The Sourdough Experiment

Posted on: December 21st, 2006 by Anthony Rapino 6 Comments

I took it into my head to start baking sourdough bread. Last night, while watching Alton Brown’s “Good Eats,” and largely due to the fact that he was baking bread, I started to consider creating my own “starter dough.”

I am not new to the whole bread baking world, and I have even made a sponge (a dough starter, left out over night) before, but as I began to read more on the subject of sourdough bread, I became aware of the process of catching your own wild yeast. Instead of using store-bought yeast, which is apparently all the same variety, therefore having only one taste, one can actually catch this wild yeast, which varies from region to region. So, as it stands, a sourdough loaf made in Brooklyn would have a different flavor than one made in Philadelphia (assuming both bakers used wild caught yeast.

Before running off to grab my butterfly-net and catch me some of that dern yeast, I decided to read on. It seems that to catch the yeast, all you have to do is mix equal parts water and flour, and let it sit out in a warm area of the house. Okay, there is more to it, but I’m not going into now.

I needed a container to keep this starter in. It had to be sturdy because if you do this whole starter thing correctly, you’ll actually be keeping it in the fridge, “feeding” it to keep it alive so you can use it over and over.

I know, it’s starting to sound like one of my horror stories.

I think that’s actually what interested me about this whole thing. You’re growing your own yeast. It will have it’s own characteristics and flavor. It will be unique, and the longer you keep it, the more the flavor will change and mature. Heck, it’s like brewing beer or making wine.

So, I mixed my flour and water together, and as I type, the mixture sits in a Cool Whip container on the mantle of my down stairs fireplace (don’t worry, not too hot).

I’ll post pictures through this journey. That starter has a good 3-7 days before yeast develops and becomes active. Once that happens, if it happens, the dough will take on a frothy appearance and a beer-like smell. I hoping it will be ready to test it out on Christmas eve or day. The flavor won’t be fully developed, but once the yeast is active, you can start using it.

I can’t wait.

***UPDATE***
I took a picture, but blogger won’t let me post it…sorry.

I have since moved the location of my starter, but not very far from that original spot. Also, I started a second starter with two and a half tablespoons of wheat flour mixed into a half cup of unbleached bread flour. Sort of a fail-safe, though I’m not sure how it will work out with the wheat flour involved.

6 Responses

  1. Kate says:

    I made my own sourdough starter about 8 months ago and it’s great! It takes two weeks to be considered developed enough to bake with, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to test it out earlier. =)

    Also, you might want to wait before trying out a wheat starter. They are notoriously hard to keep alive since they have all the fats of the grain which goes rancid a lot easier.

    I just put plain old all-purpose flour in my starter and use that for all my breads whether I’m using bread flour or wheat flour. I also leave it out on the counter and feed it once a day unless I go out of town -in which case I put it in the fridge. When it’s out on the counter it’s always ready to bake with. It goes dormant in the fridge and needs to be warmed up and fed for a few days before it’s ready. But I bake a lot, so I always want it ready.

    By the way, sourdough starter makes the BEST pizza dough, too. I use the pizza recipe from the Cheese Board Collective book.

    I know that was a lot of unasked for advice, but I love my sourdough and I get a little excited when other people make their own, too!

    -Kate

  2. Anthony J. Rapino says:

    Kate, thanks so much! Your advice is more than welcome and I hope you will come back throughout my postings to lend some more.

    I had already started a wheat and white flour mix starter, but I’m doing it at the same time, so if it goes bad, no worries.

    On that subject, are there any sure wayas to know if it has gone bad? Or do you just know because it starts to smell in a bad way?

    Thanks again.

  3. Kate says:

    If it smells rancid or doesn’t bubble up anymore it is probably bad. If it gets a funny color… You’ll get to know your healthy starter so you’ll be able to tell if it goes bad.

    Another thing I do (since you didn’t ask…) is I keep my starter in a gallon size zip-top bag. That way nothing gets dirty and I don’t have to stir it up – I put a cup of flour in the bag, rinse the measuring cup while warming up the water then put a cup of water in there, close the bag then smush it around in the bag. That way I also know I’m not sticking a spoon harboring germs in there, too. It’s easier to mix up the flour clumps that way. I just change the bag every couple weeks and it’s easy to pour off the excess.

    I’m excited to see how your starter goes!

    -Kate

  4. Kate says:

    Oh, yeah, and I LOVE Alton Brown. =)

  5. Anthony J. Rapino says:

    Kate, thanks again for the advice. Check out my latest posts for the progress (We’ve got yeast!) 🙂

    Also, if you have a blog or website address, let me know and I’ll add it to my links.

  6. Kate says:

    Congrats on the yeast! It looks great! I also wouldn’t worry about where your starter is in the house – it’s been everywhere from 60 degrees to over 100 degrees in my kitchen since I started my starter and it’s perfectly fine. When it was over 100 here, though, I would tend to put my starter in the closet under the stairs, but I don’t think you’ll have that problem for a while… =)

    My blog is just a family blog which probably wouldn’t interest your readers much, but thanks for the offer.

    Kate

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