Thursday, March 18, 2010

Challenge: Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

I have heard people throw around the term "starter" for a while. I think when I was a freshman in college, a boy in the next dorms over had a starter he used frequently. He bragged about how it had been around since the Gold Rush. Hearing that made me feel intimidated by it; if it's something that people cherish so much and keep around for so long, it MUST be difficult.

This fear was confirmed when I read on the King Arthur blog that one of the test kitchen cooks tried to make a starter and it was a complete disaster.

But then I read their instructions for making a starter and it sounded extraordinarily easy! How could it be that hard? Four ingredients.

I was excited to try it; the first challenge for this blog. Then I realized that my flour was really old, and it was store-brand, and I wasn't happy with how my last bread tasted anyway. So I decided to wait until I had some fresher flour; after all, if you are going to keep this around and use it as a base for countless bread doughs, you should use top-notch ingredients, right? Right.

Well, I got to the store and purchased Gold Medal flour instead of the store-brand and decided to get the starter done today. Because the sooner it's done, the sooner I can bake with it.

I pulled up the instructions and got to work. The original recipe notes that you can use sugar or honey, and it's optional to use a sweetener at all. I opted to use honey because the pizza crust dough recipe I use calls for honey and I really like the flavor it gives.

Sourdough Starter
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey
1 packet dry active yeast
2 cups flour

Put the water in a 2-quart glass jar or bowl. Add the sugar or honey, then the yeast. Stir the flour in gradually. Once it's mixed, it should resemble pancake batter. Cover it with a clean dish towel and put it somewhere warm. The original recipe notes that using a dish towel will allow the starter to attract and potentially trap wild yeast, which will help give the sourdough a unique flavor.

Keep it in its warm hideout for 2-5 days, stirring once a day. When the bubbling has stopped and it smells sour and yeasty, stir it one last time and put it in the refrigerator.

This is my starter's temporary home:

I thought this would ensure it would stay nice and warm! It's the most consistently warm place in the kitchen.

I'll keep you posted on how the starter is doing, and in about a week, I hope to make my first batch of sourdough bread!

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