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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sourdough Photo Tutorial

I have received a lot of interest in my post on sourdough, and I continue to receive questions so thought I would start a new batch and show the process with photos.

Before you begin, you might need to go shopping for some of the ingredients. You will need:
*1 can of pineapples - Make sure that it is with 100% natural pineapple juice and no extra sweeteners. The juice is what you will be needing. The acidity of the pineapple juice keeps bad bacteria from growing as you start your sourdough starter.

*Whole wheat flour - The whole wheat flour is what contains the wild yeast. For my original batch I used Gold Medal. This batch I will be using King Arthur. I believe that any whole grain flour will do though.

*All purpose flour

*You might possibly need apple cider vinegar, however, my batches didn't require this.

*A non-reactive bowl to make it in. (i.e. glass)

Throughout this post, you can click on any picture to see a zoomed in view.
Okay, here we go . . .
Day 1
Mix 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover with a cloth, and let sit for 24 hours at room temp.

(For my first batch, I started my starter on the kitchen counter. For this batch, I am putting it into the oven with the light on. (Don't preheat the oven with it in there! That's something I would do!!) We keep our house fairly cool in the winter, so this will help the starter be a bit warmer. Another option is to place it on top of your refrigerator - which will be warm on top. I actually did end up doing this eventually with my first sourdough starter. (If you remember science class, yeast is encouraged by warmth.)
Day 2
Here is a picture of my starter before I added anything. (Sorry it's kind of fuzzy.) Although I covered it, it had dried a bit on the sides. This is okay. Just keep adding the ingredients.

Add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover with a cloth, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

For my first batch of sourdough starter, I didn't see the bubbles on this day. With this batch I did. They were very tiny pin prick bubbles that would emerge at the top even after I tapped the starter down after mixing it - a step you don't have to do, but I wanted to try and get all of the air bubbles out from mixing it to see if it would continue to bubble, which it did. I'm not sure what made the difference, maybe the warm oven? I went ahead and put it back in the oven with the light on.
Day 3
Here is a picture of what my starter looked like before I added the ingredients this morning. It was a little dried out again, but there were bubbles on the surface. Last night I actually peeked at it and there were more bubbles than there were this morning. They must have settled a bit during the night.

Again, add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover with a cloth, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

Today as I was mixing in my ingredients, my starter really got excited. I as I was mixing things in, I could see LOTS of tiny pin prick bubbles coming to life. After it was mixed, the starter looked kind of frothy, and it almost reminded me of a chocolate frosty that was starting to melt. I don't remember my first starter taking off this well. I'm guessing it's the warm oven, but maybe it because I used a different brand of wheat flour. Today though, I am covering it with a wet cloth instead of dry one when I put it back into the oven. I'm thinking that will prevent it from drying out a bit.
Day 4
Here is a picture of what my starter looked like before I add any ingredients this morning. There is no doubt about bubbles being in the starter now. I did have to rewet the cloth covering it last night, and although the cloth was dry again this morning, the starter wasn't nearly as dried out as the other days.

Stir the sourdough mixture well and measure out 1/4 c - discard the rest. To the 1/4 c saved, stir in 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour and 1/4 c water. Let it sit for 24 hours.

Today I needed to use a bigger bowl since the one I was using was just a custard dish. As I was stirring in the ingredients, the bubbles really got going again. I could actually see them forming and popping after I stirred it. I decided to put it in the oven for one more day since this was the first big feed. This time, however, I used a heavier cloth hoping that it would hold the moisture a little bit better.
Day 5
Today I was not able to get to my sourdough until evening, so it was more of a day and a half instead of a day. I did peek at my starter in the morning, and it had a slight layer of hooch on it.

Hooch is a layer of liquid that has seperated on the top. Sourdough contains a slight amount of alcohol from the fermentation process - and it is concentrated in the hooch that forms on top. The old timers used to drink this, but it should be kept with with the starter to keep enough moisture in the starter.

Hooch forms when the starter has gone too long without a feeding - which mine obviously did in the warm oven. There is nothing wrong with it. It is just a separation of the ingredients. (Since the liquid has risen to the top, the bottom layer will be thicker than normal.) It is very common to get layers of hooch once you move your starter to the fridge. If this happens, just stir it back in and continue with your starter or your cooking. If the layer of hooch is over 1 inch thick, you may want to mix it back in, take out a 1/4 of a cup of starter, and then start over on day 4. Doing this will just give you a more active starter.

When I did get to my starter in the evening, this is what it looked like. You can't really see the layer of hooch since it was very thin, but there were many bubbles that had formed. The heavier, wet cloth also made a big difference in that the starter was hardly dried up. Also, when I opened the oven to get my starter out, I could definitely smell the yeast - almost like there was a loaf of bread rising in there.

At this point in the sourdough starter making process, the days left until completion can vary.

Repeat day four's instructions each day until the mixture expands to double its size and smells of yeast. The mixture may start to bubble after a couple of days and then go flat, looking totally dead for a couple of more days. If this happens, at about Day 6, add the 1/4 tsp. vinegar with your daily feeding. This will lower the PH and wake up the yeast, which will then start to grow.

