Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Please be warned, this is not for the faint hearted.. it takes patience, trust, and more than likely, a couple of practice runs when you get to the baking stage, till you end up with a ‘brag to your friends’ loaf of sourdough. But keep in mind, practice runs are still quite edible, and fun, and if a passion is invoked in your soul, a long lasting, loving and nurturing relationship can result with your sourdough starter bug...
You’ll need to begin with a large jar, the largest size ‘agee’ jar works a treat, but anything similar that either has a lid that can be loosely screwed on, or even something to tie on the top is good. Alternatively a couple of biggish jars can also work well, also, that way you can portion out the right amount for a batch in each jar if you decide to make this bread regularly.
Take two or three small to medium size organic potatoes, (better to use ones with a thick rustic skin, not the pretty little pre-washed white ones from the supermarket). In a pot, boil the crap out of them for about half to three quarters of an hour, or until all the skin has split and started to curl up. You will have to add extra water to keep them covered as they cook, as you want to end up with a thick potato water which will contain some of the live enzymes, that help develop the ‘sour’ characteristics for this bread.
While its still hot peel off and discard the skin of the potatoes, and mash the rest into the water. Pour this through a sieve, and using a spatula work the lumps through as well. Give this a good stir, and measure it out (should be about 2 cups worth). Pour it into a large bowl, and for each cup of potato water, add 1 cup of sifted flour, and one large tablespoon of sugar. Using a mix of different flours isn’t essential, but does muster a richer result than using just white flour. I use half a cup each of organic; white, wholemeal, spelt and rye flours. Now, using a wooden spoon, (as opposed to a metal whisk, as the metal begins overworking the sugars and enzymes before their ready) mix your concoction thoroughly. It ultimately should resemble the consistency of a batter, so you’ll probably need to gradually add fresh water as you mix, to loosen it up slightly.
Once it is well mixed and there are no lumps left, pour it out into your clean dry jars, filling to only about two thirds of the way up to allow your fresh bug space to develop and grow (if your using multiple jars, 2 cups per jar is a helpful amount for later use). Place the jars on the sil of an open window for about an hour, to allow it to attract the natural yeasts in the air. Then loosely screw on a lid, or tie on a thick material top, but it’ll need to be able to breath, and the pressure in the jar will change as it begins to.
When I first began my starter bug, which is now about nine months old, I left it to start developing in the hot water cupboard, but have since been told that it seems to have better results in the fridge, after which, I have found that in fact it does. However, having said that, I would suggest that for the first week of its life you keep it in the hot water cupboard.
Now.. this is where the need for patience begins, as the first part of the process takes about 12-15 days. Additionally, I found beginning this journey with no expectations, is a better path to walk than looking for immediate results. The first five or six days you can watch it through the glass, even sniff it a little, but otherwise don’t play with it too much. It COULD, in this time begin to develop some small air bubbles throughout, even bubble a little at the top, but if you don’t expect anything to happen you might just be surprised... At about day 6, feed it with 2 tablespoons of flour, and one of sugar, mixing it straight into the jar. Even though it will thin as it begins fermenting, you may need to add some fresh water when you feed it, just to keep it a good consistency. At this point, make a new space for its permanent residence in the fridge. Repeat this ‘feeding’ two or three times, at three or four day intervals, watching and smelling as you do. After which, your bug should have really begun fermenting, and breathing, resulting in lots of little bubbles in the body of the mixture. It also may have produced some larger bubbles too, increasing the volume at times, and then dissipating again at others through this first two weeks. But most of all is the smell. It's interesting to say the least, at first I didn't overly like it, actually it was a little gross, (you may find this too). But now I look forward to that deep, rich, maturing smell that permeates, that now smells more like a very well brewed, high alcohol beer.. the sort you'd need only one of on a summer afternoon.
BUT.. If it hasn’t followed this process, don’t lose hope, it may just need a little more attention... or possibly, a little less, depending on the level of enthusiasm you’ve shown. It’s like a new relationship, don’t be pushy and overbearing, you might scare off any potential growth.. but don’t lose interest after a few days because of a lack of passionate chemical reaction, as you may find you miss out on the beautiful relationship that could develop overtime..... Which I must add, is far more rewarding, when you see, feel, smell and taste what becomes loaf after loaf of incredible, rustic, aerated, chewy crusted, smells-like-an-artisan-bakery-in-your-house sourdough.
Katie's kindred cook - Matt