– written by Lonnee Hamilton
I have tried sourdough once before, back when I lived in LA. and the kids were young, but my starter devolved into a stinking, moldy mess, so I abandoned the whole idea. I did regularly make Mark Bittman's "No Knead Bread" that was recommended to me by a colleague when I worked as a copy editor at Bon Appetit magazine.
That recipe uses commercial yeast and not sourdough starter. But it's a good one to start with.
In these lockdown times, what better thing to do than attack a new domestic project that can be tossed into the bin if it doesn't work out?
Like most everyone, I didn't have just spare rye flour or whole wheat flour sitting around. And at that time I couldn't get an Ocado delivery, so plain white flour (not even bread flour) would have to do.
I found The Kitchn's recipe to be the most basic, and I needed basic.
Basically each day, you add an equal amount of flour and water to feed your starter. I used approximately 40g of flour and water each day.
I made a contraption of an old yogurt container and put a plastic bag on the top secured with a rubber band. My thinking was that you needed to allow some of the gases to escape. I placed it on top of my radiator in order to give it a warm place for the magic to happen.
The first couple days, it was very stinky and I thought I was headed down the same road of moldy failure. But don't mind the smelly hooch. Persevere. After about 2 to 3 days the smelliness starts to subside.
My starter took about 7 days to really get going, and along the way I was tempted to give up. But because we're in lockdown and it's a distraction, I kept going, which was good.
Baking with sourdough starter is baking on a timeline. It takes time to get the starter going, and after that it takes time to start baking. I think it's easier to just search for recipes that use starter, rather than trying to convert one that uses commercial yeast. I've had some trial and errors, but here are a few tips:
- Search for recipes that use sourdough starter. It's easier than trying to convert one that uses commercial yeast.
- The timeline for using your starter can be confusing. But basically when the starter is ready (about 5 to 7 days after you start it), it will start to bubble up and nearly double 2 to 4 hours after you feed it. At that point it's ready to use for baking. Take a small spoonful and put it in a glass of water. If it floats, it's ready to use.
- Focaccia is an easy way to get started. I didn't have parchment paper, and my first sourdough boule stuck to the Dutch oven. But focaccia can be made without the parchment paper. I made mine both in a rectangular pan and in a large cast iron skillet. The cast iron worked great.
- You need to feed your starter every day (I do 40g flour and water). If you start to have too much starter, you can try this recipe to make yummy scallion/sesame pancakes. King Arthur flour has a lot of recipes for what to do with your leftover starter. They range from pretzels to pancakes to crackers.
- If you start to overload on the carbs, you can put your starter to rest in the fridge. The cold slows down the yeast process and you only have to feed it once a week. When you want to start baking again, just take it out, feed it, get it back to room temperature and the bubbling/doubling phase. That might take a day or two.
And that's my adventures in sourdough starter so far. Some people keep their starter going for years. We will see if mine survives quarantine.
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Lonnee is Club Relations Director of the AWC. In her former life she was a food writer for Saveur.