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Sourdough Yeast Starter

In today’s episode of “As the chef turns” we find that Lance has blamed Linda for his failings as a short order cook. Bob has fallen in love with Alice, not realizing that she secretly loves his brother, Chuck.

Meanwhile Christian has been working on mixing sourdough starter in a secret government underground lab…

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 cups warm water (105 to 115 deg)
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour. Do not use self-rising flour
  • A cheesecloth or maybe a small towel. This is to keep the yeast warm and to prevent debris from getting in.
  • Glass mixing bowl (big enough for everything). If you must use a metal bowl, use a stainless steel one. These are the same rules for beer making. Bread and beer are similar.
  • A 2 quart crock or glass jar. It must have a tight fitting lid. Again, this shouldn’t be metal. Metal will affect the output!

Once you have the parts together then you can make some starter:

  1. Start by putting the warm water in the mixing bowl.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in the water. These are the little yeasty-beasties that we will feed and grow. Think of them as very very small sea monkeys.
  3. Gradually stir in the flour. Mix it till it’s smooth. This is the food for the yeasty-beasties. Did I mention not using self-rising flour?
  4. Cover with the cheesecloth or towel and let it stand in a warm and draft-free place. It should be 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.
  5. In about 24 hours or so, the starter will ferment; bubbles will appear on the surface of the starter. This is good! Fermentation just means that the yeasts are growing and it’s what makes the sourdough so good.
  6. Let it stand until it is foamy, usually about two or three days.
  7. Once it is foamy, stir it until it’s mixed well and pour it into the 2 quart jar or crock and seal it tight and put it in the fridge.
  8. When you see a clear liquid rise to the top, then the starter is ready to use! Stir it before using it.

That’s it!

I just want to mention that yeast (and this starter, which is yeast in a growth medium) is a living organism. These instructions are more like pet care instead of a cooking recipe.

As living organisms, they need to fed and to be kept warm (or cool if you live someplace hot).

The yeast can live a week or two without doing anything. However, you can keep them alive (active) forever if you take proper care of them.

Once a week, you should stir in 1 teaspoon of sugar, mixing it thoroughly.

When you use the starter, such as for making yummy sourdough bread, you should stir in some extra water and flour in the same ratio as when we created the starter.

Bread yeasts have a range of temperatures that they can live at and the range can vary from yeast to yeast. The warmer they are, the faster they grow. If they grow too fast, it can be bad; they’ll produce too much waste product (bubbles and stuff) and make themselves sad. Really hot temperatures will boil them. And that’s really bad.

If you make them cold, like putting them inside your fridge, then they grow slower. This is a good way to keep ‘em longer. Make it too cold and they die. So don’t do that.

Bread yeasts, seem to grow best at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and should be able to tolerate the fridge for storage. Turning them into ice cubes would be bad.

Yeasts are your friends.

Tips for sourdough happiness:

  • You should start the bread in the evening and then bake it in the morning. Or the reverse. Either works. The idea is to let it rest and rise plenty.
  • Let the starter warm up to room temperature before using it. You don’t want to shock your yeasts right before they are needed to make your bread rise!
  • Don’t kill the yeasts by feeding them anything but flour, sugar and water!

Note: The really hard crust on the outside of the San Francisco bakery loaves is due to their ovens. Your bread will be yummy, crisp and tangy, but it won’t have that super hard crust without some seriously hard-core ovens

That’s all; happy yeasting!

Next time: What to do with that yeast (hint: make bread)!



The personal blog of Christian Höltje.
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