Saturday, May 17, 2014

Making a Natural Starter

Making a natural starter is one of the scarier things that happens in the kitchen, mainly because it seems so un-natural. Who would deliberately leave some dough out until stuff starts to grow in it? But that's exactly what you do. I learned this method from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread book.

Natural Starter
Recipe Adapted from Tartine Bread
  • 50 grams Bread Flour
  • 50 grams Whole Wheat Flour
  • 100 grams Water
Cooking Directions
  1. In a small bowl combine the ingredients and mix with your bare hands to form a sticky dough.
  2. With a plastic spatula scrape any dough off your hands and into the bowl. Then push the dough into a compact mass.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set it in a dark place for a few days.
  4. Start checking for bubbles after 3 days.
  5. Once the starter begins bubbling and smells a little cheesy it's ready to feed.
  6. To feed your starter stir it up well and place about 50 grams of it in a clean quart wide mouth canning jar. Discard the rest.
  7. Add 50 grams each of bread and whole wheat flour along with 100 grams of water. Mix well (I use a fork). Cover the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth and screw on the ring to hold it in place. Put the jar in dark place with stable but slightly warm temperature (I use the cabinet above my refrigerator).
  8. 7:30 AM - Just Fed 11:30 AM - Its Alive!
    3:00 PM - That's It - Happy Starter!
  9. In a few (maybe as long as 12 - it depends on temperature and the vitality of your local yeast) hours the jar should be about half full of foamy looking starter.
  10. Feed the starter in the same way every day for the next week or so until it reliably foams up every day. It will then be ready to use to make a leaven for baking.
  11. Most sources say to feed every day. I've found that my starter is happy being fed every 2 or 3 days. When I plan to bake I start feeding daily a few days before hand. If you'll be away for a while it will rest happily in the refrigerator for a week or so.

Flour - I use King Arthur flours because I've always used King Arthur flours. When I'm retired and have plenty of time I might experiment. KA works for me and it's readily available pretty much everywhere in the US.

Water - The #1 cause of starters not starting is that nice clean water from your kitchen faucet. If it's been heavily treated at the municipal supply it can kill off the weak yeasts and beneficial bacteria in the flour and on your hands. Here in Philadelphia we're "blessed" with water that's full of living things. (If you leave a jar of tap water in a sunny window here you'll see green algae growing in it a couple days later.) If you're not sure about your water pick up a gallon of distilled water when you buy the flour and use that when making your starter, leaven and bread dough.

Yeast and Bacteria - They're everywhere but for baking you have to encourage the right kind. That's the reason for the mixture of flours and the daily feeding. You're gradually developing a culture of your local strains that is strong enough to do the job.

Tartine Bread - I cannot recommend this book too highly. If you only buy one book on bread making, this is the one.

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