Since I smelled the yeast and have been seeing many bubbles while stirring in the starter's food (the flour and water), I am sure it is up and running. I transfered a 1/4 cup starter to a mason jar, where my sourdough sponge will stay. (The sponge is the active starter.) Then I added the 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup water. To cover it, I am using a lid specifically made for canning jars. (I found these lids this year at Walmart - they are GREAT for applesauce, jams, and other canned foods that don't get consumed all at once.) Today I decided to leave it on the counter after it's feeding instead of in the oven since it is going strong.
Day 6 (This day may be later for you.)

Here are two pictures from my starter today before I added the ingredients. You can see the layer of hooch on the top. This means that it is very active and needs feedings. It is also ready to go into the fridge where the cooler temperatures will slow the process down.

When you get to this point, you have reached the final step of making your sourdough sponge. (You can get to this point without seeing hooch. The hooch is an indicator that it is very active though.)
The starter should be fed equal parts of flour and water in a quantity sufficient to make enough starter for your recipe. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough sponge, you will probably want your sponge to equal 2 cups or more so it can continue on.

Store the starter in the refrigerator when you are not using it, unless you plan on using it every day. It needs to be fed equal parts of flour and water once a week to keep it alive. Either use or discard at least half of it when feeding - THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT to maintaining a healthy starter! If you forget to feed it for a few weeks, it probably will be fine but it may take several feedings to get it back up to par or you may want to go back to day 4.

For my starter, I added 1 1/2 cups each of flour and water. I used my canning funnel to avoid a mess, and then I put the lid back on the jar and shook it up. Again, lots more bubbles formed. Now my sourdough starter sponge will go into the refrigerator where I will use it and keep it well fed.
A Few Last Thoughts On Sourdough

There are a couple of things that I would do differently the next time I do a starter. I would still put it in the oven the first few days, but I would be sure to use a heavier wetted cloth the whole time to prevent the drying. Since the starter formed hooch before I got it to the fridge, I would probably not put it back in the oven on day 4, when it really started to bubble. Instead, I would just put it on the counter to finish up.

Some people like to have two jars of sourdough going in their fridge - doing this by splitting their first starter batch and feeding them appropriately. This gives you the opportunity to have more sourdough sponge on hand while having a safety net that if one jar goes inactive, the second jar might continue on. If you do this though, it will be a bit more to manage in that you need to either use and feed it or dump and feed it.

When you use your starter dough in a recipe, remember to feed it equal proportions of flour and water. This will keep it active and will give you more to use for your next recipe.

Lastly, the things that you make with your sourdough starter might begin to change flavor over time. This is because your sourdough sponge will start to pick up the wild yeasts from your environment. These will begin to dominate over the yeasts that were in the wheat flour, which will in turn effect the flavor of your sourdough.

To see the condensed version, and my recipe for sourdough pancakes, click here.

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Reflections. said...

Very impressive tutorial! I loved our sourdough pancakes and am excited to say that I have 2 loaves or sourdough bread rising in the kitchen. We'll see how they turn out! Thanks for all the info, this clarified a few things for me.

So it's okay to us it everyday? Or more than once per week? I wasn't sure of that with the first instructions...not that I'll have a ton of time to do it more than once per week :)

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

How did your bread turn out? I just made a loaf of sourdough bread myself. :)

It is no problem to use your sourdough starter daily, but if you do, you might not want to put it in the fridge. I don't know if it will be able to keep up if you do. From what I understand, the main reason for putting it in the fridge is to slow it down if you aren't using it daily.

Maybe you could leave it out on the counter the day after you use it. That way, if you need it the next day, it's ready to go. If you don't end up using it the next day, you can then stick it in the fridge.

I have never used mine that frequently though, so if anyone who has knows differently, please feel free to comment on it!

Reflections. said...

The bread turned out great! I was really excited. I also made sourdough muffins, I made a cinnamon and streusel flavor and tonight I made some pancakes again. It was your recipe but I made it cinnamon and orange flavor from another recipe.

I'm very excited about all of this and am anxious to try new recipes.

Thanks for all the help!!

When my new blog gets going...I'm taking a break 'til April, I'll post some pictures of the goodies I've been making and be sure to reference your fabulous tutorial :)

Jayde said...

I have followed your instructions for the sourdough starter and I think I have messed it up. I am on the 5th day. I have been putting it in the oven with the light on and I'm not real sure if it is working. Yesterday was the first day that I did the 1/4 cup of water/flour. Well, today I did 1/2 instead. I don't know what I was thinking, but I guess I cannot read. Did I wreck it or can I keep going?

Also, I have been putting it in the oven with the light on. Well, it is so hot in there that I cannot even touch the glass container that I have it in because it will burn my hand. Is that ok? I must have a really strong oven light.



The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Wow! You must have a hot light bulb! Mine just gets somewhat warm, not hot. Since it is summer, you probably will be fine with it just on the counter. We keep our house really cold in the winter, so I wanted some extra heat. If you run your air cool though, on top of the fridge is another warm spot.

I wouldn't be afraid to keep going another week with your starter to see if it works. It should be fine with the 1/2 cup addition if you added equal parts flour and water. The only questionable thing really is how hot your oven got with just the light!

I hope that answers your questions. Let me know if it didn't quite or if you have more.

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