Monday, June 17, 2013


I’ve been hearing people mention the health benefits of sourdough bread for quite some time, and Mom recently read of a method which involves letting a bowl of flour and water sit on the counter for days on end in an effort to catch wild yeast and make a starter.
I’m daring enough to try my hand at making bagels, doughnuts, pita pockets, bread, and other such items, but this?  In my mind, the only thing that I’d catch would be mold spores, and I’m not really eager to do that.  So.
But then Mom obtained a sourdough starter.  Read:  I don’t have to catch the wild yeast, I just have to let it sit on the counter with flour and water and get activated.  Whatever that means…
I read the instructions several times and decided that it seemed about as straightforward as a tangled mass of yarn.  Slightly less intimidating than catching wild yeast, sure, but still rather foreign-sounding.
Letting food sit out on the counter when it’s 90° out and and we don’t have air conditioning?  Not something I normally do.
Never touching food with metal?  Sure, I’ve done this with kefir before, but half of the things in the kitchen are made with metal!  How am I to avoid it?
Feeding food?  Again, not something I’m accustomed to.  I feed food to people, but I don’t feed the food itself.  Most of the time.
Dumping half of the food so that there’s room for more ingredients?  Probably the most intimidating step of it all, as it I’ve been taught all my life not to waste food.
Nevertheless, I managed not to balk.  I pulled out some wide mouth canning jars and stuck the little packet of dehydrated starter in with the required amounts of flour and water.  I fed the stuff when instructed to, and put it in a place where it wouldn’t be disturbed, and made sure that I didn’t stir it with anything metal.
I couldn’t bring myself to just waste the excess, though.  The first time I just separated it and put into another jar, figuring that I would work two batches instead of one in case one failed.  I realized the second time, though, that this wasn’t going to be something I could do every time.  If I fed them every twelve hours and doubled my amount of jars at every feeding, in just four days I’d end up with over a hundred jars of starter.  Sure, I’m part of a large family, but we don’t eat THAT much.
So, instead of dumping that extra starter, I found a recipe that used it.  Two recipes, actually, but the idea of making cookies out of the stuff sounded too strange, so I went with the pancake recipe instead.  The result?  Failure.  The pancakes didn’t rise, didn’t even want to cook, and were not appetizing at all.
Some friends of our have a saying framed on their kitchen wall stating,  ”Even my failures are edible.”  I suppose that’s sort of true, as the chickens seemed to enjoy the pancake batter we threw at them.  Acceptable for human consumption, though?  Er… no.
In the meantime, my jars of not-yet-activated starter remained on the hutch, where I was keeping them.  I faithfully fed them everyday, and looked for the telltale bubbly-ness which was supposed to indicate that the yeast had been effectively activated.  I had some small amount, but nothing like what I was looking for.
So, off to YouTube it was for some instructional tutorials.  Halfway through one video, a light bulb went on in my head.  Oh!  OH!  Did she say two parts flour to one part water?
Yes, folks, I’d been feeding my poor starter half as much flour as it needed, which meant that it was far soggier than it should have been, and therefore, not bubbly. Oops.  This is also probably why the pancakes were such a failure…
When the next feeding time rolled around I put in the correct amount of flour, and after just a few hours, I was starting to see some bubbly-ness.  A couple more feedings, and the mixture was doubling in size from bubbly-ness, which is just what it was supposed to be doing.
The smell had me somewhat worried.  It had an unpleasantly sour odor, and didn’t smell “yeasty” to me.  Taking the mixture out of the jars it had been in and moving it to the fridge helped a bit with that aspect, though.
Then, I ran into another bit of confusion.  The recipe I was planning to use to bake the bread had instructions for how to use the starter in one way (feed the sourdough starter periodically while it’s in the fridge, pull out a lump whenever you need to bake with it) , and the instructions which came with the starter used a different method (pull out a lump of sourdough starter when you want to bake with it, then feed it for a day or two, then put part of it back in to feed the main lump and use the rest in your baking).  In the end, I went with the easier set of directions, which was the one with the recipe.
Easy is good, right?
Then, yet another bit of perplexity: am I allowed to use metal while baking with sourdough?  All of our mixing bowl are metal, how do I avoid using it?  A quick bit of research, and it seems baking with metal will be okay – I hope.
Then, FINALLY, after two or so weeks of prep work – it’s time to bake sourdough bread.  And once again, I’m in unfamiliar territory – I expect bread dough to hold it’s shape at least somewhat, and to be stretch and smooth and elastic.  This stuff?  It’s supposed to have a consistency similar to… oatmeal.  And it does, too.  I suppose I should be glad that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, but instead, I’m annoyed about the fact that it’s supposed to be oatmeal-ish.
And now, as I write this, my porridge dough is sitting happily in three loaf pans, where it will remain for the next seven or so hours while it’s supposed to rise.
I shall come back with an update of how this ridiculous stuff turns out… later.

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