Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 6 Questions About Sourdough Starters

My biggest project for 2010 was the Starter-Along series on Serious Eats, where I posted a photo and description of a growing sourdough starter. I also included a few extra facts about sourdough when the starter was in the middle stages, when it was just a matter of feeding and stirring on a regular basis.

I also republished that series here, on Cookistry.

That series generated a lot of extra traffic for me, and apparently it was good for Serious Eats as well, since it was the #3 post on Slice for the year. A mention on LifeHacker helped boost its popularity, but even before that, it was having a pretty good run based on the traffic that trickled through to Cookistry.

And then, there were the questions. I’ve gotten them at Serious Eats, on my Facebook page, at Cookistry, and in person. Based on my unscientific polling software (my memory) these were the top six questions asked, along with my answers:

My starter doesn’t look like yours. Have I done something wrong? Should I start over?

No, nothing’s wrong unless you’ve got mold growing on the starter, or unless you’ve got no activity at all after about five days. Starters are all different because the flour, water and environment are different at every location. That’s part of the beauty of a sourdough starter. It’s unique to you and it can be a little bit different every time you use it.

Also, the photos I posted were just one moment in time. After feeding and stirring or later in the day, the bubbles probably looked a bit different. In general, the bubble activity should be increasing every day, but sometimes things stall. And if the starter is very active overnight, it can wear itself out and look quiet in the morning. Shortly after feeding and stirring, it should become more active again.

It’s bubbling, but it’s not rising up in the jar. What should I do?

When the starter is active enough to rise up in the jar, then it’s ready to use. That might happen in as little as a week, or it could take longer before it gets to that point. If your starter is still plugging along, bubbling but not getting increasingly active, I’d suggest dumping half to three-quarters of the accumulated starter, and then continue feeding and stirring the remainder.

The removed starter can be added to a regular bread recipe to flavor it. I have recipes here and here for using not-quite-ready starter.

It also might be the case that your starter is rising, but you’re not there to see it. If you feed at night, it might be rising up while you’re asleep, and by morning it has fallen again, so it looks the same. It might be a good idea to feed at a time when you can check the starter in an hour and see what it looks like at that point.

There’s liquid at the top of the starter. What’s that?

There are two causes. One is that the starter is too wet, so you can add a bit more flour to it. It should be a little thicker than cake batter. Almost muffin batter.

Second, that liquid might be what’s referred to as “hootch” and it accumulates when a starter has been sitting around a while and the critters have gone dormant. This might mean that your starter is much more active than you think. You can dump out some starter as I suggested above, and you can also increase the amount you feed. You can feed more at each feeding, feed more often, or both.

Does room temperature affect the starter activity?

Yes, very much. The starter will be most active at warm room temperatures, so if you keep your house cooler in the winter, it might be less active simply because of the temperature. You can move the starter to a slightly warmer location. The top of the refrigerator is good, or if you’ve got some other appliance that’s a little bit warm, you can move it there. Near a computer might be good.

You don’t want to get it too warm, so the top of the furnace or water heater might be overkill.

Having it develop slowly isn’t a bad thing, if you’re not in a hurry.

I made the bread, but it’s taking forever to rise. What’s wrong?

You might have harvested your starter before it was fully active. After you’ve had a starter going for a while, you’ll have a better idea what it looks like when it’s fully enthusiastic. But a slow rise isn’t a bad thing. Just let it rise at its own speed.

If it’s a matter of bad timing and you don’t want to stay up all night waiting to put it in the oven, you can put the loaf in the refrigerator for a really slow rise, and bake the next day.

Some sourdoughs rise slowly and don’t seem to want to double in size, but then they get tremendous oven spring. Yours might be like that.

The bread isn’t as sour as I expected. Can I fix that?

Sourdoughs are all different, but the sour flavor that people associate with sourdough comes from the bacteria that produce different acids at different points in the process. You can create a much more sour starter by stopping the feeding and letting the starter go hungry for a while. You can do this for a day or so at room temperature, or put the starter in the refrigerator for a little longer.

Sourdough starters develop more flavor as they age, so what you get from that first loaf isn’t what you’ll get after the starter matures for a while.

Also, you’ll get more flavor from the bread if it has a long, slow, cold rise – just like any bread. Rather than letting is rise on the counter, put the dough in the refrigerator and leave it there for a day or two before you form the loaf and let it rise for baking.

One thing to keep in mind is that all starters are different. The schedule you feed at, the flour and water you use, and the environment all change the way the starter behaves. Some are naturally more sour, they rise at different rates, have more or less oven spring, and produce different crumbs and crusts. That’s part of the fun of having a local starter.

And of course, the flour makes a difference. If you’re ready for it, you can start a new starter with whole wheat or rye flour, and see what new magic you can create.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bulking Up

This was published in the January issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my Vicinity and Beyond series.

If the words “bulk food store” make you envision a behemoth warehouse filled with giant bags of rice and restaurant-sized jars of pickles, you’ll be in for a surprise when you step into Simply Bulk in Longmont. The “bulk” in Simply Bulk means they buy in bulk so you can buy in any quantity you want, whether it’s five pounds of flour, or a couple ounces of a spice you don’t use often.

The business is owned and run by Phil Bratty and his wife, Georgia, and it  has been open in Longmont since March 1, 2010. Phil Bratty said that it may be the only business in the country that is entirely bulk products.

Bratty isn’t a newcomer to the food industry. For the eight years before opening the store, he worked for a natural food chain in the bulk foods end of the business, and he spent a total of about 30 years in the food business.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Technique: The Role of Fat in Yeasted Doughs

Fat isn’t required in bread dough, and some might say that it doesn’t belong at all in pizza dough. Whether – or when – you use it is up to you. But since it’s so common in so many doughs, we might as well discuss it.

