Thursday, December 4, 2008

Starter Instructions

I was going to smear some starter on black velvet and take a pic under UV light, but the Baltimorioles' photo was perfect enough. . .

The plan was to give them some starter, then the information to upkeep the starter in the manner to which it has become accustomed, but I let it slip, and I'm hoping that their starter isn't dead or poisonous yet.

Though I didn't get the original recipe from Sourdough Home, it still houses the best and most sensitively explained methods for making and keeping-up a starter, as far as I can tell, along with other sound bread advice:

But if you can't tear yourself, away from the pics here, I will explain:

To start:

Add equal amounts (by weight, where flour weighs roughly half as much, in a sifted, spooned cup, where a sifted, spooned cup is a king's measurement cup of flour that has been sifted into a separate container, then spooned into the cup, due to the tendency for flour to get compacted when you scoop it—frankly, I don't have the sifter, scale, money or patience necessary to do much of this right now, so a great deal of fudgework can be applied to all of the recipes on the site, starting now, until I tell you personally that I have acquired the all-of-the-above to begin sifting and spooning my flour. Though, keep in mind that I spoon my bags of flour habitually and compulsively in my own, non-baking time) (and you can use as little as a tablespoon of flour for this) (and actually, you don't need to be that exact with this stage in the process anyway, but it'll be nice to know in the future that you have a 100% hydration starter, so you can be really certain about the hydration—and repeatability—of future recipes) (also, I'm really excited for the day when blogger allows footnotes, rather than just expansive parenthetical tangents) flour and water to a very very clean container. Plastic is okay, but not preferable, due to its porousness; it is a grease magnate!

So you let it sit for a day. You eye it suspiciously for long stretches, rocking with a shotgun on your thigh, though your chair is not actually a rocker. When you look away, the yeasts rappel in from the heavens and start an insurrection. They foment change, they work with certain agents in the bacterial underground and gain a following among the abject margins; they have a week before you selectively kill them.

So you double the amount of flour and water in there, the second day, to feed them, to lull them, and then cast half into the trash. Right now it's a melee of undesirables, the resistance still underground, so you could get very sick from tasting the mixture at this point, each drop a game of Russian roulette on the tongue. Seriously, don't taste it; it will smell terrible anyway, most likely. And while you're doing all this, make sure to keep the sides of the container relatively clean, because if starter gets on the sides, it will die and mold, and then the mold will infect the rest. Bad news.

Repeat second-day activity of doubling and casting-out until a week has passed from when you first played god with this little world. By now, your careful encouragement of the bourgeoisie of saccharomyces and lacto-bacilli has kept them afloat over an unincentivised, impoverished, pitted-against-self underclass of protein-eating bacterial, rival fungi, and other species of life vilified because you have a specific purpose in mind. You summer in the Bahamas; you use a narwhal tusk to clean your fingernails, and you should also be getting a sweet-sour "sourdough" smell from the starter at this point. Ooooh! I forgot, make sure you cover the starter enough so it doesn't dry out, but leave enough of an air vent so it doesn't start to smell to alcohol-y; the yeasts produce alcohol when they eat the starches in the flour, the bacteria eats both the starch and alcohol, producing acid, lactic and otherwise—I could be wrong on this; please correct me in a castigate, pedantic and/or patronizing tone—but! if there's too much alcohol, something happens... maybe it kills the yeast, who at that point would be swimming in what amounts to their own feces? I mean, how would you like it?

So now you have starter, but you don't want to feed it every day, because that produces a lot of waste (btw, if you have extra starter, you can make sourdough pancakes, English muffins, crumpets, etc etc no problem, but you maybe don't want to have to do that all the time). So, though some people say you should wait a month before putting it in the fridge, so you've made sure to cultivate the proper culture in there, I have no problem with popping it in the fridge and just feeding it every five days or so. Sometimes, if it looks like there isn't enough activity, or isn't a sour enough smell or taste, so you think you might be right back where you started, with a bucket of wet flour instead of starter, you should leave it out all night, and let it get nice and bubbly again before popping it back in the fridge. Again, cleanliness is key. You don't have to be super-anal—ahem—but you want to transfer it to a new container every week or two, just to keep things on the up-and-up. I use Tupperware, because you can sit the lids loosely, then cover them with a towel, and it lets just the right amount of air into the container. When you're making the starter to begin with, you might just cover it with a towel, because good ventilation is more important at that stage.


So now you just keep things clean and do the double/discard motion every once in a while. but if you're like me, you'll compulsively make bread instead of attending to your responsibilities, and you'll find the need to replenish your starter, rather than cast anything out. In that case, just double your flour/water mixture, and leave it out all night. You're set!

Also, if you're going on vacation, as I am soon, you can throw the whole thing into the freezer (after a feeding, so you know it's real healthy, mind you), and thaw it out when you get back.

Bad signs:

If you get mold, gross smells, changes in color or anything weird, there are ways to revive the starter, but until I have experience with that I won't recommend anything. Sourdough Home has some of what sounds like good advice for that kind of thing, so you can go there for answers.

And if you want any starter, let me know, if you don't want to go through the whole process. I have some in new york and will be in LA with some in a few days. I mean, if someone really wants some in India soon, I might offer, but I think customs and security would have issues with me just waltzing on the plane with a bucket full of bacteria, and I'm definitely not going to swallow a condom full of starter just so you could make bread.

1 comment:

Sylvia said...

Hooray, we're fomenting our very own revolutionary brigade of lactobacilli!