Sourdough Starter

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the wonders of yeast. Being able to get all happy and shiny about yeast seems silly, maybe, but what can I say? I'm a simple girl.

There are a lot of different ways to make sourdough starters and right now I am using one that is sort of a mixed marriage: wild yeast for its special flavor, plus a sprinkle of commercially-prepared yeast for its predictable results. Here's what I did:

I reserved 1 cup of the water from the potatoes I boiled for potato bread (unsalted water, of course!) and let it cool to about body temperature. Just dip your big toe in there and see if it feels right. OK, maybe not a toe. A finger is probably the only acceptable body part for this step. And IT should be clean. 

Combine that potato water with 1 cup of flour. Choose unbleached, whole wheat or bread flour for this. Then leave this fabulously simple mixture outside or near an open window for a few hours. Use a screen if bugs are a problem, or just be brave and take your chances. Stir it every so often to keep a crust from forming on top, if it's a nice day. After the wild yeast have had a chance to land, just throw a damp towel over the bowl and let it rest at room temperature overnight. In the morning, add 1/4 teaspoon or so of commercially prepared yeast, or about half of one of those packets that comes in a strip of three. Really, just a sprinkle. Now give all of that a good stir, add 1/4 warm water and 1/4 flour and let it rest again for 4 hours or so. Now you have a basic sourdough starter. You can leave it out for another overnight if you want a really sour sourdough, but this time frame suits my palate just right.

Now that you have your starter, you have some decisions to make. 

You can keep it going for the rest of your life, with regular care and feeding. You can use up what you just made and start again another day, if you feel that you already have enough organisms which require your care and feeding. You can do like I usually do, and intend to keep it going but forget to take care of it and kill it. As you please.

You can add a cup of sourdough starter as part of your liquid measure to any yeast bread recipe and get a little something special. You can make a full sourdough bread, and I may show you that in another post. The starter you just made is enough for a batch of sourdough bread AND these amazeballs pancakes if you want to really impress the ones you cook for. 

A few tips:
  • You are growing yeast here. A warm place helps, but you can still grow a starter in a cool area. It just needs more time. Not too warm, now. You don't want to cook them yet.
  • What it looks like is going to be affected by the yeast you're catching. The first part may not bubble up a lot or anything. You should see the starter kind of separate and form a liquidy bit on top. It may turn grayish or kind of tan on top and that's OK. If it turns pink or orange, throw it away and start over. This is one time when pink and orange are not pretty colors. 
  • What it smells like is going to be affected by the yeast and the temperature, etc. A little alcohol smell is fine, but if it smells putrid or moldy or like vomit,... well, if you are willing to cook with something that smells like vomit, I can't really help you.
  • It isn't a problem for me here in Montana, but I did have issues in Arizona with fruit flies being attracted to sourdough starter. People with fruit flies and gnats in their lives seems to fall into two categories: there are the "fish them out and go on with it" folks and the "aaack! That is so gross I'm throwing it away!" folks. I'm enough of a redneck to fish em out. You have to have the self-awareness to determine which type you are, and proceed from there.
Please do try this at least once in your life. Sourdough is an ancient food for us and you should have it in your life.