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Feb 15, 2005 09:24 AM

sourdough starter

  • c

I've CTRL F'ed and can't find an actual recipe, just discussion on what to do after you've already made the starter.

Out of ignorance, I tried Alton Brown's recipe which was on Epicurious. While the bread is perfectly fine, it's not sour and I didn't know that using baker's yeast was a BIG no-no! So...what i need is a great sourdough starter and proper instructions on the feeding and care of it, though perhaps the latter can be found in one of the posts already on the board. Ideally, this would be one for whole wheat breads, but if that's a bad idea, i suppose i can use whole wheat flour when making the actual breads?

I've looked around online and seen various recipes, all seem to be different, though certainly share the concept that you just can use some flour and some water. But there seem to be lots of variances on how long the starter should sit and etc before first use...


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  1. Try Nancy Silverton's book "Breads from La Brea Bakery". This book has a 21-page explanation on growing a starter. It's truly exhaustive and exhausting.

    BTW, she writes that your bread shouldn't be sour. If your bread is sour that means you've let our starter ripen too much.

    1. Sourdough breads aren't necessarily sour, it is common usage for breads leavened with a non-commercial yeast and bacteria mixture. The starter used to make a bread can impart a sour flavor because it has the one strain of microbe found in San Francisco style sourdough or because the starter was kept at a temperature and/or fed in a way to get a sour taste. A starter is made up of both wild yeast and bacteria. Different temperatures favor one over the other, resulting in a starter that will do different things.

      As for starting a starter, you can capture wild yeast or you can order one from King Arthur Flour or another baking supplier. If you are going to start one, head down to the local co-op and start with some organic whole wheat flour, but flour that was milled at temperatures that wouldn't kill any wild yeast. You don't need organic grapes like Nancy Silverton suggests. If you start your starter from scratch, it is good to store it at 60-65F. Warmer temps will promote growth of other microbes that could beat out your yeast, and cooler temps retard the yeast growth. Assuming you were successful, after about 2 weeks you could start using it. It will still be a month or two before the starter really stabilizes and defines its character. The starter should smell more or less yeasty, show active growth and be the same general color as the yeast you're using to grow it. My first starter didn't seem to smell very "yeasty", but it didn't smell evil either so I tried it and it turned out to be a good starter.

      As for the feeding and care of a starter, Nancy Silverton's method seems more appropriate for a small commercial bakery, not a home baker. You can store a small amount of the starter in your fridge for a week or two with no care. The starter is a living thing, just like a house plant or pet. Take it out of the fridge and start to refresh it (building it up to the amount you'll need to bake with) two days before you'll be baking.

      As for baking with whole wheat, you will get a denser loaf. If that is what you like, great. But you can also play with the mixture of flours you use in your loaves. The co-op should have a variety of differently milled flours to experiment with. But even just using a ratio of whole wheat to white can give your breads a variety of textures and taste. I like the flavor of whole wheat, but not the dense loaves, so I'll use 10-30% whole wheat in my flour mixture. But to each their own.

      1. I don't know if you're a fan of Cook's Illustrated or not, but their latest issue had an article on spour dough bread. In case you're not familiar with how they go about doing things, they exhaustively check out every angle of preparing a dish to come up with the best methode and what they recommend usually is quite good. Their bottom line recommendation was to order the starter on line unless you are the masochistic type who has way too much time on your hands. In fact their final recipe using a mail order starter took "only" 24 hours.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Jambalaya

          Just be aware that whatever starter you buy, eventually over the life of the starter the original yeast will be replaced by your native strain of wild yeast, which may or may not taste as good.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            even if i've erred by using the baker's yeast in my original starter? or should i just scrap that and start anew w/the wild yeast?

            1. re: claire

              if your starter is working I wouldn't throw it out - even if you did start it with bakers yeast. I'm no expert, but the way I understand it, and as the previous poster suggested, eventually your starter will take on the characteristics of the wild yeast found naturally in your location.

              Now, if you are into this for the sport of starting a starter from complete scratch, that is another thing. A few months back, I did my first starter. I did it the old fashioned way - with just water and organic flour. At first I thought I screwed up, but then it really started to work. Pretty cool feeling to get it going from scratch.

              that said, the practical thing in your situation, is to stick with the starter if it is already working.

              Lots of folks here have recommended Silverton's La Brea Bread book. I have it and love it. But I agree with one poster that it can be a bit exhausting and the amounts that it suggests for feeding your starter, as well as the actual recipe sizes, are just too much unless you have a small side business in baking. But its a great reference. For a more no-nonsense, pragmatic guide, try Rose Levy Berenbaum's Bread Bible. She has a great section on starters - including how to start and maintain it. I find it more manageable and less intimidating. Anyhow, the short of it all is use Silverton's for the bread recipes (but half them... they always do 2 big loaves) and Berenbaum's for the practical info into starting and maintaining your starter.

              Good luck.

              1. re: adamclyde

                thanks for the encouragement. i guess i'll just stick with what i've got for the time being...since there's a fair amount of it and would prefer not to be wasteful. at some point, i'll go the route you suggest as well and see how that pans out. thanks.

          2. re: Jambalaya

            The mail order stuff from King Arthur, or at least some of it, comes in packets just like Fleischmans or Red Star and they want you to use the whole packet for your bread. The difference being that the yeast (and hopefully bacteria) are a wild strain and not commercial. If you are going to bake two or more times a month, then just grow out the starter. If you aren't going to bake that often, then you may not want to hassle with caring for a starter and just use the mail order starter like a packet of yeast.