Making a sourdough starter.
I’ve never thought of such a concept. The idea has always intimidated me. In fact, the idea has always frightened me. It has in the same way that the coronavirus is terrorizing a good part of the population today.
The bacteria of this preparation aren’t the ones putting me in a stir, no. It’s the fact that I must submit all this increased attention to accompany this living creature.
Take plants, for example. In principle, taking care of them isn’t so complicated. You just need to water them regularly. And maybe, if you possess an ounce of tenderness, whisper words of love to them so that their leaves shine bright.
Here's the thing. Even when I buy low-maintenance plants, I screw up anyway. Yes! I screw up with the least demanding, the almost unkillable, the hard to crack plants which grow perfectly in arid climates.
Just look at my snake plant. She recently lost four leaves. They softened and sagged, like rumpled clothing lying on the floor.
And my baby Christmas cactus. Its green garlands are pulling heavily and sadly to the ground; she’s crying of humid neglect. I could be arrested for voluntary planticide.
Fortunately, my little monster, another living creature that I take care of, isn’t suffering too much from my maternal handicap. Aside from his scouring sponge-like hair, his capillary corkscrews or other miniature balls are doing well. Even if he gets a haircut every three, four months, or I rarely untangle them.
But not everything is a tragedy. I’m still able to give sustained attention... short-lived perhaps, but still, continuous. Anyway, right now, I don't have much choice.
I must strive to become a pioneer woman.
I have to go discover unknown lands, clear uninhabited, perhaps hostile, territories like a valiant explorer of lost times. Because, for fourteen days, the government prescribed to stay confined to our homes to flatten the COVID-19 contagion curve.
So in these times of forced isolation, the most important thing that matters to me right now is being able to provide for my family's nutritional needs. More than wiping small wet body parts with toilet paper.
And that means going back in time to survive and become self-sufficient with nothing more than flour and water.
Obviously, it’ll be necessary to add other foods. Foods that are rich in essential nutrients upon pain of falling into vitamin deficiencies. And we don't want to revive forgotten diseases like scurvy (vitamin C deficiency).
Anyway, the day after the government announced school closings on Friday the 13th, the idea of making my own sourdough starter germinated in my mind. And at the same time, I was trying to understand the difference between bacteria and viruses on the web.
While most bacteria are questionable, some of them are our dear friends.
Yes, even if viruses are not welcome in my sacred temple, I’m very sympathetic to the good bacteria. Let’s not exaggerate, we cannot become round the twist germaphobes as soon as we hear about bacteria. We need some of these microbes to keep our gut functioning properly (aka our microbiome).
And also, I have to say, we need it to give us delicious bread. One that will slip in and be digested easily.
And so, while I was getting informed on a local news website, a video from Quebec host-chef Ricardo revealed itself to me. He had invited a member of his team to explain how to make your leaven aka sourdough starter.
This stocky and bearded man introduced to us his three and a half-year-old sourdough starter. He baptized it by giving it a little name – his own name. His recipe calls to:
- mix flour and water in equal parts and let everything stand (ferment) for 48 h,
- take a part of the dough, feed it with half of the initial amount of flour and water, and leave to rest for a day,
- feed the starter again with the same previous amount for each ingredient every 24 hours for 14 days.
After 14 days, you get your sourdough starter and you can make your own homemade sourdough bread! I’ll explain this step when I get there.
So, if everything goes well, my pasty concoction should give off a more or less pleasant smell of fermentation.
However, there was something I wasn’t getting. I was getting confused with the discarding and feeding part.
Did I have to take out a part of the newly fed dough each time? and by the same token, discard more than three-quarters of it? Or did I have to constantly feed the same preparation?
More research was needed. And lo and behold, I found what I needed.
But, first of all, what’s sourdough starter?
Sourdough starter (or wild yeast) is a mixture of flour and water. This starter has fermented thanks to the natural ferments present in the flour and the bacteria present in the air.