Of course, there’s flavor. Butter adds its own distinctive creaminess, while olive oils add their own notes. When you’re using fat in small quantities, though, it might be hard to tell the difference between a bread made with olive oil or one made with butter. Then again, you can also use infused and flavored oils to easily add flavors to your bread.

Besides flavor, fat affect the texture of the finished bread. The fat coats the gluten strands and makes the finished product more tender – both the crumb and crust – and it makes the crumb more fine grained. It also makes the loaf seem moister. Breads that are made with fat in them don’t dry out as quickly, so the shelf life is improved.

When you add the fat to the dough is also important. You get better gluten development if the fat is added after the gluten has been developed than if you try to knead a dough that has the fat already incorporated.

When fat is added early in the process, it coats the flour and makes it harder for the flour to absorb water. The fat also bonds with parts of the gluten that does form, so the gluten that exists can’t easily bond to other bits of gluten to form long strands. What this means for doughs with just a little fat is that you'll probably need to knead a little longer to develop the gluten.

When bread recipe has a lot of fat in it, the effect is more pronounced. A dough with a lot of fat can take much longer to rise, and that issue is complicated by the fact that many fat-laden breads also have a lot of sugar. The excess sugar also retards the rise.

For brioche-like breads with a lot of butter in them, you can manipulate the texture of the resulting bread by changing when the butter is added. If the fat is added at the beginning, before the dough has been kneaded, the texture will be more cake-like. If the gluten is allowed to develop before the butter is added, the texture will be more bread-like.

While some fat-laden breads can be dense, a small amount of fat – and particularly a solid fat like butter – slightly improves the volume of the bread.

The fat you choose can also affect the color of the bread. Vegetable shortening won’t impart any color at all, while a deeply colored oil has more effect. I’ve used very green grapeseed oils that made the loaf a golden yellow color. Besides adding a little color to the interior of the loaf, butter also helps the crust brown.

Technically, different fats aren’t completely interchangeable in bread recipes. For example, liquid fats are 100 percent fat, while butter contains some water and milk solids along with the fat, and vegetable shortening has quite a bit of air in it.

In practice, though, the small amount of fat in most standard bread recipes means that you can substitute the fat you prefer without the need for major adjustments. There will be subtle differences in the finished bread, but it won’t make it go horribly wrong.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oat-Wheat Loaf

Now that the holidays are over, many people are on their way to vowing to eat better. What that means depends on what kind of bad eating has been going on. For me, sometimes my "be good" vow includes an effort to eat something in the morning instead of just slurping a cup of coffee.

The problem is that I'm not much of a morning person. I don't want a meal. If something is easy - cold pizza for instance - I might be tempted. But I don't like typical breakfast foods in the morning, and even more than that, I don't have any interest in cooking anything resembling a meal in the morning.

Around the holidays I get even busier than usual, and my non-breakfast sometimes turns into non-lunch. So when I think about improving my eating habits, I start considering ways to eat something simple in the mornings. 

Of course, there's always some kind of bread around. But not every bread inspires me to make toast. And not every bread I make fits my criteria for reasonably healthy breakfast. This one does. White whole wheat and oatmeal add enough fiber and flavor. If I want a little protein, peanut butter isn't far away.

Another benefit to this bread is that making it is designed to work around your schedule. There are plenty of times when the dough rests, and you can stretch that time to fit your schedule.

Oat-Wheat Loaf

1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces) quick oats
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4  teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

The night before you want to bake, put the white whole wheat flour and the oats into a bowl (use the bowl of your stand mixer if you will be kneading by machine, or use any medium sized bowl if you will knead by hand. Add 1 cup of very warm tap water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning, put mix the remaining 1/2 cup of water (lukewarm this time) with the sugar and yeast in a small bowl, and let it sit until it is foamy, about ten minutes.

Add the yeast mixture and the bread flour to the bowl with the white whole wheat and oats, and mix until combined. Then knead (with the dough hook, or by hand on your counter) until it begins to become elastic. Add the salt and oil and continue kneading until completely incorporated.

Drizzle a little olive oil into a plastic bag and transfer the dough to the bag. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator.

In the afternoon or evening - or the next day, if that's better for you - take the bag out of the refrigerator and leave it on the counter to come to room temperature, about two hours.

Prepare an 8-inch loaf pan - spray with baking spray if you want extra insurance that it will release easily, and sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of the pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Knead briefly, then shape the dough to fit the pan, and place it, seam-side down in the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled - about an hour.

Remove the plastic wrap and bake the loaf at 350 degrees until nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan, then remove it and let it cool completely before slicing.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Simple Seasoned Squash

It time for the December contest at Kitchen Play, this time sponsored by I'm really late with getting an entry up, but what the heck, might as well have some fun now that I'm done with the holiday madness and I have some time off to play around in the kitchen. This is my first entry for this month's contests. I might get another one up before the week is over. Yes, I admit it, I've become a contest junkie.

Did I mention that these Kitchen Play contests are pretty simple? You just pick one of the recipes, make it as-is or change it up, whatever you prefer. Then blog about it and post a link to your blog post on Kitchen Play. Unlike some contests, you don't lose the rights to your recipe. And, gee, you just post on your own blog, so if you're stuck for inspiration on what to post, these can help you brainstorm a bit.

Oh yeah. And there are prizes. Those are nice, too.

