Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter

Technically, this baby’s still called “seed culture”
In between lazing about and watching Law and Order: SVU (oh, and CSI too) I’ve been running a very important experiment involving the cultivation of wild yeast and lactobacilli.
No, I’m not helping ‘Chefski with his labwork — I’m making sourdough bread. Here are some fun facts related to my project:

Did you know that in order to make sourdough bread, you must begin with a sourdough “starter” which can be either procured from a friend, or made by mixing together flour and water (or in my case, unsweetened pineapple juice) and letting it ferment for a few days? During this time, wild yeast basically hop into whatever container you’re using and have a fun time producing gas and interacting with bacteria that can be used to make bread. This process takes days, and involves stirring, adding water and flour, and basically babysitting your culture to make sure it stays alive. Some starter recipes call for active dry yeast, just because it isn’t always so easy to catch wild yeast in today’s über-clean kitchens. In either case, there’s more waiting than actual physical labor.

Once you have a starter you use a part of it to make bread and save the rest (“feeding” it flour and water on a regular schedule, indefinitely) to make a variety of baked goods with. This I have done, and now onto the process of making the bread itself. This will take another 18-24 hours (mostly of waiting) before I can produce a loaf. I’m following a recipe for “Berkeley Sourdough,” and I’ll post about my results in a few days.

Speaking of Northern California, did you know that San Francisco is famous for sourdough and that the region’s bread contains it’s very own unique bacteria called Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis? Or that the illustrious Boudin Bakery, located at Fisherman’s Wharf, has been making their sourdough using the SAME STARTER since 1849? Indeed, during the California Gold Rush, when packaged yeast was hard to come by and also unreliable as a leavening agent, people carried starters in pouches around their necks in order to make bread at their final destinations.

While I’d originally decided to try this bread because it seemed like a crucial step in developing as a bread-baker, learning about its ties to Northern California (where a very dear friend played host and tour guide a few months ago) added an extra layer to my desire to try and make my own. As a tribute to San Francisco, Berkeley, and the history of bread itself, here’s to science in the kitchen.
… and now back to tending my cultures…

Your Very Own Sourdough Starter 
Adapted from The New York Times which is adapted from “Artisan Breads Every Day,” by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2009)   


16 ounces flour (which I converted to roughly 3.75 cups)
3 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
10 ounces filtered water 
Day 1: Make seed culture. In a large glass jar or nonreactive* bowl, combine 1 ounce of flour (approx. 1/4 cup) with 2 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature. Be sure to stir with a wet spoon twice day.
Day 2: Between 24 and 36 hours later, bubbles should appear. Fact.
Day 3: After 48 hours (that’d be today!), add another ounce (i.e. 1/4 cup) flour and the last ounce of pineapple juice and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temp, again, stirring twice a day with a wet spoon. 
Between Day 4 and Day 7: Between today and Day 7 (i.e. 1-4 days later) your seed culture will become foamy. When it does, in a medium nonreactive bowl, combine 2 ounces flour (1/2 cup) and 1 ounce filtered water. Add seed culture and stir to combine well. Cover with plastic wrap, leave at room temp, and stir twice a day with a wet spoon.
1-2 Days Later: By now your mix will have doubled. That means you’re ready to covert it into a starter! Wooo hooo!
Making your starter
1. Combine 12 ounces flour (~2.75 cups) and 9 ounces filtered water in a nonreactive bowl. Add 4 ounces (~1/2 cup) of seed culture mix and discard the rest (or make a second starter) and mix until fully combined.
2. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes — it should feel like a bread dough. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and leave at room temperature until it doubles, about 4-8 hours. 
3. Knead lightly, then store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. It’s gotta be big enough to allow for the starter to triple in bulk. Store in the fridge and then…

To be continued…

[Important note: Starters need to be “fed” every 5-10 days. To do so, follow the directions under “making your starter,” substituting starter for seed culture.]

* nonreactive means that the material won’t absorb odors or flavors and won’t transfer them to your food, or deteriorate when it comes into contact with acids in foods. These usually include glass and stainless steel … avoid plastic, unless it’s food grade (ex: Gladware, has a #5 on the bottom).
This entry was published on May 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm. It’s filed under bread and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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