December 06, 2009

Start Me Up...

Since last March, I've been trying, infrequently and without great success, to make sourdough bread starter.  My desire to get it right was recently reignited by The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I finally got around to reading.

In case you've always wondered what sourdough starter is, here's the definition from Wikipedia:

Sourdough is a dough containing a lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of two principal means of leavening in bread baking, along with the use of cultivated forms of yeast (Saccharomyces)...In comparison with yeast-based breads, it produces a distinctively tangy or sour taste, mainly because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli; the actual medium, known as "starter" or levain, is essentially an ancestral form of pre-ferment.

Huh? If that leaves you as confused as me, I prefer this much simpler definition from S. John Ross:

Sourdough bread is bread made without added yeast. By making a "starter" in which wild yeast can grow, the sourdough baker can raise bread naturally, as mankind did for thousands and thousands of years before a packet of yeast was an available convenience at the local market...There are only a few simple steps to becoming a sourdough baker. First, you must create a starter: This is a bubbly batter that you keep in your fridge. The starter is mixed into a dough, and it causes the bread to rise. Bake and serve. Yum!

His recipe is one that was given to me by my friend Mike, a Syrian financial guru who loves to bake bread.  My kind of guy.

It seems so EASY - but I either forget about it in the first 24 to 48 hours (not a pretty sight), or it seems to develop way too quickly (lots of "hootch" on day one!) or it doesn't smell right.  I've tried organic unbleached bread flour; organic all purpose flour; 00 flour, all to no avail. So here is attempt number four or five. Using what my mother used all her life: good ole Five Roses flour.

Day One:

This morning...

Progress reports will follow throughout the week!