Archive for the ‘sourdough starter’ Tag

My Starter Has Indigestion   Leave a comment

It’s a living organism and living organisms can get sick. Starters that are very sour, fail to double in size during feeding or grow a black crust on top while in the fridge are not feeling well.

My starter has been living now for about four years. I experimented with parts of my starter, leaving it on the counter between uses. One died. The other lived, but it became very sour. I’ve also occasionally forgotten to feed it after I’ve used it and I’ve left it out overnight in the warm kitchen. Both will give it indigestion.

It’s not unusual for a starter to develop a purple liquid on top as it rests in the fridge. It’s called “hooch” and you can just stir it back in if you don’t mind a sour sourdough. Or you can spoon it off if you prefer a sweeter starter, but it will also be a less active starter, prone to death. I keep the hooch and sweeten the sourdough other ways.

Black crust does not necessarily mean your starter is dead, but it does mean it’s not well. It sometimes forms along the edges as a sign that it’s time to clean your crock. I break the crust off the edge, throw it away and pour the starter into a clean crock.

However, when it forms a crust in the middle, your starter has indigestion and is about to die. This has happened to me three times. The first time, the starter died because I didn’t know what to do. The last two times, I recognized the symptoms and treated my starter as a pet owner would treat a pet.

I peeled off the crust from the top of the starter and ladled the starter into another vessel. I then stirred it thoroughly, fed it a half-cup of hot milk and AP flour each, and let it feed. The two times I’ve had this happen, it didn’t double. The first time, I called a long-time sourdough baker and she told me what to do next. I fed the starter in the morning, let it feed, then in the afternoon scooped out a half-cup of starter, and fed it again with a half-cup of hot milk and AP flour, then repeated the same process in the afternoon. Both times, I’ve saved my starter and the last time, it became a much better starter producing bread with better flavor and loft.

Of course, you can avoid all this by regular starter maintenance.

Posted December 30, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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Lela’s Basic Loaf   4 comments

Bring your starter out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you intend to use it. Let it warm to room temperature. You’ll usually see some activity, as well as a purple “hooch” on the surface. If you don’t like really sour sourdough, you can spoon the hooch off. As I want my starter to be very active, I stir the hooch into the starter.

What? I keep suggesting that sour sourdough is not all that nice to me, but I just stirred the hooch in. Aren’t I working against myself? No, and I’ll explain why as we go along.

When my starter is warmed up, I stir in the hooch and scoop out some part of my starter — typically 1 to 1 1/2 cups, more if I’m making a whole wheat bread, less if I’m making a sweet bread with AP flour. I never take more than half — that’s important. Whatever I took out, I match for feeding. So 1 cup out, 1 cup of AP flour and one cup of hot milk go into the starter. Ignore the conventional wisdom of bakers for 110 degree water. You want water/milk that’s 115-120 degrees. It should hurt your fingers a bit.

I also add one cup of hot milk and one cup of AP flour to the “sponge” — the starter that is destined to become a loaf — and a tablespoon of sugar or honey. This is one of the secrets to sweeter bread.

I leave both the starter and the sponge to feed. I come back in an hour and put the starter somewhere where it will not be disturbed. It needs to feed for another couple of hours before it is refrigerated.

I then add whatever remaining milk (make it hot) for the loaf and aother tablespoon of sugar to the sponge and go do something else. Why sugar? I find it balances the sour and unless I am making actual sour-dough, I want to balance the sour. I come back in an hour (or so, this is not a precision hobby) and start to make my loaf.

I usually put the starter away in the fridge at this point. It’s fed enough and could use a nap.

For two average sized wheat loaves

  • 1 1/2 cups of sourdough
  • 3 total cups of hot milk
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar to set the sponge with an additional 2 tablespoons
  • 2 Tablespoons of salad oil or melted butter. Your choice. My daughter uses olive oil, I use corn, vegetable, safflower, or (once and it turned out fine) melted shortening. Your choice. I only use olive oil if I’m making small Italian loaves.
  • 1 Tablespoon of corn syrup. This is optional. I like the moisture it provides.
  • 2 teaspoon of salt. I use kosher salt, but whatever you prefer is fine.
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. That includes the 1 cup of AP you fed the sponge in the beginning. Experiment with the proportion of whole wheat to white flour. I prefer the entire loaf, except for the sponge to be made with wheat flour, but that can be a challenge to get to rise. So experiment.

Add 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to completely incorporate the flour — this is where a Kitchen Aid stand mixer is a lovely thing — before you add the next half-cup. At about 2 1/2 cups, stop and let the dough rest for a half-hour. It may still feel sticky, but sourdough will slowly infuse the loaf and when you come back, it may be ready to shape. If it’s still sticky, but can be turned out of the work bowl without having to scrape the sides a lot, sprinkle a little bit of the next half-cup of flour on a board or table and turn out the dough. Sprinkle more on top and dust your hands and give it a few turns of kneeding.

Now walk away. Let it rest. Come back and see if it’s ready to go into the pans. If it isn’t, dust it with a quarter cup of flour and kneed it again.

NOTE: You are not going to the window pane test here. You are aiming for a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your fingers during brief contact.

Set your oven to the lowest setting it will warm at — mine is 230 degrees.

Split the dough in half and form into two loaves. Place in well-greased pans. I’m mostly making sandwich loaves. I’ll talk later about other baking methods.

