A couple of months ago, I read this book – Sourdough by Robin Sloan. I’d read his Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore previously, and I loved it; it was light, feel-good, yet engaging, and Sourdough was the exact same way. It is about this woman, Lois, who is given a sourdough starter, which proceeds to change her life (my best quick, spoiler-free review).
I was inspired, and I wanted to start making bread, but sort of put it on the back burner, just letting it ruminate in the back of my head. Then, about two weeks ago, I saw a sourdough cookbook on the shelf of the bookstore I just started working at. I went ahead and got it, then took a trip to my local health-food store, where I got some rye flour, which the cookbook says is good for a sourdough starter.
I wanted to do this from scratch – no yeast, no one sending me part of their starter – this was, and still is, going to be an experiment to see not only if I can keep this starter alive, but if I can bake something good with it, too.
To start a starter, you just mix about 60g of the whole wheat flour (in my case, rye) with 60g of water. Then, you let it sit for 24 hours.
Next, it’s time to feed. You discard about half of the starter, then replace it with flour and water again. The cookbook says you can use all-purpose flour at this point, which I tried, but my starter has been responding much better to continued use of the rye flour. You are supposed to continue this for the rest of the week, and then the starter may be ready to bake with. Mine was not!
Apparently, sourdough starters are supposed to double in size, have lots of bubbles, and smell like yeast when they are ready. There is also a trick where you can drop some in a cup of water, and it’s supposed to float. By the seventh day, mine had bubbles, had basically doubled in size, and it smelled heavily of nail polish remover.
The smell thing is apparently very common – I just didn’t know how to fix it so it would finally be ready to bake with. I did some Pinteresting, as one does, and it turns out that smell means the starter is hungry – so, I started feeding it twice a day instead of once. Apparently it’s also important to weigh how much you’re discarding and replace that same amount, which I did not know, either – thank you, Pinterest!
The extra feedings made a difference literally immediately – more bubbles, even bigger starter, and it smells like yeast, not chemicals!
So, I started to bake my first loaf last night! The dough was supposed to rise overnight, but it hadn’t quite gotten there yet this morning, so I’m going to go check it in a minute. Stay tuned for how that turns out!