Sourdough Starter Failure–Where Did I Go Wrong?

As promised, here is  my sourdough starter update.

Last Saturday, I started a batch of sourdough starter.  I was excited to see that there was activity and the wild yeast was growing (see photo below) until something happened when I made my first “refreshment” on Monday night.  It appeared as if the “refreshment” had halted the growth process.  I am wondering if the high humidity we had from heavy rains might had something to do with that?  I began to fret a little, but I continued to stir the starter faithfully every day just like the directions instructed.  *Note, while I did leave my kitchen window slightly cracked, I did not leave the starter sitting close to it as the directions advised.

By Wednesday morning I was convinced my batter was a dud and I would end up tossing it – so I decided to add about  a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to it.  Sugar typically helps most wild yeasts thrive and grow so I thought maybe I could kick start the yeast into growing.   To be honest, I don’t think adding the sugar helped or hurt the process.  Wednesday night I decided to do a  little on-line research before I tossed the starter out and started over.  I was eager to see what went wrong.

I ended up finding a blog called Food Wishes that chronicles (by video) the entire sourdough making process.  The video for day number 4  provided some critical information.  The directions given in the video said to remove 1/2 of the batter, and add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 c. of warm water, so I followed this advise.

On Thursday morning when I checked my batter it had formed tiny bubbles and the froth like it’s was suppose to (see photo below).  Hallelujah – right? 

I decided to mix up my dough Thursday evening and let it rise overnight.  Friday morning when I checked on the dough it didn’t really look it had changed at all.  I was again skeptical that my firsts attempt at making sour dough had failed but I continued on with the process.  I removed the dough from the bowl and shaped it into a round loaf of bread (see photo below).  I placed the loaf on a lightly greased pizza stone and covered it with a dishtowel.

I didn’t get back to the dough until much later than I had expected to on Friday.  The directions recommend the dough triple in size.  At the end of the day I found the dough dried and flattened out, and it was obvious at this point that it wasn’t tripled in size.  *Note – I suspect that if it the dough did rise while I was gone I missed the window for optimal baking. 

Because I had gotten this far I went ahead and baked off the loaf.  In the end, the bread looked like a rock and did not have a light airy texture (see photo below).  It was like a round floury loaf  of unattractiveness.  It didn’t look like a decent loaf of sourdough bread should, and after one bite I knew our chickens were going to be treated to my first sourdough bread failure.

While I’m discouraged with the failure of this project but I do think it was a great experiment.   And I certainly have a true appreciation for store-bought yeast after this.

Have you made sourdough bread this way before?  Was is a success or failure?


Sourdough Starter

My mother in-law gave me the June issue of The Oprah Magazine to read after she finished it.  I have found so much good reading in this issue.  Every time I leaf through it I find something I missed the first, second, and third time around.

One thing I didn’t miss the first time around was a recipe for sourdough starter.  I’ve never made sourdough bread before so of course I was eager to try it. 

Today is day one…

Just as I was starting this post I decided to take a quick trip over to Wikipedia to conduct a little research on sourdough, and boy was I intrigued.  Here are a few things that I learned about sourdough starter.

Sourdough starter is based on a biological and chemical process where fermentation will take place and no yeast is needed.

The only two ingredients needed to start this process are flour and water and they act as a natural leaven.

Unbleached flour will produce more micro-organisms (a good thing) than processed flours. 

The volume of the starter increases with the addition of water and flour (called refreshments) over several days.

Using dough from a previous batch of starter is called mother dough.  The original culture can be used for years without spoiling.

The flavor of sourdough bread can vary.  It’s all contingent on the method used, the hydration of the starter, the final dough, the refreshment ratio, the length of the fermentation periods, ambient temperature, humidity, and the elevation.

Sourdough was thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt.

Experienced miners and early settlers in Alaska and Canada use to carry a pouch of starter with them during the Klondike Gold Rush.  They would try to keep the starter from freezing but they didn’t realize that freezing it wouldn’t kill it, but heat could.  (Salt-Rising dough is the opposite – it  thrives on heat.)

Sourdough is associated with San Francisco’s culture which started back during the California Gold Rush days.

Sourdough Starter Recipe from Oprah Magazine (for step-by-step instructions click here.

Mix 2 cups of unbleached flour with 1 1/2 cups warm, filtered water in a bowl and stir.  Cover this cheesecloth; place near an open window. 

Stir the batter every 12 hours for 2-3 days, then add 1 cup flour and enough water to return it to the original consistency.  Keep stirring a few times a day until you see a layer of foam an inch thick.

Combine 1 cup starter with 3 1/2 cups flour, and a dash of salt.  Let dough rise overnight at room temperature. Shape into a loaf; wait for it to triple in size. Bake at 375 degrees. When your ready to bake again, use the leftover mixture stored in your refrigerator to start the next loaf.

Now, I have to tell you that I did not have unbleached flour so I used bleached.  I think it will be interesting to see if it hinders the growth process.  I’ll keep you posted.

Have you ever made sourdough bread before?  Any tricks you’d like to share? 

And what’s after sourdough bread?  Salt-rising bread.  I will need to hunt down my grandmother’s recipe for this one.