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Jul 12, 2009 10:07 PM

Silverton Sourdough Starter

For the past what seems like weeks I've been growing my starter into the healthy fellow it is today. Every time I do this, about once ever 5 years, I vow never to do it again. Then I forget about the mess and the constant attention and the gooey mass and the powdery floury mess and I start again.

The main gripe I have about Silverton's directions, and this is only because I failed to read to the end of the directions whereat was contained an extremely important step. . . to throw out all but 2 cups of starter each time you start a new feeding day. The feeding goes on for at least 20394 days and nights. Okay, that's a lie, it's only a couple of weeks, but it requires that you be around at certain times and thus puts the kybosh on most plans you have.

I actually figured out how to make the initial starter and feedings so that I could go on a short trip during the period the starter was resting.

Now I'm almost done and the panic is hitting.....what am I going to make?

The first time I made starter, I made focaccia and I still remember how delicious it was. I have a bunch of dandelion leaves and am going to start with bitter greens, onions and cheese on the focaccia. I hope it's not too hot in the next few days. Nothing worse than baking on a 90 degree day.

So I am about to start my baking odyssey and will report back about the results.

There's nothing so great as looking at your starter and seeing the slightly seething bubbles.

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  1. No need to throw out that starter, except to control the amount that will certainly accumulate if you don't either use if or discard it. Just divide it into two batches at that midway point and treat them like twins. Once my starter has developed I feed it once each week (yep, seven day intervals) and allow it to rest on the counter until it's about doubled in mass before putting it into the refrigerator to rest for the next six days. On the seventh day, it gets fed again - 50 percent of the weight of the accumulated mass in flour, 50 percent in water. When I'm preparing to use it I simply feed it well the day before bread making day and leave it set out until it's time to use it. Then it gets fed again and back into the fridge it goes. When it comes time to reduce the accumulation of starter I just add some flour and make waffles, dinner rolls, or a quick Ciabatta. I've never found it necessary to throw out starter.
    Here's a great starter if you'd like to consider something that's simple and produces a great result:

    5 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Todao's right - you can just stick it in the fridge at pretty much any part of the cycle (I'd work through the short evil-smelling stage before refrigerating), and take up more or less where you left off. Healthy yeast can absorb a lot of abuse - you don't have to put your ballet tickets up on StubHub..

      1. re: condiment

        I know, but Nancy is a harsh taskmistress and I trust her implicitly. I actually had a starter that lasted for several years about 10 years ago.

        The bread and bagels I have made from her starter recipe and procedure are so wonderful that I am willing to put up with her quirkiness.

        Thanks for the tips. I didn't mean to sound as if my whole life was upside down because of this. I'm just a whiny-type person ;+)

        1. re: oakjoan

          Rants can be healthy sometimes. : )

          If you are still wondering what to make with the new batch of starter, you might consider Nancy's version of olive bread. I don't think you will be disappointed.

          1. re: Sam D.

            I've not been disappointed yet in a Silverton recipe. I even have the Silverton Peel Family Cookbook and there are some really good recipes in that book. . . even the iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing.

            1. re: Sam D.

              The Chocolate + Cherry bread is wonderful, as well as the Fig + Anise.

      2. Is this the recipe where you use grapes presumably to help add some wild yeasts?

        I'm dimly recalling that.

        Will be interested in how things turn out with it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: karykat

          I was wondering the same thing, Karykat. I have fond memories of that starter a bunch of years ago. It made some excellent breads.

          1. re: ChefJune

            karykat: Yes, this is the recipe using grapes.

            We had toast this morning from the bread I made yesterday. Really good.

            I'm doing focaccia next to see if it's as great as I remember it from my first try several years ago.

        2. About 10 years ago I was given Nancy's bread book and made the starter. I kept it going for several years - I even named it Seymour and would take it to the office for mid-day feedings. (Everyone thought I was a bit wacked). I had great success with all of her recipes and especially loved the parmesan bread. I moved to Arizona from So Cal and finally tossed it since it's just too darned hot to make bread here. I don't miss seeing the container in the frig when it would separate and there would be grey fluid at the top. I also found it to be a terrific science project. Maybe I'll start another one someday...

          4 Replies
          1. re: melcarr

            I also did a couple of rounds of raising starter from Silverton's recipe and then making bread and then putting the starter in the fridge and forgetting about it.

            I just had a hankering for some of that bread and began the long and semi-tedious process a couple of weeks ago. It's not actually tedious, as there's not much to do. It's just that you can't make any plans that take you away for too long. I'd planned the first resting period for the time we were away for 4 days.