I decided to riff off a recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Soup Shooters. My first riff was that I didn't make a soup. Second, instead of pumpkin, I used fresh winter squash. After all, pumpkin is a variety of squash, and to be honest it's easier to find good winter squash than it is to find a decent baking pumpkin. After I was done riffing, I used some (but not all) of the same spices as were in the original soup.

I chose a delicata squash because it's small. One squash makes two small servings. Just enough for a side dish with dinner, without feeling like you've over-squashed yourself.

This recipe is fast, since the squash is cooked through first in the microwave and then baked with the spices and a bit of butter to brown it a bit. You could bake it all the way in the oven, if you've got the time. Or, if you've got no time at all, skip the oven and nuke it again after adding the butter and spices.

Simple Seasoned Squash

1 delicata squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
2 teaspoons butter
Seasonings, to taste: coriander powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the squash, cut side down, on a microwavable plate or baking dish. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the plate. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high until the squash are cooked through - about 10 minutes.

If the plate/dish you used for microwaving is also oven safe, you can use the same dish. Otherwise, use a small baking sheet or pan. Place the squash cut-side up and put 1 teaspoon of butter into each squash half, spreading it over the surface. Sprinkle the squash with the seasonings, and place in the oven. (If you're using a Pyrex dish, you should have a little water in the bottom of the dish - it's not recommended to bake with them completely dry.) Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the squash browns a little.

You can microwave and season the squash in advance and refrigerate them until you're ready to bake. They'll take longer to bake - figure about 15-20 minutes for them to warm through and get a little brown.

Mini Pastry Appetizers with Cream Cheese and Red Pepper Tapenade

Sometimes simple is best.

A few clean flavors in a single bite can be impressive in its restraint. That's what this recipe is all about. It's easy enough to make on the spur of the moment, and elegant enough for parties.

And it's endlessly customizable.

Even better, the same concept works just as well for dessert flavors as for appetizers.

While you'll get extra points for presentation, these are quick to assemble if you have all the ingredients on hand.

The most difficult part of this recipe is the pastry shell, and they're not crazy difficult.

You can make your pastry shells from the scraps left from pie making - just press the pieces into the wells of a mini-muffin pan and bake until golden brown. Use them within a few days, or freeze for long-term storage.

Or, if you don't have pie crust scraps, you can buy phyllo (sometimes spelled fillo) or puff pastry sheets to make your own shells. Or buy ready-made shells and keep them on hand for times when you need an emergency nibble.

The red pepper tapenade I used wasn't spicy at all - just a blend of red bell peppers and mild spices. Make your own, or buy it already prepared.

The skin of some cucumbers can be bitter, so taste the first slice to test. Peel the cucumbers if the peels are bitter. No cucumber? Slices of zucchini would be a great substitute.

Classy Little Nibbles

15 prepared mini pastry shells
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Milk, cream, or yogurt, as needed
Red pepper tapenade

In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese with enough milk, cream, or yogurt to make a smooth paste - but still able to hold its shape. Put a small dollop of the cream cheese mixture into the pastry shells.

Slice the cucumbers into rounds, and slice each round in half. If the pieces look too big for a garnish for your pastry shells, slice them into quarters or whatever size makes sense.

Top the cream cheese with a tiny bit of the tapenade. It should be an accent, not a layer. Insert a piece of the cucumber as a garnish.


Instead of plain cream cheese, you can add any flavors you like. If you aren't comfortable adding your own herbs and seasonings, there are plenty of mixes for making flavored cheeseballs that you could use - either savory or sweet.

The savory accent layer could be any tapenade you like - olive or artichoke tapenade would work well. If you like spicy flavors, a salsa would amp up the flavor nicely. Or use any thick chutney, pesto or relish that you like.

For a play on a classic recipe, top your cheese layer with a bit of cocktail sauce and add a small peeled shrimp on top.

No cucumber for the garnish? Use a parsley or cilantro leaf; a slice of celery, radish or carrot; a sliver of red, green, yellow or orange bell pepper, or even a quartered cherry tomato. A small spear of cheese or slice of olive would be just as good. If none of those are at hand, a sprinkle of paprika, coarse black pepper, or flaky salt would add a finishing touch.

For a cheesecake-like dessert bite, top your cream cheese layer with lemon curd or a thick jam. Maine blueberry jam would be particularly nice, with a whole berry on each. If you want to garnish it, a sprinkle of crushed graham cracker or cookie crumbs would add some crunch. Or, depending on your flavors, use chocolate shavings, colored sugars or sprinkles, grated nutmeg, a shake of cinnamon, or a sliver of candied ginger or lemon peel. Or how about a tiny dollop of whipped cream?

The point of these little bites is to keep them simple - a rich layer of creamy cheese, a flavorful contrast, and a garnish - and that's all you need.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Technique: Pre-Fermenting Dough

Maybe the thing I like best about breadmaking is that it accommodates my lazy, forgetful, procrastinating self. Good bread can’t be rushed. Great bread likes to hang around and chill. It likes to loaf just as much as I do.

Pre-fermenting a dough – that is, letting it sit around for a while before it becomes a finished dough – amps up the flavor of your bread. That’s one reason sourdough is so flavorful – the starter spends a long time fermenting before it becomes part of a bread dough.

For breads leavened with commercial yeasts, there are several types of pre-ferments and probably thousands of variations. There’s also some disagreement about exact terminology. Some authors call everything a sponge or a pre-ferment, and some disagree on other distinctions between the types of pre-ferments. Since Peter Reinhart is one authority I trust, I use his definitions when there’s disagreement.