Notice that the dough has not risen yet. The starter has been slowly fermenting the bread while I’ve been working it, but I don’t like sour sourdough all that much, so I only proof it once, in the baking pans. If I’m going for sour-dough, then I let it rise once before putting it in the pans to rise a second time. It reduces the amount of mechanically produced gluten, but the bread still ends up with good loft and wonderful chewiness.

I’ll say that again — this method produces less mechanically-produced gluten, but it still creates a wonderfully chewy bread.

Turn off the oven and check the temperature. I’m using an electric oven, so cannot speak for what would happen with a gas or propane stove. Experiment. It should feel like a sauna, but your hand shouldn’t feel like it’s burning. ┬áPlace the pans on the middle shelf. Close the door. Set a timer for 1 hour. This is so you don’t give your loaves a chill checking on them. Come back and see if your loaves have risen to loaf heights. If not, warm the oven briefly (to about 100 degrees) and set the timer for another hour.

To be perfectly honest, this method took a while to perfect. I’ve had to let loaves rise overnight a few times. Experiment. Increase the starter, add some baking soda (1/4 teaspoon at a time) to the loafs, use more AP flour and less wheat flour, work with a wetter dough — I’ll discuss pan loaves later. I can usually get loaves to top the pans in 1 to 2 hours, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do that, even though I was following friends’ recommendations.

Bake the two loaves at 375* for 35 minutes. When the timer goes off, have the cooling racks ready to go and de-pan the loaves immediately. Let them cool completely before putting them in bags. I save bags from the store-bought loaves we buy once a month or so.

You can store sourdough-started bread on the counter with good results if you live in a dry climate, but I’m told by friends who live in more humid places that it will mold there, so again — experiment.

And there you have it – a basic reduced-gluten loaf without having to buy commercial yeast.

Posted December 27, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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Baking with Sourdough – The Starter   2 comments

I meant to post this back when I was doing my preparedness series, but I never got around to it.

I bake our family bread weekly and I don’t use commercial yeast.

That has occasionally raised some eyebrows among the people I know, often accompanied by protests that you cannot bake bread without commercial yeast. Even my favorite bread book calls for commercial yeast in every recipe, including sourdough breads.

It’s not necessary.

I bake all sorts of bread using my starter and it is only sour when I want it to be, so I often bake sweet breads with it.


Easy — now.

It did take some learning and trial and error to make it happen.

First, you have to create a starter. You can buy powdered starter, but I didn’t. I took 1 cup of whole wheat flour, one cup of very warm water with a tablespoon of powdered milk and a cup of plain yoghurt with live bacteria culture. Why whole wheat flour? Being unbleached, it already has wild-variety yeast in it. It will interact with the yeast in the yoghurt and do some wonderful things. Trust me!

I mixed them together in a clean Mason jar (might have been a Ball, actually, but the point is to use glass, not metal or plastic). I set the lid aside and used the ring and a piece of fine-mesh window screening to top the jar. Why window screening? It lets the gas out and it’s what I had. You could use a cloth or punctured plastic wrap. You just want to keep debris out of your starter. If you don’t puncture holes in the cover, it may pop as the gasses increase, which can make a mess.

Under no circumstances should you try to make anything with this starter at the moment. It is completely unstable. Let it develop on the counter overnight.

The next day, your starter should smell a bit like beer or bread and be about double the size. If it hasn’t done anything or it has pink or purple fluid all over the top, it died and you will need to start again. If it looks and smells like dough, you’re ready for Day 2 in raising a baby starter.

Scoop out half of your starter. Throw it away. It is unstable and not ready to be used. Add a cup of whole wheat flour and a cup of hot water with powdered milk added (If you prefer to use heated liquid milk, that’s fine. I just like the control of powdered milk). Repackage your starter and leave it on the counter for another 24 hours.

On Day 3 – discard half the starter and add a cup each of wheat flour and hot milk.

Keep doing this daily for about a week. If your starter is getting bigger by the day, that’s a good sign. I’ve heard that if you start with just a cup of milk and flour on the first day and add a cup of milk and flour every day for a week, the starter will grow to the size of an Olympic class swimming pool. Since I don’t have an Olympic size swimming pool, I’ve never tested that claim. Never discard more than half — this baby starter gets indigestion if you overfeed it.

Now comes the active phase of your starter’s life.

Typically, you will want to store the starter in a crock or jar with a loose fitting lid. I suggest you put a plate under it because sometimes it will stay active and overflow in the fridge, which is a mess without the plate. Unless you’re going to use the starter every day, it really does need to be kept in the fridge. I’ve kept mine on the countertop before and had one experiment die and another almost die. I don’t bake daily and I don’t want to. I do have friends who use their starter daily and keep it on the counter with good results, but a cooler environment is better if you don’t like really sour sourdough or if you aren’t going to bake daily.

Everytime you use the starter, you must let it warm up before feeding it. Then you must replace the starter you’re using. If you’re using a cup of starter, you will replace it with a cup of very warm milk (or water and powdered milk) and a cup of AP flour. Whoa, I’ve changed my flour! Yes. Once you’ve established a stable starter, you want to feed it AP flour instead of wheat, so that you will get consistent flavor and behavior from your starter.

Next — Lela’s Basic Loaf

Posted December 26, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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