Maandag 26 September 2016

Sourdough - Make your own starter

For those of you that don't know me and my stories, I am a guy that have a mission to preserve our traditional Afrikaans food and I am a man on a mission to get more men to cook and bake. My regular readers have become used to my story telling style of doing guides on how to make certain food. Up to know the vast majority of my writing was done in Afrikaans but the issue of Sourdough is an International issue and therefore I have decided to write my sourdough stories in English.

Healthy sourdough starter
Around 14 days ago I decided to ditch my fear for sourdough and seriously commit to the process. My only experience with sourdough is feint memories of my grandma's kitchen where she had her starter in a glass jar and that jar was standing inside a small dish in the kitchen window. Here it got early morning sun. I can remember how she scooped cups full out of the jar when she was making bread and that is all I can remember. No memories or knowledge of making a starter or feeding the starter. I do however have memories of all the talk around the starter ... in Afrikaans they called it a "plantjie" which translates to a small plant.

So when I decided I had to really start from scratch. I have no nearby bakers that could hand me down a portion of an established starter so it was all from scratch for me. Now I am an IT Business Analyst by trade with a great passion for cooking, especial bread baking ... so true to my nature, I dug deep into the processes involved and tried to separate the facts from the urban legends ... of which, incidentally, there are thousands.

We will talk legends later ... for now we need to conceive our own starter. It is tradition to name these things and it is also tradition to give it a female name ... now that is here in South Africa ... in your part of the world it might not be like that. On day three I caved in and named mine ... but I gave it a male name ... Kerneels ... my reasoning was that men have much less complicated traits and personalities.

You will need ....
1. A scale, an electronic one.
2. A glass jar of at least 2 liter capacity.
3. A rubber band that can get around your jar.
4. Flour ... if you have good quality Whole wheat flour it will be better.
5. Water at room temperature or at body temperature.
6. Raw honey or raw molasses. Nothing that has been pasteurized.

The initial past
Day 1:
Weigh 80gr of Wholewheat Flour and add exactly 80gr of water. This is extremely important and you need to maintain this exact 50:50 ratio throughout with your feeding program as well.
Mix the water and flour well, the better you mix the better for your starter. It might look a bit stiff to you but do not be tempted to add water.
Drop the paste in the jar, place a saucer or plate on top and walk away.
Nature will now take over. After a few hours, depending on the temperature around the jar, you will notice that the lump is beginning to fall flat and spread out in the jar. Smile and wave at it ... things are happening.

Beginning to look like a starter
Day 2:
Feeding your starter. Measure out the same amount of flour, you must now switch to your normal bread flour. I use stone ground unbleached. If you cannot get stone ground, at least use unbleached if at all possible.
Again, whip that paste well and drop it into the jar. Now mix the jar content as well as you can. By doing it, you ensure the fresh food is distributed well and you improve the general health of that starter.
Blow it a kiss and walk away. You can do nothing more.

Day 3:
By now you might get a feint sour smell if you lift the saucer from the jar, you may even begin to see a few bubbles forming on the surface.
Today you increase the food to 100gr flour and 100gr water.
Same story, mix the paste well and then mix it well into the jar. By now your starter in the jar should be fairly loose, almost resembling the consistency of condensed milk or a smooth custard.
You may as well get into the spirit of things and name the starter.
Slip the rubber band over the jar and set it at the surface of the starter ... wish him or her well and walk away. 

Healthy but no serious bubbles
Day 4:
Now you might have picked up a whiff from the starter as you entered the kitchen. Today is a big day ... up to now that starter may look a bit insipid and not very inspiring. That is ok and it is normal.
Weigh out 120gr of flour and 120 gram of water and drop a tablespoon of molasses into the mix. If you have rye flour you can replace some of the flour with the rye ... around 25gr per feeding.
Mix the paste well and then mix it into your starter. The molasses will change the color slightly. By now your starter should be very smooth, silky and shiny.
Adjust the rubber band and now you should get a good rise in the jar ... it could easily go double in volume or more. It is also a good thing to make the jar stand in dish, I used a 20cm cake pan. If that starter has taken well, it could easily boil over and you don't want that bubbly starter all over your worktop or bench.
You may kiss the jar now as you depart and whisper something nice to him or her.

Well matured starter
Day 5:
If you have good weather, today could be the day that your kitchen is filled with aroma of your starter and it could look very bubbly after that steroid injection.
Make up a 140gr feeding and mix it in well with your starter. Set the rubber band and waive to him or her. Today that starter needs to double up, at least, and if the weather is good and you followed the process, it should. You should note action within an hour.

And that is all there is to it. In about 90 minutes you should have a jar that is full of bubbles and the smell of the starter should be clear.

Now I am going to talk about managing your starter for baking in general. First of all, I don't want a jar with starter floating around in my fridge. Chances are you may forget about it and end up with a very sad looking starter in jar, with a nasty liquid floating on top. I personally have a big issue with cleanliness in my fridge and kitchen and will not harbor such a potential bomb in my fridge.

My working jar
In your jar you will have around 2 liters of starter, depending on the time after the last feeding. That is a lot of starter for a home baker. You have used around 520gr of flour and the same amount of water up to here.

For me, a container that can take around 1 liter is big enough for my production starter. So I suggest you take out 100gr of your starter and drop it in your "working" jar. Set that now aside.

You can find lots of recipes for the surplus starter ... or send it down the drain.

The reason why I do not throw half of the starter away every day is simply because there is build up of bacteria happening in the jar and that is what you want. By ditching starter everyday before feeding you dilute your buildup.

If your recipe calls for 180gr of starter, then make up a feeding of 100gr of flour and 100gr of water and stir it into your working jar. Depending on the environment, that would double up in 60 to 90 minutes and ready to be scooped out for baking. Just a note, if your starter has already been fed and you got sidetracked and did not weigh out at peak, don't worry ... that is the reason we WEIGH these things ... a bubbly 100gr and slightly subsided 100gr is the same thing.

The bubbly one will just outperform the other one in your dough for the first 30 minutes or so.

I leave the leftover in the working jar and give it a really small feeding every second day. 30gr of water and 30gr of flour.

It can become messy. Be prepared
I hope you found some value in this article. I know that many purists will have different opinions and many will weave all sorts of mystical magic around the creation of a starter. Many will talk about highly sensitive berries or fruits or vegetables to use for your starter but that is all exactly what it is ... opinions. My story is based on practical experience and stripped down to the basic facts. Does not matter what you use for the startup, the eventual starter that goes in your dough will have very little if any of that original taste. In the end the only thing that really survive and thrive in that starter is the natural yeast.

You will read stories of exotic origins of a starter or mind blowing age and hereditary lines. The real truth is that after 5 or so feedings that San Francisco starter is your starter. With the bacteria from the feeding you gave it. As for the so-called pre-Ice Age or Columbus strain ... well I take that with a bag of salt because as explained above, after 5 feedings that "bloodline" is basically gone. But hey, as with many crafts, the purists will do what is needed to envelope it in as much mystery and folklore as possible.

In my next story I will talk about the use of the starter in baking.

Enjoy your baking and cooking till I write another story.

Here is my Facebook Page ... Man Kos ... like it if you want.

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