Tuesday, June 21, 2011

wanna be startin' something

friends, i have been contemplating this post for many months, but every time i step up to put fingers to keys, i am overwhelmed with the power and immensity that is sourdough starter, and cannot find the strength to continue. luckily, my sourdough starter is in a state of hibernation (very likely the deepest of comas) in the fridge and it can't sneak up on me. but from what i've learned, it can do almost everything else.

sourdough starter fun/terrifying fact one:
it doubles as a building material! some industrious settlers, when not driving indigenous peoples westward or shooting buffalo herds from trains, filled the holes between the logs in their log cabins with sourdough starter. true story. you'll see this is true when you try and wash the jar you've been storing it in and find yourself grappling with a concrete-like substance.

so, sourdough starter is the base of sourdough bread, and it gives it its delectable sour quality. the way sourdough starter works is that it is either inherited or made, if you are gifted some by a friend, you can feed it and it will grow, or you can create a yeast trap and try and catch some delicious bacteria to make your own starter.

the joy of cooking describes a few processes for making your own starter, depending on whether you think there are magical yeast particles floating around your kitchen from past baking endeavors. i opted to use commercial yeast. essentially, you mix flour and water and yeast in a bowl, (or if you are trying to catch yeast, then just flour and water), and keep it in a warm place for days, stirring occasionally. in an ideal world what results, besides some very hard crusts (see fun/terrifying fact one), is a brand new sourdough starter that you can place in a jar, and then put in the fridge. (the image is of my jar of starter next to the loaf it spawned. note the warm locale.)

sourdough starter fun/terrifying fact two: it eats! and grows! after removing it from the fridge, and pouring off the "hooch," the clearish, alcoholy liquid that may have collected on the surface, you can feed your starter. sourdough starter is "fed" by adding equal parts flour and lukewarm water to the original, and allowing the mixture to sit out in a warm place. your starter is healthy if it begins to bubble after a few hours, after which you now have more starter then you had before. this can be used to bake bread, or placed back in the fridge to hang out until you need it, or until you want to feed it again. my rookie mistake was using all of my starter to bake the pictured loaf, after which i was out of starter and had to begin the whole starter-making process all over again. you always want to have enough starter for your recipe AND to leave in the jar to feed and regenerate. which brings us to...

sourdough starter fun/terrifying fact three: it remembers! they suggest you put your starter on a regular feeding schedule because it has the capacity to remember when it was last fed and expect similarly spaced feedings in the future. this is just little shop of horrors all over again. fear not, if starved, the starter goes into a state of hibernation, and can usually be revived by following the regular feeding instructions.

you and your starter are now poised on the threshold of a crusty and magical world of bread-baking, many aromas and buttering opportunities await you.

perhaps also armpit hair.


Francesca said...

Baking bread is tricky business. I applaud your dedication.

rico said...

ugh those bangs...

Daniel C. said...

Beautiful looking bread! VERY appetizing.