Types of Pre-Ferments

Pre-ferments can be broken into two categories: the wet (or sponge) and the dry (or firm) pre-ferments. The wet pre-ferments are the poolish and the regular sponge (in French, the levain levure, or sometimes shortened to levain). The dry pre-ferments are the biga and the pâte fermentée.

A poolish is a wet, sticky mixture with equal weights of flour and water (or, in baker’s percentage, 100 percent hydration) and a very small percentage of yeast. Since wet mixtures ferment faster, this needs much less yeast than dry pre-ferments, but since it has such a small amount of yeast, the fermentation takes longer. That longer fermentation adds flavor to final bread product. More yeast is usually added to this when it is mixed with flour to make the final dough, but not always.

A regular sponge (levain) is much like a poolish, except that most or all of the yeast is added at this stage. It ferments much faster, so there isn’t as much flavor development as with a poolish. However, this type of preferment allows bread to be made faster, since it might sit for as little as 20 minutes or an hour before the rest of the ingredients are added. More yeast might be added at that stage, but much less than with a poolish.

A biga is an Italian style of pre-ferment, and it is made with less yeast than a regular bread dough and no salt. Baking books disagree on exactly how wet a biga is, with the hydration ranging from 60-100 percent. However, the majority seem to agree with Peter Reinhart that a biga has about the same consistency of a bread dough, and that something approaching 100 percent hydration should be called a poolish.

The pâte fermentée is old dough – either a piece of dough that was saved from a previous batch of baking, or dough that was specifically made to be used the next day. Unlike other forms of preferment, this includes salt.

Not Really Fermented, But …

For some old-world rye breads, and entirely different type of “old bread” is used to add flavor. Day-old baked bread is crumbled and added to the new dough. I’ve read tales of bakeries doing this “on the sly” because it didn’t fit in with food regulations, but it was the only way to make the bread taste right.

Although a soaker isn’t technically a pre-ferment, it is very similar. The difference is that there is no yeast at all in the soaker. The point isn’t fermentation. This is often used for coarse whole grains, to help soften the grains and to allow the enzymes within the grain to become active and  start converting the starch into sugar.

The point here is that if a recipe tells you to proof and mix and knead and get it all into the oven as fast as possible, you don't have to stick to that schedule. Mix the flour, water and yeast, and let it hang around while you read the news or catch up on email. An extra 20 minutes or so will help the bread, not harm it. Bread wants you to take your time. Loaf a little. You deserve it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Cookistry Crew!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Iron Foodie - Now That It's Over...

Earlier this month, I participated in the Iron Foodie Contest sponsored by Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll. I've got to say that from beginning to end, it was a blast.

First, I had to post a blog entry explaining why I wanted to be an Iron Foodie. From over 100 entries (125? 150ish - I don't remember), there were 25 contestants chosen, and I was one of the lucky ones. We each got a box with eight ingredients, and we had to use three for our recipes.

Before I even posted about why I wanted to enter, I was giddy excited about this contest, and I told my husband (who patiently listens to me blather about such things) that I'd be thrilled just to get the ingredients and to play the game.

When the box arrived, it was like an early Christmas present.The items were Dulse Seaweed, Fennel Pollen, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Porcini Mushrooms, Tellicherry Peppercorns, Smoked Salt and Aji Panca Chilies. Quite the interesting selection.

And then we all posted our recipes. Shortly after, the public voting began, and a secret ballot was held where only the contestant and sponsors could vote.

And oh yeah, it was fun! I wrestled with ideas and thought about the ingredients, played with the recipe, and finally got what I wanted and took photos and posted. Pretty much all in one long breath, just like that. And then waited. And watched the votes. And waited some more.

And then it was over, and I managed to win third place in the public vote AND I won the contestant-only vote. Wheee! I was thrilled!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Turkey-Brined Pork

A whole lot of people cook turkey on Thanksgiving, and there are some who serve it on Christmas as well. But when the Christmas sales come around, you'll find bargains on all the trappings of turkey cooking. While you might not need a turkey stuffing bag until next year, there's something you can buy and use right away: a turkey brining kit.

Yes, that's what I said. You can use it right away, even if you've sworn of the big bird for another 11 months.

Here's the deal. Turkey brine works just as well for pork. The flavors are very compatible, and there's nothing in turkey brine that screams "Thanksgiving!" at you. While it's simple enough to make your own brine, when those kits go on sale, you can stock up on them, cheap, and have them on hand when you want to brine a pork roast, pork chops or ... chicken.

Since a pork roast is smaller than a turkey, you don't need as much brine liquid, which makes the kit even more economical, since you can use it for several roasts. On the other hand, a pork roast is a lot denser than a turkey, so it takes longer for the brine to penetrate that pork roast. You do need to make a few adjustments, but it's simple.

The brining kit I got included a brine mixture, a brining bag, and a rub. The brine was enough for a gallon of brine, but I knew that I didn't need that much. But it was a fairly big roast, so I used half the brine and half the amount of water. A smaller roast would be fine with a quarter of the brine and a quarter of the water. Your kit will be different, but you'll be fine if you keep the ratio of brine to water the same.

It's also a good idea to taste the brine. I'm not saying you should drink it, but it a spoon in and take a tiny taste. It should taste a little salty, but not painfully so. Just a pleasant amount of salt. If it seems very salty, add water until it reaches a pleasant level.

Prepare the brine as directed. Usually you need to heat it to a boil, then cool it. This infuses the spices into the water, which then flavors your roast. Make sure it's completely cool before you introduce it to the pork.

