A hunting we will go! Roll up your sleeves and scald a bowl, we're going to catch wild, airborne yeast today. Well, maybe not today, but we're going to set a trap. It's a simple trap, consisting of things yeast goes bonkers for.
Warm water, yeast loves a good bath.
Sugar (or honey), something it can't resist, although it is optional. Why? I dunno, but flour and water works just fine I guess.
Oh yeah, flour. Good ol', unbleached all-purpose flour. Yes, unbleached. We need the purity.
So what we're doing is making a starter with some natural yeast that's in your kitchen. Yep! Really! If you bake bread often, your chances of catching some go up. Once you've caught some, you'll notice more bubbling than usual in your trap, and after a few more days there will be a distinct yeasty aroma. We all know the smell of yeast (think of the aroma of baking bread), it's heavenly. You're on your way to making sourdough goodies!
Of course, everything must be clean clean clean (This reminds of that goose from Charlotte's Web. Every time.) So scrub scrub scrub, and scald scald scald that dish with hot water. This insures the purity.
It is possible to inadvertently catch some bacteria, but don't let that scare you. The chances are slim. You'll know this has happened if (when you've caught the yeast and you're all happy) your starter starts to mold or develop a curious color/odor. It will lose that clean yeasty smell. Just throw it out, and try try try again!
If you want all the nitty gritty details on sourdough starters, or if you'd just rather activate some yeast you've already got (don't let catching a wild one scare you, it's fun, and makes awesome bread), King Arthur has an awesome post on all things starters. Read up!
And here we go!
Mix together the water, optional sweetener, and flour together thoroughly. That glass/ceramic bowl better be clean!
Cover with a clean towel or dishcloth. Tuck your little baby in.
That's all there is to it! Now we leave it alone, giving it a stir just once in awhile, as it will separate. I'll update you on its progress soon, it should start to work within a day or two.
I have done this before with good results, but in a moment I can only describe as one of complete stupidity, I spilled some all over the floor. I was in the middle of bread making, and had to use up what little was left. So consequently, I ran out, and had none to feed to make more. It was aging so nicely, too. But it's ok! I start again, and now I'm able to show you the process quite personally.
Start your starters!
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix the water, optional sweetener, and flour together thoroughly in a clean, scalded glass or ceramic bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth. Put it in an area where there’s apt to be the highest concentration of airborne yeast as well as the warmth that is needed to begin fermentation (my kitchen seems to be forever chilly, but it didn't seem to bother it much, no worries!).
If the surface begins to look dry after a while, give the mixture a stir. It should begin to “work” in the first day or two if it’s going to at all (it will bubble somewhat, and just look more alive). If it does, your trap has been successful. Let this mixture continue working for 3 or 4 days, giving it a stir every day or so. When it’s developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid (or an airtight container) and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it.
If the mixture begins to mold or develop a peculiar color or odor instead of a “clean, sour aroma,” give a sigh, throw it out and, if you’re patient, start again. Along with the vital yeasts, you may have inadvertently nurtured a strain of bacteria that will not be wonderful in food. This doesn’t happen very often though, so don’t let the possibility dissuade you from this adventure.
Starter Maintenance and Use
As you store your starter, it's a good rule of thumb to "feed" it every two weeks. To do this, stir the mixture together (it tends to separate), remove 1 cup (8 oz.) of starter and toss it, then add 1 cup (4 oz.) of unbleached flour and 1/2 cup (4 oz.) of water. Stir it in and let the replenished starter sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, to let the yeast become active before chilling it again.
Only feed it if you haven't been using it for awhile (two weeks). Remind yourself that within two weeks, you should either use some for baking and replenish, or remove a cup, toss it, and then "feed" it. There are other long term storage options on King Arthur Flour, such as freezing or drying, where feeding isn't required.
To use it in recipes, stir it together, measure out the indicated amount of starter, and replace it with equal amounts of flour and water by weight. For example, most recipes require 8 oz. (1 cup) of starter, so simply replace with 4 oz. (1 cup) of flour and 4 oz. (1/2 cup) of water, just as you do with feeding it.
For more info on resuscitating forgotten starters, using chlorinated water, troubleshooting, and storing, check out King Arthur Flour.
Sources: King Arthur Flour