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Start Your Own Sourdough!

 

 

 

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Sourdough: Start Your Own

by Honey Lesser
Bon Appetit October 1980

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"More of us are baking bread than ever before, perhaps because we've learned
that these homemade marvels can be tailored to fit any taste - low salt, high
fiber, preservative free.
One of the most interesting revivals in bread baking is sourdough: Once an indispensable part of the pioneer kitchen, it is now gaining a host of devoted
modern followers. Sourdough is a leavening agent and, like yeast, it is a living thing. Properly cared for, a started made from sourdough will live for years. 
By following the basic recipe below, you can raise your own sourdough starter
and use it to turn out everything from bread and English muffins to pancakes
and coffee cake - all with the zesty tart flavor and distinctive chewy texture of sourdough.
Temperature is probably the most important factor in the art of sourdough. In
too cold an environment the starter will not thrive and bubble; too hot and the
all-important bacteria are killed. Water for the starter must be heated to between
90 and 105 degrees F. and the initial mixture left to stand in a draft-free are
that maintains a temperature of between 80 and 90 degrees F. The places that
usually work the best are a gas oven with pilot light (set container near it, not
over it), the top of a refrigerator, dryer or indoor water heater or inside a warm
cupboard.  An electric oven can also be used if you place a small votive candle in
a bottom corner of it.  Place the starter on a rack in the upper third of the oven.
After 12 to 24 hours, the initial mixture will be curdy and have the consistency
of yogurt. Any clear liquid that rises to the surface during this time can simply
be stirred back in (use a wooden or plastic spoon, never metal). But if a thin
pink liquid comes to the top, you will have to discard this mixture and begin
again.
Once the mixture has thickened, a small amount of flour is added. This is the starter, which is then covered and left in that same warm environment for up
to four days to sour. Once the starter comes "alive", is full of bubbles and has
a great sour, earthy aroma, it is ready to use. Store it covered in the refrigerator
in a plastic or ceramic container. Do not use glass for storage since the gases
produced during fermentation may crack or shatter it. Always remember to
bring starter to room temperature before using it.
The bacteria essential for fermentation of a sourdough starter are present in
many foods. Our version uses a combination of low fat plain yogurt, warm
water and nonfat dry milk to which flour is then added, resulting in a par-
ticularly active starter. Each time the starter is used, it must be replenished
with equal amounts of flour and the milk-powder-warm water mixture. For
instance, if you use 1/2 cup of starter, "feed" the remainder by adding 1/2
cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water (90 to 105 degrees F.)
mixed with about 2 1/2 tablespoons instant nonfat dry milk. Cover and let
stand in a warm draft-free area until the mixture is bubbly once again, then
store covered in the refrigerator for several days before using (this will allow
the starter to reactivate). Actually, the starter must be replenished after two
weeks whether it has been used or not.  Simply discard 1/2 cup and feed as
directed above.
Few people realize that freshly fed starter can be frozen up to 2 months - ideal
for those who want starter on hand but do not bake regularly.  Freezing slows
the fermentation process.  When ready to use, let starter thaw at room temper-
ature and then let stand in a warm draft-free area until bubbly.
Naturally, the longer you keep a starter going, the more sour (and better!) it
will get. I have had one starter for seven years and instead of discarding that
1/2 cup before replenishing, I have passed it along to friends and relatives,
starting them out on the road to sourdough glory and gaining new bread-
baking enthusiasts in the bargain."

 

Basic Sourdough Starter

1 cup lukewarm purified water
(90 to 105 degrees F.)
1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk
3 tablespoons low fat plain yogurt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Rinse a 1 1/2- to 2-quart glass or ceramic bowl with hot water several
minutes and wipe dry. Combine water and dry milk in bowl, stirring until
milk is dissolved. Blend in yogurt. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in warm draft-free area until consistency of yogurt, about 12 to 24 hours.
Using plastic spoon, gradually add flour, blending until smooth. Cover and
let stand in warm, draft-free area until mixture is full of bubbles and has
sour aroma, about 2 to 4 days. The starter is now ready to use. Store
covered in refrigerator in plastic or ceramic container (do not use glass).
 

Sourdough French Bread

Sponge:
1/2 cup Basic Sourdough Starter,
room temperature
1 cup lukewarm water
(90 to 105 degrees F.)
2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons cornmeal
Boiling water
1 egg white, beaten

For sponge: Place starter in a large bowl. Stir in water, blending well.
Add 2 cups flour and mix thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and let
stand in warm, draft-free area overnight.
Grease another large bowl. Add sugar and salt to sponge and mix well. Gradually mix in remaining flour. Turn dough out onto very lightlyfloured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 to 10 minutes. Trans-
fer dough to greased bowl, turning to grease all surfaces. Cover with plastic
and let stand in warm, draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 to
1 1/2 hours. Sprinkle baking sheet with cornmeal. Punch dough down and
shape into loaf about 12 inches long. Transfer to baking sheet. Cover with
plastic and let stand in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about
1 hour.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Fill pie plate
or cake pan with boiling water and set in bottom of oven. Make 3 slashes diagonally across top of loaf using top of sharp knife. Brush loaf with some
of egg white. Bake 10 minutes. Brush again with egg white. Continue bak-
ing until loaf is nicely browned, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from
oven, transfer to wire rack and let cool before slicing.
Makes one 12-inch loaf.
 

Featured Archive Recipes:
Iggy's Bakery's Sourdough Starter
and Francese Bread

Sourdough English Muffins
Sourdough Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
King Arthur Flour's Serious Baguettes
Sourdough Pancakes
 


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