Put the pork roast in a brining bag, if a bag came with your kit - or any handy plastic bag that will hold the roast. Since a pork roast is a lot smaller than a turkey, you'll probably have a bag it will fit into. Seal the bag and try to get as much air out as possible so it's completely surrounded with the liquid. Put it in a bowl or whatever it will fit into, in case your bag leaks. Refrigerate it for 24 - 48 hours.

When you're ready to cook, rinse off the roast and pat dry. You can rub it with a bit of oil or coat it with spices or a dry rub. Or, if you kit came with a rub, use that, in an appropriate amount for the size of your roast. Cook as usual, to 155 degrees in the center. Let it rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Note: Brined pork stays moist, and the interior is a little pinker that a non-brined meat,  but don't let that color worry you. If you've cooked it to the correct temperature, it's done.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Technique: Storing Your Bread Supplies

I already discussed the essential ingredients for making bread and pizza crust, but if you've gone out and stocked up, where are you going to put it? The first logical answer is that you’re probably going to put all of the dry goods into the pantry or into the kitchen cabinets. But is that really the best place?

Probably not. Or at least not for long-term storage.


While dried yeast is designed to be shelf-stable in its original packaging, once it has been opened, it’s vulnerable to air, moisture and heat. For long-term storage, the best place for your yeast is in an airtight container in the freezer. According to Red Star Yeast, it will stay fresh for 6 months in the freezer, but in practice it can last longer.

But putting yeast in the freezer has its pitfalls. For one thing, every time you open the very cold container, you’re introducing moisture, which isn’t good. And yeast is vulnerable to thermal shock, so if you take a spoon full of frozen yeast and add it to warm water to proof it, you could kill off a whole lot of yeast before it has a chance to shake off the cold and wake up. Letting your yeast warm up a bit before adding it to warm water is a good idea, and it warms up faster if you keep some in a slightly less frigid environment.

I use a two-step approach to storing yeast, and it hasn’t failed me yet. I keep the bulk of the yeast in the freezer, tightly sealed, and I keep a smaller container in the refrigerator. When the jar in the refrigerator is empty, I refill from the freezer. When I was being even more particular, I used to vacuum seal the yeast stored in the freezer. That’s a good idea if you buy in bulk, but use the yeast slowly. I use it fast enough, so even though I buy a pound or two at a time, I no longer bother with the vacuum sealing.

According to Red Star Yeast, refrigerated yeast has a shelf life of 4 months, but I’d suggest keeping about a month’s worth in the refrigerator and keeping the rest in the freezer.

If you ever use fresh yeast, your best bet is to buy it and use it as quickly as possible. However, sometimes I buy fresh yeast in bulk, and there’s no way to use it fast enough. In that case, I cut it into cubes, wrap it tightly, and store it in the freezer. I find that it takes about twice as much of the frozen yeast in place of fresh yeast. But of course, always proof fresh yeast. The shelf life is so short, there’s a chance it was dead when you got it.

If you have sourdough starter, the best place to store it when you’re not interacting with it is in the refrigerator. I’ve seen suggestions that it’s good for a week or a month while refrigerated, but in practice, I’ve let starters languish in the refrigerator for three months and have been able to revive them. Needless to say, it takes a couple days of feeding to get a starter of that age to spring back to life, but it’s not hopeless unless it has other things growing in there. A coat of fur is not a good sign.

Sourdough starters can also be dried for long-term storage. Personally, I’ve never done that, but I have revived dried starters I’ve gotten from other sources. You can store your dried starter in the freezer for extra protection.


When it comes to flour, refined white flour will last for a fairly long time at room temperature, but any whole grain – whether it’s wheat, oats, rye, or any specialty grain – can go rancid because of the oil in the germ. Believe me, rancid flour doesn’t get any better when it’s baked into bread or cakes or cookies.

Of course, you should keep your flour and other grain products tightly sealed to avoid infestation by hungry crawly creatures, but another consideration is ease of access. I’ve seen really pretty canister sets with loose-fitting narrow tops, and thought that whoever designed them must not cook a lot. A better design is something that seals tightly and that allows you to fill your measuring cup easily, without spilling flour all over your counters. Or, if you measure by weight instead of volume, you want easy access for whatever scoop you use to dispense the flour. For my ease of use, I leave a measuring cup and a small scoop in my flour canisters, so I can scoop large amounts with the cup and small amounts with the scoop.

When it comes to finding a place to store those canisters, colder is better. But of course, it depends on storage space and on how fast you use the product. For flours that I use often, I keep them at room temperature because there’s no time for them to go bad. For flours that I use less often, I store in the refrigerator or the freezer, depending on space available and on how often I use them. But even with white flour, when I buy in bulk I keep what I’ll use right away in my easily accessible canister, and store the rest in the refrigerator, tightly sealed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Honey Buns - A Better Use for Pizza Yeast

I bought a three-pack of pizza yeast to test it, and after making one pizza crust with it, I decided that I wasn't interested in making another.

The package very clearly said that this yeast wasn't designed for bread-baking. So of course, I took that as a challenge. Yeah, I'm a risk taker.

When I used it for pizza dough, the pizza yeast made the dough rise super-fast, but it didn't have the flavor or texture that I wanted in my pizza crust. It also wasn't what I wanted in a loaf of bread.

I figured that not only could I fix the flavor, but I could take advantage of the quick rise at the same time.

While these buns don't rise as fast as that pizza dough, they only rise once, and they're done a lot faster than if I had used regular yeast.

This dough is sweet enough that you could use it for cinnamon rolls, but without the cinnamon/sugar combo these resemble dinner rolls I've had at some barbecue restaurants as well as at a local chain. So, sweet or savory, it's up to you.

