I’ve been thinking about trying out making sourdough for some time. I learned to bake bread when I was just a kid, as one of a number of 4-H clubs I belonged to in my “tweens”. Other ones I remember participating in included cooking and, for some mega personal embarrassment: pigs! That’s right folks, I raised and trained a weanling pig to show at the local fair. Am I a country bumpkin or what? Yeehaw!
Anyway, I digress. Learning to make home made bread from scratch was an invaluable skill, but one I don’t take much advantage of these days. I do after all own a bread maker which makes it ridiculously easy and something I can set up to make any old time. But lately Chris and I have been enjoying a lot of sourdough from the grocery store, and it’s got me thinking it’s high time to give this a try.
I thought I understood the basics. I thought I had it all figured out. I did a tiny bit of reading online and thought sure – I’ve got this. No problem. Well. After a week of growing a little science experiment on the counter, not really knowing exactly what to look for (the instructions I were following here were somewhat lacking in description and especially pictures (oh Interweb, how I fail to take full advantage of thee sometimes).
On Sunday I decided my organisms should be ready to become bread, so I made the sponge and set it out to proof. Not much happened with it very quickly so I decided to leave it overnight, which I read would simply add more sourness to the bread. Things looked like they were bubbly by Monday evening, kind of long to leave it I thought but whatever. So I made the dough. And then I left it to rise in the oven in a bowl with the light on for some warmth. And I left it. And I left it some more. Nothing happened. I decided to leave it overnight sitting on a small electric heating pad I use for my back – as a way of providing a low-level but constant source of warmth (ingenious, I thought, thank you very much). I got up early this morning hoping for poofy airy goodness, but alas. My first attempt at sourdough is FAIL.
I did some more reading and I think what I’ve discovered is that my starter was starving. Most of the bread forums I’ve since read suggest 2 to 3 feedings a day, so that’s obviously my first mistake. The large quantities of “hooch” rising to the top of the starter are apparently another obvious sign of starvation. The bad directions I was following above said to feed only every 24 hours. And secondly, from what I read, stone-ground whole flours are better because less of the natural yeasty beasties are destroyed in the milling process.
After spending some time on The Fresh Loaf, and especially on this page of Breadtopia, I think I get it. I mean really get it, this time. Tonight I picked up some pineapple juice (watch the video, it will explain all), and I’m going to try starting another starter. I’m confident I know now what the thing is supposed to look like, and what to expect. And my starter was certainly none of those things. Thank goodness it didn’t rise actually. Because who knows what was growin’ in that jar!