Gather round and I’ll tell you a tale about a pile of water and flour that took over my life for an inordinate amount of time.
That’s right. I cracked. I fell into the coronavirus trap of building a sourdough starter. Unlike everyone else though, I decided to really commit to it as things started to open back up. Is my schedule suddenly jam packed now that businesses are reopening? No. I’m just a couple of months behind on the trend.
I’ve had a sourdough starter before. It was a couple of years ago, and I decided to use one of those freeze dried starters that establish quite quickly. I wrote about it here too. By no means did I use that starter to its full capabilities. I maybe made one loaf of bread and it came out rock hard and jammed up the garbage disposal at my dad’s place when I gifted my parents the loaf. I did not creatively come up with ways to use my discard. Instead, I was disheartened by the failed loaf and decided to relegate the starter to the back of the fridge, where it grew various colours of mould and was completely ruined.
Not this time, I said. This time, I was committed to bringing this starter to life from scratch. No helping hand from an established starter. I could do it!
For weeks, I fretted about this heaping pile of flour and water, about the temperature in my kitchen, the freshness of the flour, the combinations of flour, the temperature of the water, the container I had chosen, among many other things.
I began with using whole wheat flour exclusively. One hundred grams of it, to be exact and combined it with one hundred grams of lukewarm tap water. After twenty-four hours sitting on my kitchen counter, absolutely no visible changes had taken place. Could it be, I wondered, because my whole wheat flour had a best before date in January of this year? Cue extensive googling on flour freshness.
On day two, I decided to try bread flour instead. I kept 100 grams of my starter and discarded the rest. I mixed in 100g of bread flour and 100g of lukewarm water. After twelve hours, it had risen substantially. Despite this, there were no bubbles in my starter.
On days three through five, I continued using the bread flour and added it to the 100g of starter I’d retained. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. No rise, no bubbles, nothing.
Then, I decided to combine 50g of whole wheat flour with 50g of bread flour instead. There was some rise, but again no bubbles. Was I a bad sourdough mother, I wondered.
At this point, I decided that my method just was not working. I went back to the drawing board and found a recipe for establishing a starter without discarding for the first few days. The logic behind this being that you could be discarding the parts of your starter that were actually developing the required bacteria. Instead, you add only 30g of flour and 30g water to the starter for four days, before beginning to discard.
I read through a bunch of recipes for sourdough starters and found a common theme. Many people were splitting their flour combinations as 50% whole wheat flour or rye flour and 50% all-purpose flour. I decided to try the whole wheat/AP flour mix and had great success.
Suddenly, or like three days later, I had a seemingly active sourdough starter. I began keeping 100g of starter and adding 50g of whole wheat flour, 50g AP flour, and 100g of lukewarm water.
All told, it was probably close to three weeks before I was able to really use the starter. Persevere, if a pet sourdough is what you’re looking for. Caring for this bucket of sludge has taken more time and energy than looking after an infant.
So far I’ve made two sourdough loaves, crumpets, crackers, and cookies using sourdough as the leavening agent. All of those recipes to follow in the coming days. I’ve also got a new cookbook ordered just on sourdough recipes. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, here are some amazing sourdough resources with creative recipes:
KING ARTHUR FLOUR – So many different uses for sourdough starter and discard.
THE CLEVER CARROT – The recipes just keep on coming.
This sourdough business rockets off the hassle scale. It is hard work remembering to feed and care for a food pet. Then, one great loaf is baked and I’d forgotten how annoying it was.