Monday, March 18, 2013

Feeling Sour? Me Too!

I think that I have come to a decision. A pretty huge decision which I get more and more excited about the more I think about it.

I am going to grow and cherish a sour starter.

Now most of you are thinking - What the hell is a sour starter? Let me explain.

There are 2 kinds of sourdough breads in the world. Those made with a sour starter (aka, a starter), and those not. A sour starter is basically a tub of sticky living mass that you throw into your bowl of bread making ingredients (flour, water, salt) and it is what causes the sourdough to rise (proof) plus gives sourdough it's signature sour flavour and dense texture. Breads made without them are pretty easy to pick out. They lack the texture and amazingness that a true sourdough encompasses. Kind of like a loaf of Wonder Bread with a sour aftertaste. Not cool.

I first learned about sour starters is when I worked at the Kootenay Bakery Cafe in Nelson, BC. They had 2 starters in the fridge at all times - a white starter and a whole grain spelt starter. We would use HUGE amounts of these every day so we had to make sure they were fed every afternoon to ensure that they had grown enough to make bread either the next day or day after. Mixing the starters is hard work. You are literally up to your armpits in the bucket, trying to mix it the best that you can by getting to the bottom of the bucket to remove the major lumps and dry bits. Then you'd have to use a pot scrubber to remove the remnants of the sour from your arms because it was so sticky and thick. But man, we had some super strong arms working there.

There are a couple ways you can make a starter. The first way, which is more traditional, is to simply combine flour and water in a bucket and leave it in a warm place for a few days. The natural bacteria in the air and ingredients will soon grow, creating a yeasty smelling mass of goop (yeasty smell is a lactic acid by-product of the bacteria) in the bucket. Once the starter is growing and expanding, you'll want to put it in the fridge or else it will grow out of control. The starter needs to be fed regularly by adding more flour and water for the bacteria to live off of. The second way to make a starter is to do the same method but also add some dry active yeast in the initial mixture. This is a faster way to produce a starter if you're pressed for time. 

Tip of the Day: Never use a new starter that is less than a week old. The older, the better!

What is so cool about starters is that you just simply use some to make bread, feed it, and it grows again. Simple. Efficient. Tasty! There are bakers out there who have starters that are literally hundreds of years old. Starters passed down from generation to generation, like a family heirloom. I just recently heard about a baker down in New Orlean's who, when hearing about approaching Hurricane Katrina, took only his starter from his bakery and hid with it down in his home's bunker. That starter was what made his bakery thrive, and starting a new one would have changed the flavour of his bread, which would have been devastating for his business and customers.

So the one bad thing about committing to a sour starter is just that. It is a commitment. If you go away for a week, you have to have someone feed it for you while you are away or else it will die. Plus I fear that I will not be able to make enough bread to keep up with it's growth. I might end up starting a bread stand at the end of the driveway with hopes of people stopping to buy some. Haaahahaa. That would be awesome.

I know that this will be a big learning experience and I will possibly fail growing it, or kill it somewhere down the road. I really hope not and I plan to learn as much as I can before I get started. We bakers are on a knead-to-know basis with this kind of stuff and always need to be willing to rise to the occasion.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was a lame set of puns... totally something I would say!

    The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco has been using the same starter since 1849. And they have the BEST sourdough bread. Ever. Hands down.

    And if you find yourself overrun with bread, send some my way! I've been totally slacking on baking bread lately.