Honey Buns

1 cup milk
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1 package pizza yeast*
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the milk to boiling in a small saucepan, then pour it into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the butter and honey. Stir occasionally to encourage the butter to melt. When the milk has cooled to lukewarm, add the yeast and about 1/3 of the flour and stir to combine.

Let the mixture sit until it bubbles, just a few minutes. Add the rest of the flour and the salt and knead with the bread hook until the mixture is smooth an elastic.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet. I used a quarter-sheet pan because I wanted the buns to touch during baking so the sides would be soft. Use a larger pan and spread the buns out if you don't want them to touch.

Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide it into 15 pieces. Form each into a ball and place them seam-side down on the baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

When the buns have risen, bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 25 minutes.

*If you don't have pizza yeast, you can use instant or active dry yeast. In that case, let the dough rise once in the bowl, then punch it down and form the rolls and let them rise a second time before baking.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sourdough Pizza Dough - For Thin Crust and Pan Pizza

Thin crust sourdough pizza
Besides making bread from my one of my latest starters, I also made pizza. Two different ones, actually.

Here's how it went:

In the evening, I combined:

8 ounces starter, by volume
2 1/4 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces water

I covered it and let it rest at room temperature overnight.

In the morning, I added:
2 1/4 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces water

I mixed them and covered the bowl and let it rest for four hours.

Then I added:
4 1/2 ounces flour
1 teaspoon salt

I kneaded it until it was shiny and elastic, then formed it into a ball, drizzled it with oil, but it back into the bowl and let it rise until it was doubled, about 2 1/2 hours.

Sourdough pan pizza
I divided the dough into 2 pieces - one piece was roughly 1/3 of the dough, and the second was the rest of it.

I used the smaller piece to make a thin crust pizza that I baked in a cast iron comal. I put the dough in the comal on the stovetop, turned the heat on while I topped it with sauce, roasted red peppers, and cheese.

The oven was preheated on high heat. I turned on the broiler and put the pan in the oven finish cooking it.

The larger piece went into a cast iron frying pan and I topped it with a thin layer of cheese on the bottom, sauce, chopped fresh tomatoes, and more cheese.

Baked it for about 30 minutes until the crust was done and the cheese was bubbling.

Need to know how to grow a sourdough starter? Look here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sourdough Bread

Most of the time when I'm making sourdough bread, I'm working with an old starter. I've got six different starters in my fridge, and when I'm ready to bake, I pull one out, feed it until it's lively and I have enough to work with, then I take out what I need. I feed the remainder and put it back in the fridge for the next time.

A new starter is different. It's not quite as enthusiastic, and it's never as complex as the next few loaves. And it's unpredictable. The crust and texture from the first dough is not necessarily what it will be like for subsequent loaves.

After a while, the sourdough settles into the sort of starter that it's going to be from that point on. The first few loaves, though. are usually a little unpredictable. The crust, texture, flavor, and speed of rise can change from one loaf to another. After a while, though, it becomes more stable. You'll know what to expect.

This was the first loaf I made from one of my newest starters:

Sourdough Bread

8 ounces starter (by volume)
4 ounces water
4 ounces bread flour

Combine these, mix, and cover until it's bubbling and rising. Figure at least an hour, possibly more.

8 ounces bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Knead (I used a stand mixer. Kneading by hand is fine, too) Add water or flour as needed to get the consistency you need. I added one more ounce of water.

Form the dough into a ball, drizzle with a little olive oil and put it back into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size. This took about 3 hours.

Remove the dough from the bowl and form into a ball. Don't mash it to death - you want to keep the bubbles that have formed. Set the dough on a prepared baking sheet a peel and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until it has doubled, then slash the dough and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes until the bread is nicely browned.

Need to know how to grow a sourdough starter? Look here.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sourdough Pizza Crust

I already posted about making sourdough starter, so here's the pizza dough I made from the starter.

I put 4 ounce of the 100 percent hydration starter into bowl and added 2 ounces of bread flour and 1 ounce of water, and let that sit, covered, at room temperature over night.

The next day, I put that into the bowl of my stand mixer and added:

8 ounces bread flour
5 ounces water

I kneaded that with the dough hook until it came together, then added:
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

I kneaded that until it was becoming elastic, the put it into a plastic bag with a bit of olive oil to coat. I left it there for 2 days (I had planned to leave it for one day, but plans intervened.)

I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator a couple hours before I need it, and left it on the counter to come to room temperature. I kneaded it a bit, stretched it to a circle about 14 inches in diameter, topped it with sauce, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green pepper and cheese, and baked it at 500 degrees until it was nicely browned and the cheese was bubbly. I considered a minute or two under the broiler to brown the cheese more, but left it as it was.

Darned good pizza.

This has been submitted to Yeastpotting.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sourdough Bread

Now that I've walked you through making a sourdough starter, what's next?

The instructions in my "day-by-day" posts resulted in a starter with100 percent hydration.

To 4 ounces of that starter, I added 2 ounces of bread flour and 1 ounce of water, and let that sit, covered, at room temperature overnight.

The next day, I put that into the bowl of my stand mixer, then added:

8 ounces flour
4 ounces water

I kneaded that until it was well combined, then added:

1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

I kneaded a little more until it was just becoming elastic, then popped it into a plastic bag with a drizzle of olive oil to coat it, and stashed that in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, I took it out of the refrigerator, gave it a little massage, and left it on the counter to take the chill off, about 2 hours.

I formed it into a loaf, put it seam-side down on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, and let it rise for about 2 1/2 hours. It had just about doubled. It could have risen longer.

