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.