            I've made quite a bit of bread from many recipes, and hers is extra picky and semi-irritating, given as she is to asking you to do things like measure the temperature of the FLOOR! in your kitchen. I ignored that part. However, the bread you get with her method is so superior to all other bread I've made (a fair amount), that it's ultimately worth it. Today I made bread for the first time and the results were really great. 2 fat loaves of rustic white sourdough with a fab crust and a lovely texture and taste.

            The gripe I have is that her instructions are so detailed that they're hard to follow. I wish she'd had a section of simply set out steps instead of long paragraphs describing warming boxes and proofing baskets and what they're made of. I had to pick through all this to get to, e.g., the temperature of the oven or the method of spraying the oven with water. Now that I'm used to the process, it'll be easier next time.

            Once the starter is finished, it's not that hard to get great bread. I plan to make bagels next. I'd made them several years ago from her recipe and they were quite fab.

            In any case, I'm glad I did this, even though my clothes all have little bits of hardened dough all over them, not to mention the containers I used to grow the starter.

            So once again, I say 'HUZZAH and thank you!" to Nancy Silverton. Long may she prosper!

            This bread is really great. Even better than a fresh Levain from Acme Bakery in Berkeley. REALLY.

            1. re: oakjoan

              Joan, temperature control is important to commercial bakers, because it enables them to keep to a schedule with predictable results. Home bakers don't have to be so picky. I think it helps to remember that for thousands of years, bakers made bread with natural leaven and adapted to the temperature of the environment. You are lucky in that the SF Bay area has a temperature range particularly favorable to a well-balanced naturally leavened bread. But consider places like Saudi Arabia or Yemen where temps run considerably hotter--true the cultures there generally reflect microbic adaptation to the warmer temperatures.
              All things being equal, however, I think you get reliably good results by sticking to basic parameters for good bread baking--parameters that are normally expressed in baker's percentages--the ratio of salt and water to the flour by weight. Then keep in mind that slow rising gives more time for enzymes to develop the potential of flour. You can achieve this either by a very slow bulk fermentation (think no-knead bread) or by the addition of pre-fermented dough (as in biga or poolish or a sourdough starter). A sourdough starter has an added advantage in that it works slightly more slowly than most yeasted breads, so the enzymes often have more time to do their work.
              The big variable you need to keep in mind is how long it takes your particular starter to do its work at the temperature of your kitchen.
              Preparing a dough starter with the same hydration as your bread can give you a good idea. The classic French rule is that a stiff dough starter will quadruple in volume in eight hours or less if it is young and vigorous. I've found that in the summer, when our kitchen temps run typically in the high seventies, my starter made up to the consistency of a medium-soft dough will quadruple in volume in three and a half hours. In winter, when the temps are in the mid to low sixties, it may take up to eight hours. Translated into the bulk fermentation of bread dough, which contains salt that inhibits slightly the fermentation, I find the dough will slightly less than double in the same period of time. And on warmer days (with kitchen temps in the low eighties), I've done a sourdough bulk ferment in about three hours. So if you get into the habit of refreshing your storage starter prior to making up your dough for your bake, you ought to be able to gauge fairly easily how much time you have to allow for bulk fermentation. Final proofing will be slightly less than half that length of time, provided you handle the dough lightly in shaping it and don't compress it so much that the tender dough (because of the acid) has to struggle to rise.
              Or to put it more briefly, I gave up on proofing boxes years ago. I just watch the dough and let it tell me when it is ready. Initially, this was very hard as I feared I would get it wrong. Once I discovered that almost anything I did was edible and tasted as good as anything available at the bakery or market, I stopped worrying. Gradually, I found that I could feel the difference in dough as it matured.
              So do look to Silverton for proportions of ingredients and general procedures, but don't be afraid to let your dough do its own thing in response to the temperature of your kitchen.

              1. re: oakjoan

                You have no idea how difficult those recipes - or rather that recipe! - was to get past the publisher. (I knew Nancy and her co-writer, who was the food editor of the L.A. Times, rather well.) I still think it may be the longest recipe ever published.

                I need to get a started going again, come to think of it. I really miss making that bread - not to mention using the excess starter as the best deep-fry batter of all time.

                1. re: condiment

                  condiment: I laughed out loud when I read your post. Since my last report I've made regular bread again and also sourdough pancakes. The pancakes are exquisite. The texture is just spongy enough and there's a slight sour tang to them. All I can say is "wow!

                  Thanks to all who've posted to this thread for the helpful tips and the descriptions of your trials, tribs, and triumphs.