I baked it at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. It had great oven spring and a nice crust. Good flavor, too.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Long-Term Storage for Sourdough Starter

Once you've established a soudough starter that's working well for you, how do you ensure that it stays alive when you can't tend to it?

Frankly, I've left starters in the refrigerator for months, and they've revived with no problem. Okay, they're a little sluggish at first, but they still spring back to life after a few feedings.

But what about some sourdough insurance? What if you have a starter that seems really, really good, and you don't want to lose it in some terrible refrigerator accident? What if you want to share your starter with a friend who lives in another state?

The simple answer is that you can dry it.

Freezing is an option, but I've tried freezing wet yeast in various stages of life, and it's been less than spectacular. Drying, on the other hand, seems more friendly to yeast. I've reconstituted starters that have accidentally dried out.


Spread nice and thin for drying.
Drying is simple. Take some of your fully-active starter and spread it as thinly as possible on a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat. The thinner you spread it, the faster it will dry.

Recently, I dried one sample on a Silpat and one on parchment to see which would dry faster. Surprisingly, the one on the Silpat dried faster. The photo above is after a couple hours and the edges were already flaking up. Either is fine. Other surfaces are fine, too, like a dinner plate. But since you're going to spread such a thin layer, you might as well use a large surface.

Leave your drying starter somewhere safe from random spills, pet attacks, and marauding insects. I leave mine inside the oven. Lights off, door closed.

Here it is, completely dried and flaking off the Silpat.
When the starter is completely dry, it will flake off of the sheets. Mine are dry by the next day, but of course that depend on how thinly you spread your starter and how humid your environment is.

Crumble, crush, mash or grind the flakes into a powder for easier hydrating later. Store the powder in a sealed container in the freezer for extra insurance. Remember how I said I had bad luck with freezing wet yeast? The problem is the moisture. Dry sourdough should be just as happy in the freezer as your active dry and instant yeast.


The dried sourdough starter powder isn't a substitute for dried commercial yeast - sourdough isn't that fast. To use it, you need to hydrate it and feed it and nurture it until you have enough starter to use for your baking. Since it's already active, this isn't like growing your starter from scratch - you should be ready to bake fairly quickly.

Start with about a teaspoon of your dried starter (let it come to room temperature to avoid the chance of thermal shock), and add it to a tablespoon of room temperature water. Stir, and let it hydrate fully - just a few minutes. Then add about a tablespoon of flour. You want a thin batter. Cover it and let it sit until you have active bubbles - this should take from a few hours to 12 hours - maybe up to a full day.

When you have lively bubbles, it's time to increase the volume. Add about 2 ounces each of water and flour, stir, and wait until it's bubbling vigorously. This should happen fairly quickly - a matter of hours, at most. Then add another 4 ounces each of flour and water. That should rise up in the jar within an hour or so. At that point, you're ready to use some of it for baking.

If your starter is more sluggish in coming to life, you can feed at a less accelerated pace and wait for it to regenerate enough to bake with it. If you get no bubble activity at all, either your starter didn't survive the drying and freezing, or something went wrong with the re-hydration process. You can try again, making sure that your water isn't too warm for the starter and that the starter has reached room temperature. If it still doesn't bubble it's probably dead.

Needless to say, it's a good idea to test your dried frozen starter once in a while to make sure it's still alive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Growing a Sourdough Starter, Day by Day

This entire day-by-day series, along with recipes for sourdough bread and sourdough pizza ran on Serious Eats as the "Starter-Along," with one post each day until we got to the recipes. The participation in the event was amazing, as readers asked questions and posted photos of their developing starters.

This is the complete series in one post, from Day Zero where we discuss the equipment needed, all the way through the last day of the series which shows the aftermath of a neglected starter.

If your sourdough doesn't progress at this pace, don't fret. Plenty of people who came along on this journey had starters that lagged behind and caught up later. Some were slow overall, and some sped to the finish line ahead of everyone else. Some folks neglected a feeding or two, but were successful in the end. This isn't meant to be a rigid formula, but more of a guideline. If I can predict anything at all about your starter, it is that it will somehow be different than this one. Because they all are unique.

A sourdough bread recipe is here, and a pizza recipe is here, when you're done with your starter. There are more here as well. those are just to get you started. hehe.

Day Zero

A sourdough starter is a simple concept—let some flour and water hang around for a while, and almost magically, the correct combination of yeast and bacteria will take up residence. And that same combination, when healthy and happy, create an environment that's unfriendly to unwanted organisms.

But now that every grocery store stocks dry yeast, why bother with sourdough? The simple answer is flavor. You'll never get the same results from dry yeast that you will from sourdough. Another reason is uniqueness. Sourdoughs cultivated in different areas will result in different breads. Not only will the flavor be different, but the crust, crumb, and rise will be different. It's as far as you can get from the concept of nationwide mass-produced industrial bread.

There are so many questions about how to grow a sourdough starter, and so many different methods. To me, some of which seem awfully complicated and technical considering sourdough is as old as the pyramids. I forgo the chemical soups and stick with basic flour and water.

Right here, we've got a day-by-day chronicle of a the life of a starter. Print it out or come back every day for a new dose, whatever you like. But either way, this should help you grow a sourdough starter of your own, even if you've never tried before. Just imagine that I'm here with you, each day, building my starter at the same time. And of course, if you leave comments or questions, I'll answer as soon as I can. I hope you'll join me!

Here on Day Zero, in the quest for your own bubbly new pet, there's not a lot of pre-planning required. All you really need is some sort of reasonable containment vessel, like a canning jar with a lid (you won't use the lid while you're growing the starter, but you'll use it when you store it), some flour, some water, and something to stir your mixture. Oh, and a measuring device. A scale is nice if you want to be precise, or you can use volume measures, or just eyeball it as best you can.

