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THE ESSENCE OF REAL SOURDOUGH BREAD

Why do you suppose I used the word "real"? If you have read many bread cookbooks about making sourdough bread and starters, you will find that so many of them include commercial yeast in them, either instant yeast or active dry yeast. Well folks, in a very few words---that ain't "real" sourdough!

Our ancesters and the pioneers never had commercial yeast as we know it. They maintained their starters for decades, with some of them or strains of them still in existence today. These starters, and the bread made with them, include only flour, water and strains of wild yeast occuring naturally in the flour and from the air around them. These living "wild yeasties" are entirely different from the inert grains of commercial yeast.

The goal of so many when creating sourdough bread has been misconstrued to mean just a sourness of flavor only. While it is possible to create that sourness by a number of methods and mixtures, it is the texture, crust and crumb of a true sourdough loaf as well as the flavor that qualifies it.

Since I am such a purist, I will subscribe only to a true starter (also called a "barm") created without commercial yeast. The method described below is basic, easy, and executed using the principles taught me by Peter Reinhart in "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". While my white flour starter/barm, "Hercules", was obtained from the Baker's Catalogue, my 100% rye flour starter/barm, "Wildcat", was created using this method.

MAKING YOUR OWN REAL SOURDOUGH STARTER/BARM

    WHAT YOU NEED:
  • VERY IMPORTANT!---Kitchen scale for accurately measuring the right ounces of flour and water.
  • Medium-sized glass, acrylic or other non-reactive mixing bowl
  • A 4-cup-size clear glass or acrylic beaker, jar, bowl, or other non-reactive container.
  • Medium-sized wooden mixing spoon
  • Plastic wrap for tightly covering the container.
  • 1-2 cups dark rye or coarse-grind rye (pumpernickel) flour
  • A 5-pound bag of good-quality bread flour or all-purpose flour (preferably King Arthur).
    Alternatively, a 5-pound bag of white rye flour if a 100% rye starter is desired.
  • A six-pack of good-quality bottled spring water
  • Scotch tape or duct tape
  • Patience and perserverance. *LOL*

DAY I:
1 cup (4.25 ounces) dark rye or coarse-grind (pumpernickel) flour
3/4 cup (6 ounces) bottled spring water
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In the mixing bowl, combine the flour and water, and mix well until it forms a stiff ball of dough. Be sure the flour is fully hydrated. Press the ball of dough into your beaker. Place a piece of tape on the outside of the beaker so that the top of the tape is level with the top of the ball of dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
DAY 2:
1 cup (4.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bottled spring water
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The ball of dough will not appear to have risen much, if at all, and yes, it will look "funny". Remove the dough to your mixing bowl, add the flour and water, and mix with a large wooden spoon or your hands until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Return the mixture to the beaker, press it down lightly, and cover the beaaker tightly with plastic wrap. Replace the old tape with new tape, making sure the top of the tape is level with the top of the dough. Let it sit at room temperature 24 hours.
DAY 3:
1 cup (4.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bottled spring water
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The mixture may appear as if it has risen slightly, perhaps as much as 50%, but don't be discouraged if it hasn't. Also, don't be discouraged if the mixture shows evidence of having risen and then fallen again. Mine did, buty I just kept on truckin'. Weigh or measure out one-half of the mixture and discard it. Place the remaining one-half into the mixing bowl and mix in the flour and water until all ingredients are evenly distributed. The mixture will be quite a bit wetter than previously. Return it to the beaker, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and repeat the tape process. Let it sit at room temperature 24 hours.
DAY 4:
1 cup (4.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bottled spring water
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The mixture should now resemble a sponge, should have risen to as much as double in size, and emit a very strong sourish or yeasty odor. Again, don't be disappointed if it doesn't look like something spectacular, because it won't. Weigh or measure out one-half of the mixture and discard it. Place the remaining one-half into the mixing bowl and mix in the flour and water until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Return it to the beaker and cover it. Let it sit at room temperature until it doubles in size. Depending on how active the mixture, this will take from 4 hours up to 24 hours. When it exhibits a little crease or dent in the center, it's about to collapse and fall; this is your signal that it's ready for its final step toward a full-fledged starter/barm.

If you're not happy with the mixture, or if it has fallen thoroughly, repeat the process as described in Day 4.

DAY 5 (or 6 if needed):
3-1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 cups (16 ounces) bottled spring water
1 cup (8 ounces) mixture from Day 4 (seed culture)
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In a mixing bowl, combine and flour, water and seed culture and mix until the seed culture is well-incorporated and the flour is well-hydrated. The mixture should resemble a sponge or poolish. Transfer mixture to a clean glass, ceramic or acrylic container that is at least twice as large as the starter/barm. Cover the container with plastic wrap and let sit at room tempreature to ferment until nice and bubbly, approximately 6 hours.
Refrigerate the starter overnight before using. Do not be surprised if the barm continues to rise and even bubble over as Wildcat did to me---like this!
If it does, don't worry, just clean it up, compliment it, and give it a name! It's now a member of the family and you are now ready to make your own---
CLASSIC SOURDOUGH BREAD
OR
NEW! 3 PINES SOURDOUGH WHOLE GRAIN PIZZA DOUGH
TO FEED OR REFRESH YOUR STARTER/BARM:
Discard one-half of the starter, add 4 ounces high-gluten or bread flour and 4 ounces bottled spring water. Mix well to be sure it's completed hydrated. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature about 6 hours.

A TIP ABOUT THE CONSISTENCY:
"A sourdough starter has both yeast and bacteria, which are competing with each other. The stiffer a sourdough starter is, the more the bacteria are favored over the yeast - so the more sour the starter will become. Acid in a bread weakens the gluten structure - so breads made with a stiffer starter will be flatter (for lack of a better word). They may also not rise as quickly, because the yeast is not as active. Also, yeast moves faster in a wetter environment - so wet starters may "peak" before drier starters, and be ready to use sooner after feeding."....from King Arthur Flour, as related by Jim, one of our members.

Come on---Browse Around---Let's Bake Some Bread!
(Click on the title)
Different Flours: Why King Arthur's Flour is Best
Equipment
The Process
Hearth Bread Baking
Troubleshooting
Sourdough and Starters
My Favorite Yeast Bread Recipes
My Favorite Quick Bread Recipes
Where I buy my "Stuff"
Round Table Member Bread Photos
Special! Pan De Campo by Dr. John Raven
Another Special! Wingboy's Lovely Hole-y Bread
One More Special! Special! Breadbakered's Crocodile Bread
Back to My Breadbox
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Copyright 2004 Carol Stevens, Shaboom's Kitchen, All Rights Reserved