Sunday, December 7, 2008

New sourdough starter

We like sourdough. It's neat, it's fun, it's yummy... but we've had problems with sourdough starters. I got a sourdough start from a coworker a while back. It came with a pedigree: a settler had started it over a century before in the Joe's valley area of Utah, and it had been shared and passed down through families ever since. This coworker grew up on sourdough pancakes from this same starter. For a while it worked well, and even when we didn't remember to treat it kindly, it still made decent bread. We learned that even though we couldn't see the difference between quality wheat and crummy wheat, the starter could, and flour from good wheat would rise better. We learned that the electric flour mill we used heated the flour too much, and the starter wouldn't grow well, and when we finally got our manual grain mill the starter worked much better. But eventually the starter just got nasty. Sourdough recipes talk about a "pleasant sour odor" but ours was far from pleasant. It was more like sour feet than sour dough.

So we started a new one. It's easy enough -- mix flour and water and let it sit out for a few days, periodically adding more flour and more water, and occasionally changing the bowl it's in to a nice clean one. Cheesecloth or perforated plastic wrap on the top is good for letting wild yeasts in and keeping bugs out, and in a few days you get something kinda foamy. That starter worked decently enough, but since last summer we've been fairly busy, and haven't been able to feed it regularly. So the other day we retired it from its dark corner of the refrigerator where it had spent the last few months, and I ground up some rye to start a new one.

Rye is supposed to be better than other grains for starting sourdough cultures, because it has less phytic acid than other grains. Eventually we'll have to -- gently -- introduce wheat flour to this starter; it takes a while for a starter to make the transition to a new flour. But for now, we've got a pasty flour blob sitting in a bowl showing faint signs of bubbling. This being winter, the wild yeasts we collect aren't as active and our kitchen counter isn't as warm, so it takes a while for it to get started, but here are some pictures, just for kicks...

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