, and it will soon be a creamy white. Also, as a starter ages, it may start out thick, (for example, right after you feed it) but as time goes on, it thins to a thin pancake batter (more like crepe batter). It actually becomes quite creamy, as in, beauty in a crock. Getting too poetic here.
A quick way to make biscuits or pancakes with sourdough is, assuming a two cup flour recipe, substitute instead one cup of sourdough. You may still want to add in your baking powder to get the rise you need. Don’t worry about the sourdough being too sour for pancakes, by the time you put your maple syrup on, any thought of sour will have left. Speaking of pancakes, I came across an Irish recipe for a huge pancake, as in dinner plate size. Called for 3 cups of sourdough starter, if I remember right. You would pour enough in for your whole 10-inch skillet. The difficult part as I found out is flipping such a massive pancake. If you can master that, and love monster pancakes, go for it.
I received an email from Sally B. who wanted some assistance in sourdough baking as well as gluten free. I hope Sally got the help she needed for making her own starter or ordering it pre-made, but as for the gluten free, I have another plan. I have had many people tell me many different things for what constitutes gluten free, so now I avoid any generalizations about it. I also won’t bake it for anyone, again, because what is gluten free for one person, isn’t for another. However, I do have a good friend, Irene, who is totally blind. She’s also gluten free. She has commissioned me to make her a spelt sourdough bread, but because she can’t see, it has to be easy to put together. I told her I would try. The family is getting used to weird growing, bubbling concoctions in the fridge, in jars, crocks and containers. What’s one more? (Actually, after finding this spelt starter made with traditional yeast sitting on the table today in a two quart mason jar, the hubby was a little grossed out, asking with trepidation, “What IS that?” Telling him didn’t help much. Maybe I’m taking this too far? Or, certainly not on the dinner table in plain view?) What I’m intending on trying, and this is strictly experimental, is capturing wild yeast in the air into an open spelt/water container that will hopefully turn into a starter. If that fails, I will still use the standard yeast. The next step will be making bread from what I’ve created, and see how it tastes. As Irene says, anything other than a brick would be welcome. I am going to attempt using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method (see below), as she needs something easy to mix together. Now if I could keep her from putting beans in it. Irene likes beans. A lot.
Francois, Zoe and Hertzberg, Jeff. “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007.