This makes it possible to introduce germs or bacteria to make them proliferate and to make the sourdough bread rise. Sourdough bread is characterized by its density, its irregular crumb, and its more or less acidic taste. This process gives this bread a rustic, dense, and slightly elastic texture.
Once the breeding of bacteria has started, you just have to feed it with food, care, and attention. You have to nurture it. Otherwise, it will die. 🤔
After the initial production of your first wild yeast, a part of it is generally kept. It's your sourdough starter, also called "levain" (in French). It can theoretically be kept infinitely.
Yep, I can give my starter as an inheritance to my offspring or other interested people. As long as it’s given life.
You just have to feed it regularly with flour and water to keep it alive. You don't have to wait for a new fermentation (the ferments multiply with each feeding).
When you make your starter, it’s unique. It can vary in taste. This will depend on the flour, the environment, the geographic areas, the love words spoken to it – who knows.
There won’t be two alike. So it's worth giving it a name.
Why the hell would I want to bake sourdough bread?
Well, for all the reasons mentioned above: for 14 days, I’ll be confined to my home.
In fact, I’m 1 hour away from Montreal up North. I'm in the beautiful region of Val-David to make this event less gloomy. So you know what? I might as well make a homemade sourdough starter and go further in my baking skills than making pancakes.
But the real good reason is that sourdough bread expires less quickly than industrial bread (made with industrial and unnatural yeast). The acidity of the wild yeast slows rancidity.
And in such times, who wants to stay in line forevah in grocery stores to get bread when shit hits the fan?
After this state of emergency, when you return to your peaceful and busy life, you can prepare one or two large loaves over the weekend. And you can keep them wrapped in a tea towel all week.
Okay, I haven't done my starter yet (I'm about to do it anytime soon). But I'm writing this to you because I know it will help me get through the night better.
This is not rocket science. But I admit it. I'm harboring some fears with regard to this creature and I tremble at the idea of getting started.
Here's how to make sourdough starter.
In a clean and rinsed container (preferably in glass or porcelain), you start by mixing equal parts of water and flour. It can be 50 or 100 grams each, for example. Ideally, the flour should be organic whole wheat or semi-whole wheat flour.
It seems that rye flour is the most effective. It can be used alone or mixed fifty-fifty with all-purpose white flour or bread flour.
Also, the water should be non-chlorinated. Choose spring water, filtered water or tap water that has rested in an open carafe for a few hours. You can mix the ingredients with your finger to help the bacterial activity start or a wooden spatula.
After, the mixture is left to rest at room temperature for two or three days (48 h or 72 h). The "creature" will begin to rise and have lots of bubbles. It will also give off an unpleasant odor, but far from being a foul and disgusting rotten smell. In this case, you’ll have to throw everything away and start again.
Then take 20% of the mixture and discard or compost the rest and add warm water and flour. This step is optional, but it seems that by doing this, you’re somewhat making a natural selection of good yeasts.
Well, afterward, we give it food and we have to do it daily. Possibly, always at the same time. At a certain point, the wild yeast will rise and fall predictably. And it will give off aromas that are a bit sour and very pleasant.
This phenomenon normally occurs after two to three weeks. At this point, the sourdough starter is ready.
It’s then possible to start making bread. Afterward, you just have to maintain the starter by feeding it regularly if you make bread often. Or you can let its bacterial dynamism decelerate in the refrigerator. We say we let it "sleep".
There you go! Now I'll go on this magical adventure. Now, the living particles are on the verge of enchanting me more than terrorizing me.
[PS. I’ll get back to you with more details in my next post. Then, we'll be able to get started with a sourdough bread recipe. With photos!]
[PPS. I don't know if I’ll catch the “virus” of making bread, but I am considering taking a look at the following books:
Flour Water Salt Yeast - The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, by Ken Forkish, Ten Speed Press, 265 pages, $ 41.
There's also Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfinger, Chronicle Books, 304 pages, $ 38.75.
Pray that I’ll be protected.]