Sunday, March 16, 2014

Meet George

Wow, two posts in one day...

Ok, meet George.

He is a "wild caught" sourdough starter. I made it by mixing 1 part water with 2 parts whole wheat flour and putting a whole purple cabbage leaf in the jar. (You know that white film on a purple cabbage leaf? That stuff is yeast. Wild yeast ready for taming!) About 24 hours later I removed the leaf and fed it 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour. And did it again 12 hours later. By that point it was bubbling well and doubling in size after every feeding. Once it was doing that, I put it in the fridge.

So, you want to make  a sourdough starter? Or you some one gave a cup of their "mother"?

The Care and Feeding of Your Sourdough Starter

To feed:
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup flour.
Stir well.

DO NOT let ANY sort of metal touch the sourdough. We use plastic spatulas or wooden spoons. I refuse to even use measuring cups with metal handles. Or plastic spoons with metal handles. I'm really careful with this.
DO NOT let any salt touch it
Keep it in a very large class container. You want it big enough that the starter can comfortably double in size.
DO NOT use a container with a narrow neck. The gas from the yeast will get trapped and it might "pop"
Keep two large glass jars for your starter. Each week we transfer it into a clean container. We scrub the container between uses and run it though the dishwasher so it keeps VERY clean to prevent cross-contamination. I think this is the biggest factor as to why we have been so successful with this starter.

Bread Recipe:
1 part water
1 part starter
2 parts flour
we do this recipe by weight, so we end up with:
10 ounces water
10 ounces starter
20 ounces flour
1TBSP salt

(Sorry for the blurry picture...)

We also add 2 1/4 TSP of yeast to the water and let it bloom before adding the other ingredients. Our starter isn't quite strong enough to really leaven the bread the way we like it. We figure that we are primarily interested in the flavor.

Mix well until the dough cleans the bowl. (I use a stand mixer for this.) Continue to knead for around 8 minutes. Put in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise. NOTE: Sourdough takes around twice as long to double in size as regular bread. Also, cover with a moistened towel or plastic wrap.
After the rise either shape into one large round, peasant loaf or divide into two loaf pans. Let rise again until doubled. Before baking, lightly score the top of the loaf with a knife.

(this is how mine looks after the first kneading.)

Bake at 450. We put a pan of water in the oven for the first 5-10 minutes to steam the loaf a little. It helps brown the loaf. After you remove the water bake for an additional 5-15 minutes. Watch it and you'll be able to tell when it's done. (If you "thump" the crust it'll sound hollow)

Our Weekly Sourdough Routine:
When you get home from work, pull the sourdough out of the fridge. Let it come up to room temperature. You'll notice it start to bubble. It has the consistency of very thick pancake batter. After it is at room temperature, feed it. (around 7pm) Leave it out in a warm spot.
Saturday AM:
Feed again when you get up in the morning.
Saturday Noon(ish)
If you have enough to bake with AND it has doubled in size you may now bake with your starter. If not, feed it again Saturday evening around 7pm.
Saturday afternoon IF (AFTER) BAKING WITH IT:
transfer remaining starter to a clean glass container and let sit.
Saturday evening IF YOU BAKED WITH IT:
Feed and put in the fridge

If you don't have enough to bake with or it needs more activity, just follow the Saturday baking routine on Sunday.

Another thing to know:

It can get too big. If you let it get too large without using it, giving some away, or throwing some of it away (the horror!), it will start to fail as the wild yeast will not have enough to eat as it has already consumed what it can from the flour at hand.

Also, it LOVES whole wheat flour. About every other week we will feed it a nice meal of whole wheat flour before we put it in the fridge. We even make whole wheat bread sometimes!


  1. Fascinating! I bake bread all the time, but never knew that was yeast on the cabbage or how to do "wild caught" yeast. One of these days, I'm going to have to try this. I'm really big on the no knead bread recipes, which allegedly involves making enough dough for several days, and so it takes on a sourdough quality... if you spread out your baking. At our house, it usually gets baked and eaten the first day. :D

  2. I just posted and it didn't show, and it's telling me I'm anonymous even though I did enter my identity. LOL. This is Coco/Neli. So I hope this doesn't become a duplicate post or something weird. :) So a few questions... when you first made the starter, you took out the leaf and added some water and flour. Then you said you did it again... did what again? Just add more water/flour, or add another leaf and start from the beginning again? LOL. yes, I am that dim.

    Also I make all our bread, grind all our wheat, and make only whole wheat bread. Do I need to change the recipe amounts shown to make whole wheat, or will it work like this? And I bake bread, 2 loaves at a time, between 1 and 3 times per week depending on consumption levels. :) Would I just feed it more to keep up on those weeks that everyone is eating all the bread? Or would it die down from over use? So should I have a bigger starter to begin with? Or will it expand and explode on weeks where nobody wants any bread?

    Sorry to have so many questions, I've just killed my fair share of starters by messing stuff up! Trying to figure out what I've done wrong so I can finally make this work!

    Give George a kiss for me! :)

  3. Ok, first question: "Did it again" = feeding it.

    Second: YES use the whole wheat. No need to change proportions at all! We've used whole wheat flour, whole wheat white flour, bread flour, and all purpose flour. All give us the same results. We're very happy with how it's turned out the last two weeks, but I think that is because we've added the steam.

    Third: If you are baking with it regularly, you can keep it on the counter and use it as you have enough. professional bakers just leave it out all the time. I might give it a rest every so often, though. Just to let the yeast perk up. That and the longer it sits, the more sour it becomes. Ours is a REALLY mild sourdough. But (little known fact) yeast from different regions taste differently. You can actually buy sourdough mothers from all over the world!!!

    If you aren't going to use the starter for a week or so, put it in the fridge. that puts the little yeasties in hibernation. We've done that when we've gone on vacation.

    I'd definitely start smallish. I started mine with 5 ounces of water and 10 ounces (by weight) of flour. It's going to seem REALLY thick. If you find that as you're cultivating it, that it's bubbly but not doubling in size, throw half of it away, and give it a regular feeding listed above.

    And don't despair. We really thought we killed George recently. I angrily plopped his jar in the sink and stomped away. Two hours later I found him happily bubbling and gurgling away. So glad I didn't run soap and boiling water into him like I thought about doing.

    George is my fourth attempt at a starter. The first time I didn't sterilize my jar first and made it in an empty jar my husband had put beer in. Bad news. The other attempts, by my best guess, were because I wasn't careful with cross contamination (particularly with salt...salt is deadly), or that I got metal near it. (another death sentence.)

    Besides, I figure it's just flour and water. I didn't feel bad throwing away a jar of flour and water until I got it figured out.

    Did that help?

  4. Yes! :) I think I always feel bad because I didn't know how to get my own starter... so every time I kill it, I have to go back and beg someone for more of their starter. LOL. But I think it's the metal thing actually. I'd never heard that, in fact the friend who gives me starter actually sent me home with it in a jar with a metal lid. Not sure if that's it, but I'm going to pretend because then it wasn't just something that I did wrong. :)

  5. I think that is probably it, too. When I killed my second (or third) attempt, our physics teacher who used to be some sort of food scientist said, "Oh, you probably touched metal to it."