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King Arthur Bread Book--anyone try the sour dough starter?

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I'm considering creating a sour dough starter. It's all part of my ongoing love of live things in the kitchen: first yogurt, then creme fraiche, and most recently kombucha. I figure a sourdough starter is the next logical step.

King Arthur's bread book gives detailed instructions. Has anyone tried it with success? Alternatively, what starter recipes have you tried that have worked?

Finally, is it a pain in the patooty to maintain a starter?

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  1. Nancy Silverton's grape-based starter is wonderful! The King Arthur starter seemed a bit blah after such flavor; certainly a case of "tough act to follow".

    I've kept starter for more than 30 years - had one for over 25 until a mid-summer move brought death. I've never found that it was a "pain in the patooty", more like money in the bank!

    I, too, love having "live" things in my kitchen, it feels a primordial tie to kitchens past. Right now I have red wine vinegar aging, some fresh cheese is thickening and I'll refresh the starter this weekend. Country wheat bread and pancakes wouldn't be the same without the "oomph" they get from these yeasts.

    Just go for it, noodles! The most you have to lose is a couple of cups of flour and some time. You'll be more than repaid with great flavor and the fun of knowing that you are a part of a long, unbroken chain in food's history.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sherri

      Thanks! That really does sound interesting enough to try.

      What kind of grapes did you use, the run of the mill red seeded ones?

      And when feeding a starter, should I worry about using filtered water or is tap fine? The tap here in Los Angeles is very minerally.

      Link: http://www.recipesource.com/baked-goo...

      1. re: nooodles

        If you are considering using her recipe I strongly rec buying or borrowing her bread book. She gives very detailed instructions and provides many, many recipes using the resulting starter.

        1. re: nooodles

          I used Red Flame Seedless grapes per Nancy Silverton's direction. I heartily second JudyAU's suggestion to get a hold of some of Silverton's bread recipes/suggestions for using this starter. The focaccia and olive bread alone are worth whatever it takes to get your hands on it.

          1. re: Sherri

            Oops, I only answered one of your questions. re: water - tap, filtered or unfiltered ...... over the years, I've used them all. My first starter was "born" in Los Angeles and went to live in Coronado & Monterey CA - none are great water sources. A well in Southern Maryland, city water in Alexandria VA, etc - moving to different parts of the country, I have used tap water from every region as well as bottled water. Currently, I'm in the Phoenix AZ area and our water is very hard. Sometimes I'll feel very much the purist and buy bottled spring water while at other times I'm rushed and must use whatever comes out of the tap. Truth-be-told, I cannot tell a difference.

            One thing I am wild-eyed careful about is never doing any part of the sourdough starter process in metal. No metal bowls, no metal utensils. A chemical engineer told me I was a fanatic nut, this was unnecessary, etc but I'm unwilling to chance a problem. Glass, wood, plastic have served me well and I have no reason to change what ain't broke, unsolicited advice notwithstanding.

          2. re: nooodles

            I'm sure you're anxious to get started and don't want to wait. But thought I'd mention that I have several friends who use sustainably farmed wine grapes from their favorite Zinfandel or Pinot Noir vineyards in Sonoma County and Steve Sullivan's (Acme bread) recipe. They like knowing that the wild yeasts on those grapes contribute to their favorite wine and have the same lineage. It makes a much more complex starter than grocery store grapes from Chile. Maybe you can find some that are grown not too far away like Coachella so that you're preserving and feeding a local yeast.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              That is a lovely idea. I'll have to keep that in mind for my next trip out. Maybe I'll start one first just to get the technique down. There's no reason why I can't start another one later, wine grapes in hand.

        2. Your post came at a perfect time. I haven't tried the King Arthur recipe, although I do use their flour exclusively. I, too, am thinking about starting a sourdough starter. I did a little research and found a recipe for starter that contained flour and water only! The recipe that I was planning on using is in a Sunset cookbook I bought at a used book sale. This recipe calls for Yogurt and skim milk. I have purhcased all of the ingredients, I've been busy with other baking and haven't taken the time to follow through with the starter. I'll post the recipe if you'd like. Thanks for getting me enthused enough to get going on the starter while its hot here in Los Angeles. I'll be storing mine outside for now, if that works within the parameters of the recipe.
          Once your starter has grown, please post the results of your success. I, for one, would love to see the pictures of your beautiful sourdough loaves, etc.
          Thanks for sharing!

          1. I have recently (w/i the past 3 months) made a starter. It's fantastic, and I only used flour and water. For whatever reason, I didn't want to use any commercial yeasts, or fruits (grapes) or veggies (potatoes). I used regular old Boston tap water. I used the starter method from The Cheeseboard Collective cookbook which is almost identical to Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice starter/barm. It's not a pain at all. Very gratifying. And fascinating.

            1. I am going through a similar interest in learning these sort of basic food techniques, yogurt raised flatbreads, etc, and now I am experimenting with sourkraut, etc.
              I am so excited to know about the sour dough starter from grapes, and will start it with the first red flame grapes i see at the market.
              My grandmother made bread from sourdough, boy I wish I had her starter and recipe...
              You might enjoy a book called Nourishing Traditions, which has some good information on traditional pickling , kephir, etc.
              Any tips on yogurt and creme fraiche making?

              1. I haven't tried the sourdough starter recipe from KA, but I've leafed through Nancy Silverton's bread book and it's fabulous. You should try to check it out from the library. Silverton is clearly a master bread baker and inspiration in this arena. See link below for more info and some cool video demonstrations. There's one where she demonstrates her sourdough starter, and I love watching her handling of dough in other segments.

                I got some good general info about sourdough starter a while back. I linked that thread on a more recent thread (just a few days ago), if you care to scroll down.

