Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sour Dough Starter Woes

My sourdough starter died. I was having so much fun baking bread and now nothing. It died a pathetic putrid death. I phished one night to see if I could determine what I had done wrong. I mean, obviously the problem is me and what's the point of getting more starter if I don't know how I killed the last. My friend who had given it to me in the first place had also killed hers. Sylvia offered to send me some of hers, and I also found the Friends of Carl, who for the price of a SASE will send you Carl's starter. It had been in his family for 150 years, dating back to 1847 and the Oregon Trail, and though he died in 2000, his friends want to keep the culture alive. Though both were tempting, I ultimately resorted to starting my own.

My parents lived in Fairbanks when I was born and I got my first sourdough recipe from my mother's cookbook, Out of Alaska's Kitchens. The recipe for making your own starter is 2 cups of both flour and warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon yeast. I started it yesterday and it's already bubbling like crazy. I need to stir it several times a day, so starting it on this three-day weekend is perfect timing. It's supposed to be ready for baking in four days.

In my phishing, I came across Sourdough Home and was pleased to find a comprehensive source of information. I had no idea that sourdough has such a large cult following. I still couldn't determine what my error was so decided, what the heck, and emailed the site owner. He replied with all kinds of information. I keep hearing and reading on blogs about people killing their starter, so the rest of this post is his information. BTW, I had killed mine by not putting in the refrigerator- now I know.
Mike Avery's Advice:

As to starter, if it's at room temperature, it really needs to be fed twice a day. If it is fed less, it will suffer a slow decline and a possible lingering death.

Each feeding should be enough to double it's size. I like to discard all but 1/2 cup, stir in 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour. By weight, that's about 1 part of flour to 1 part of water. By volume it's about 3 parts flour to 2 parts water. If I have a weak or wounded starter, I feed it 3 times a day, and each feeding is enough to triple the starter's size. I feel a starter is fairly healthy when it will double in size between feedings.

Back in the days of ore, the goldrush guys and gals used to bake every day and their starters were happy. Now, we don't bake every day. It helps to have 20 miners to bake for if you're going to bake every day.

So, what do we do with our starters? I refrigerate mine. Sadly, refrigeration doesn't preserve a starter, it just slows it's death. So, once a month or so, I take a tablespoon of starter out of the fridge, feed it 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup of flour. 12 hours later, another 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour. After that, I discard 1/2 of the starter and repeat the feedings. Usually in a day or two, the starter is happy again. At that point, I discard the starter in the fridge (or use it to make pancakes, muffins or pizza shells) and put the freshly fed starter in the fridge.

When I'm ready to bake, I pretty much follow the feeding instructions above, start with a tablespoon, feed 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup flour, 12 hours later another 1/4 cup water and 3/8 cup of flour, 12 hours later 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour, 12 hours later 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of flour until the starter is lively and there is enough of it to make the bread I want to bake.

Some people think I over emphasize feeding the starter and keeping it healthy, but from the letters I've received over the years I am convinced that most people's starter is on the edge of death, so I try to insure their starters will be happy and healthy.

Thanks Mike for taking the time to help a total stranger.


Leigh said...

It must have a pretty good following. Yours is the 3rd blog in as many days to talk about her sour dough starter! I've never had much luck with it but some folks obviously do. I'm going to have to try this again, so thanks for the info and the link!

Beryl said...

I had a sour dough starter that I kept going for at least five years. I developed a method to use it in a bread making machine -- but would have a tough time remembering all the details now. Made pretty good bread, as I recall! Although Igor and I had slices of it on a geology field trip and the professor termed it "too healthy":-)

Tina T-P said...

I kept a yogurt when I was in college, but I've never kept a soundough starter. Don't bake enough, I guess.

Just stopping by to say Happy Easter! T.

Lee said...

Must resist temptation. Must resist...

I started a Starter several years ago, but lacked the mothering instinct to keep it going. Every so often I think I will try again, but I don't think I've gained that instinct in the intervening years. Good luck on your new starter incarnation!