Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Prepatory Word About Starters

Meet Pepe Le Pew.  He was aptly named by my husband because he is so fragrant (read stinky).  He has been a part of a few loaves; he has been divided and given away and just this week, he leavened a loaf all by himself.  I am a very proud starter owner. 

Before we make one, let’s debunk a few myths about starters.  The first and foremost being that older starters have more developed, better flavors.  It’s just not true.  There is such a small fraction of your original water and flour mix in the starter after even one week of feeding.  Starters constantly refresh themselves, by design.  This keeps the good bacteria lively and the bad bacteria away.

There is also the myth about needing special water, special additives, or special hand-milled fresh flour to even be able to successfully produce a starter.  Again, not true.  I am sure there are subtle (I mean REALLY subtle) changes in flavor you can achieve.  But these things are not required.  Proof: my starter, Pepe, was made with AP flour from Sam’s Club and our regular tap water.  I had no trouble. 
Granted: I live in a humid and currently 60ish degree (F) climate.  So if you live somewhere cold and dry, you may need to find an extra warm place to keep your starter while it grows.  But after it is flourishing, some people even move them to the fridge.

I have since converted Pepe to whole wheat flour (by just switching the flour) because we tend to make more whole wheat breads.  And then converted a bit of starter for a friend (take what you would normally discard in feeding and put it in another container, begin feeding) back to white AP flour. 

Here’s my recipe to make your own Pepe.

Sourdough Starter (Leaven, Levain if you’re French)
30 g water
30 g flour (white, wheat, rye, fresh, whatever. Use what you have.)

Mix water and flour.  Leave out in a warm place with a tea towel covering the top of your bowl or jar for 3 days.  Add your lid and begin feeding: discard ½ of starter (30 g) and add 15 g fresh flour and 15 g water.  Stir and replace lid.  Do this every day at a consistent time. Your starter will be ready to use in 9-14 days of feeding. Make sure it is rising predictably when fed and smells of yeast or alcohol.  
To use:  remove 30 g of starter into a large bowl.  Add equal parts water and flour to equal the amount of leaven you need.   Let sit 12 hours.  Add to recipe.  Ex: I need 200 g leaven.  I add 85 g of flour and 85 g of water to my 30 g of starter.

Be aware, loaves that only contain starter and no commercial yeast take a bit longer to rise. 

As always, comment below or email with questions or additions to this post.  Do you have a starter? What is its name? How long have you kept it?  Does it have a flour preference?  
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