                Now...I'm curious about your homemade yogurt. Do you use one of those yogurt maker contraptions? Can you elaborate? I haven't found a commercial plain yogurt that I've loved (Straus is my fave for now), but I remember trying some incredible homemade versions years ago. So creamy, loose (like I prefer), and not too sour.

                Link: http://www.pbs.org/juliachild/meet/si...

                3 Replies
                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Loose and not sour was exactly what I ended up with. I basically Googled a few recipes and went with it. No contraption, just basic kitchen tools.

                  Started with Straus milk and Fage Total whole fat yogurt, followed the recipe (I'll look it up, have to fun now. It involved heating to a certain temperature, then stirring in a tablespoon of yogurt and cooling), then letting sit somewhere dark for a few days. Then, if you wish, you drain it.

                  Ultimately, I ended up with a yogurt that was thinner than any storebought. I could have drained it more, but then I would have had to sacrifice volume. And you know how cheap I am...

                  I gave up after a few tries because a quart of Straus milk yielded less than half a quart of yogurt, and at that price I could have just gotten a tub of Straus yogurt, you know? It was fun, but the taste/effort/price ratios didn't work out well enough for me to continue.

                  The kombucha, however, is still going strong because homemade tastes much better than storebought, and is much cheaper too.

                  1. re: nooodles

                    Thanks, nooodles! Sometimes it's fun to just try something even if it's not adopted into one's repertoire. I'll look up some info online.

                    BTW, am really liking the Straus yogurt now! I've noticed that I'm eating it much more quickly than most commercial yogurts.

                    When I make homemade stuff, I will use that as the "starter", but I might see how it works w/ a different, less pricey milk.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      Let me know how it goes. I promised myself I'd try it one day with cheaper milk, but never got around to it.

                2. there was a fairly instructive post from a few days ago regarding tap v. spring water. While you can make a starter with chlorinated tap water, you certainly give it a more fighting chance with bottled water.

                  Here's my little personal thoughts on Silverton's grape method...

                  Let me first start off by saying that I love her books, immensely respect her skills and stuff. I have the la brea breads book and use it often - I find it one of the best books on naturally leavened books around.

                  However, I think the grape starter process to be totally unnecessary. I've done it twice. It is a bloody hassle. I later decided to start one with only flour and water. After a few weeks (i.e., after a week or two of feeding the starters once they are "live") there was absolutely no difference in flavor, strength or vigor from the two starters. Also, if you use Silverton's quantities, you are using enormous amounts of starter. I find this to be unnecessary too. At one point, you are playing with 2-3 quarts of starter. It's a huge waste, since you have to maintain that amount, if you follow her precisely.

                  After my own experiment, I did some reading online and found that there is definitely debate on the whole science of using things like grapes to start starters. Some folks don't believe that the bacteria or enzymes or whatever "bugs" it is that makes starters work really comes from the grapes - or that it helps in any way. From my own experience, I just haven't seen any difference.

                  So... my advice is just this, for your first time, try the easiest route. Use flour and water.

                  Also, check out the post from Carb Lover and the post from a few days ago. Good advice.

                  And if you are still wanting and REALLY want to get into the science and detail of sourdoughs, go to the sourdough group at the link below. More info than you could possibly ever hope to have.

                  Oh, and congratulations. Sourdough is wonderful!

                  Link: http://groups.google.com/group/rec.fo...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: adamclyde

                    I agree with the post above. I have starters I made from just tap water (Boston) and flour (King Arthur's), and one from a starter purchased from King Arthur's. And my husband who took over bread making from me made his own starter based on Joe Ortiz' Village Baker book. All three make delicious bread, rolls, pancakes, muffins and pizza. I think any differences in the starter are outweighed by the variability in flour and other ingredients. I was surprised at how simple it was.

                    1. re: adamclyde

                      Excellent advice, adamclyde!! I agree that Silverton's method may be better to try after a basic starter method. The idea of it is very cool and romantic, but I still haven't tried it b/c it seems a bit daunting.

                      The friend who gave me my starter has tried Silverton's grape method, and she said it was sorta a pain and that she would end up throwing it out b/c it looked and smelled way too funky/scary to use.

                      For ease, I linked my old thread on sourdough starter wherein you and others provided excellent guidance.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    2. I currently use a heritage starter that began in Russian California and was used by St. Herman of Alaska, who died in 1837. It was given to me by a Kodiak native who had moved to Washington State. I have also made starters a number of different times, including starters made from wheat only, from rye flour, and using grapes. I think rye is the easiest way to start. Maggie Glezer gives great instructions. Jeffrey Hamelman has instructions in his book. So does Thom Leonard if you can find his marvelous out-of-print book. THe main thing to keep in mind is work small. You can build a perfectly good starter using 1/4 cup, or about an ounce, of flour for each stage. Is a starter hard to maintain? No harder than watering a house plant. I normally keep mine as a stiff leaven, since it doesn't exhaust quite so quickly. And if I don't bake often, I refresh it a couple or three times before baking. What you gain in flavor and digestibility more than offsets the little bit of extra care. And recent studies seem to indicate that the bacterial fermentation that takes place in a sourdough loaf denatures many of the components in wheat dough that cause some people not to tolerate it. One study seems to indicate that even people with Crohn's disease can eat sourdough bread and sourdough noodles, but the verdict isn't in on that. (For more info, check the Weston A. Price Foundation website.)

                      1. I bought my sourdough starter culture from King Arthur. I tried many times to grow my own(grape method), but they never seemed to take, and the few that did died after a few weeks.

                        I have had the same batch for 5 years and it isn't a problem keeping it alive, even in the hottest Midwest summer.