I know this is not a very glamorous post. That photo is of a simple sourdough starter. It may be simple and unglamorous but this starter can be the impetus for some very delicious baking recipes. So let’s talk a little about sourdough.
A starter is also referred to a poolish or a levain. In Italian it is lievito madre. Or as my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law simply refer to it as: il lievito (the yeast). So there you have it. You are making a fermenting dough that is like the texture of a batter to create breads and other recipes. The starter imparts a slightly sour flavor. Now it is a delicious kind of a sour. It’s mild and wonderful so don’t wrinkle your noses in disdain if you’ve never tried it.
Making a starter is easy! Yes, it is easy. In professional bakeries and probably some very active bread baking home kitchens, there is plenty of natural yeast cells around the environment to help cultivate the flour and water. I find that it helps to add commercial yeast to my starter. There are some bakers that are probably completely against using any commercial yeast. There are also bakers that add an onion or grapes to the flour and water. I’ve even heard of adding raisins or just using rye flour instead of all-purpose purpose. I’m not familiar with any way other than this way and it really works for me!
It is a tradition in many communities to hand down starters from generation to generation. Some families maintain starters for decades or for even over a century. My grandmother-in-law’s town in Calabria the neighbors share starters for the weekly bread baking.
I just recently read an interesting article about a baker named Jack Bezian in Santa Monica California that
makes sourdough bread and sells it a local market. Many of his customers have gluten issues and are able to successfully eat his sourdough bread. I’m not recommending for people gluten sensitivities to eat sourdough bread. I just really enjoyed this article and wanted to share it. You can find the article here
Making a sourdough starter will be a different experience for each baker. You can find a plethora of different ways to make a starter online. You may want to try to make yours without the addition of commercial yeast.
Choose the method to make a sourdough starter that is more suitable for you. Making a wonderful starter takes some patience and a little TLC.
We really enjoyed this sourdough pie crust with a blueberry-limoncello filling.
2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
In a large glass bowl (or ceramic), pour in the water and sprinkle on the yeast. Whisk the yeast and the sugar into the water and let it sit a few minutes. Whisk in the flour a little at a time until combined. Whisk it well because that will incorporate more air which equals more yeast spores. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and set aside in a warm corner of your kitchen where it will be safe from not being tipped over or have
something drop into it. Since my kitchen is in Florida and my oven is always on, any corner will do over here.
*I found a spot next to my mixer in a corner that is not disturbed usually by anyone but me.
On the next day (see photo “Day 1”), you will start to smell a sour smell. At the end of that 2nd day, whisk the starter until it is combined again. There is a film with bubbles that will form on top and liquid settled on the bottom. Cover it again with your kitchen towel and set it in the corner to ferment some more.
On the next day (see photo “Day 2”), the sour smell will be very strong. The smell will permeate throughout your kitchen. If you are a lover of yeast and fresh bread, you can’t help but smile at the smell. Breath it in. Stir your starter again. The part on top may be a little thicker. Cover again with kitchen towel and set aside to ferment some more.
Day 3, whisk together. Separation will have occurred again and the smell may be more acidic and pungent. Remove about 1/2 of the starter (mine equaled about 1 cup). Add into your starter another cup of flour and one cup of cold water. Whisk it together and put it into a plastic container with a lid. The consistency should be like a thick pancake batter. Place the starter your refrigerator.
So you made your starter… now what?
Maintaining your starter: Set your alarm to remind you once a week that it’s time to check in with your starter. When I remember, I beat mine on medium-low speed with the mixer. The oxygen does it plenty of good. Every week discard half of the starter (but I never actually discard mine. I bake with it). Replace the volume of you what you removed with more flour and water to make a thick batter again. I usually take out a cup of starter at the end of the week to make pizza. I then replace it with a cup of flour and about 1/2 cup filtered water. If you take out the cup of starter in the morning, replace it with the flour/water and let it ferment again on the counter for the day. Put in the refrigerator again that night. My mother-in-law usually keeps hers more like a dough texture and then only needs to feed it every couple of weeks.
You can also check out King Arthur’s Flour for some more sourdough starter tips.