I use plain tap water for starters, fresh from the faucet. If your water is highly chlorinated, you might want to leave the water sit overnight so the chlorine dissipates. If your water is otherwise nasty tasting, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be bad for sourdough, although it might be. If you're worried, buy a bottle of water. Tomorrow, when you've got your jar ready, we'll get started.

Oh - and one last thing to consider. It's a tradition among people who keep sourdough starters to name their starters. Mine are all in the Mongo family, and they include Colorado Mongo, French Mongo, and my newest pet, Mongo Grape.

Now might be a good time to start thinking about a name for your new gooey little pet. Yes, it seems silly, but it's a fun little tradition. So, what are you going to name yours?

Day 1 

My goal with this project was to come up with a method for getting a sourdough starter going that would be easy for anyone. I also didn't want to end up with an excess of starter that would have to be thrown away. So I started with a very small amount. I find that starters seem to work better if they're very wet at the beginning, so I started with 1/2 ounce of flour and 1 ounce of water. That's all.

It's best to measure with a scale, but if you don't have one, don't worry. 1/2 ounce of flour is pretty easy to measure consistently (even though we're breaking all the rules of measuring properly here). Here's how to do it: Use your handy tablespoon measure and dip it into the flour, then press it against the side of the container so that you're compacting it in the process. Move it back and forth a bit to level it, and you'll be close enough to 1/2 ounce for this starter recipe. Add one ounce of water and stir it up.

Cover the jar with plastic wrap and store on the kitchen counter. Do not refrigerate Now, forget about it until tomorrow.

While your just-started starter sits, the enzymes in the flour get to work, and some of the starch in the flour starts converting to sugar. And then the hoards arrive. Bacteria, yeast, and all sorts of critters join the least for a little while, until all the little beasts battle it out to see who survives. I'm betting on the bread beasties. How about you?

Day 2

When I first checked my starter today, the yeast had just started coming to the party in my jar—there were already a few tiny bubbles.

Many sourdough starter recipes require a lot of feeding, but if you think about it, yeast isn't running around the jar like PacMan, it's sort of floating around and eating what's nearby. Stirring is just as important as feeding. Maybe more so.

On Day 2, I didn't feed at all, I just stirred the mixture whenever I thought about it. That's actually a good thing to do throughout the process. You don't need to stir on schedule, but whenever it's convenient, give it a little stir, whether it's a couple times a day or a dozen because you happen to be in the kitchen.

By the end of Day 2, there were more obvious bubbles in the mixture.

I gave it one more stir at the end of the day, and let it rest on the counter until morning. How's your starter doing? Of you're following along, just stip it throughout the day or when you can. No need to stick to a rigid schedule. Leave starter out on counter, covered with plastic wrap, overnight. See you tomorrow!
By the end of Day 2, there were more obvious bubbles in the mixture.

I gave it one more stir and let it sit overnight.

Day 3

Since things were bubbling nicely today, it's time to start changing the water/flour ratio. I fed the starter with one ounce each of water and flour. I stirred the mixture a few times during the day when I thought about it, and left it on the counter as before. Bubble activity is increasing!

So, what's going on in there? You don't need to know the science to nurture a sourdough, but it is interesting. While most people think of a sourdough starter as a natural yeast, it's more than that. It's actually bacteria and yeast working together. If you were counting, the bacteria in a starter would outnumber the yeast by 100 to 1. Don't worry about the bacteria though—they're the nice kind.

Day 4

Today I wanted to tweak the water-to-flour ratio in my starter, so I fed it one ounce of flour and half an ounce of water. Stir it up and leave it on the counter.

Now I've got a 50/50 ratio of water and flour, or if you're used to thinking in baker's percentages, that's 100 percent hydration. This is the final adjustment—I'll keep it at this thickness from now on.

At this point the bubbles are looking good and the scent has changed—the starter smells a little bit like buttermilk. Considering the bacteria is the related to the bacteria that ferments milk into yogurt and cheese and, yes, buttermilk, this makes a fair amount of sense.

Bubbles look good and the scent has changed - like buttermilk.
Day 5

From now on, it's all about feeding once a day and stirring whenever you think about it. Unlike some recipes that require each feeding to double the existing amount of starter, I feed the same amount each day. Just add one ounce each of flour and water. We won't try to double it until we're getting ready to bake with the starter.

To be brutally honest, when I'm feeding a starter, I usually just eyeball the quantities. But I measured this time just so you can follow along precisely, if that's what you want to do. Don't sweat it too much, though.

Why are we stirring the starter? It does more than just move the yeast around to available food. Stirring making it easier for the yeast to get oxygen. The yeast needs oxygen to reproduce, so while you're growing your starter, you'll get more yeast if you stir it more often. Stir vigorously, or whisk it, if you prefer, and leave it on the counter as before.

Ah, pretty bubbles.

Day 6

You've got the hang of this. Today, do it again: feed your starter 1 ounce each of flour and water, and give it a stir when you think of it. Bubbles are looking good!

Not all starters are the same, so if you aren't seeing the same bubbling I am, don't worry too much about it. I've seen starters that have a slow start, but suddenly burst into action rapidly and vigorously. That's part of the charm of sourdoughs—they're quirky.

Part of what happens in a sourdough is that the bacteria converts the sugars into lactic and acetic acid, which lowers the pH level to a point where a lot of the nasty microbes won't be happy. However, the yeast in sourdough likes the acidic environment just fine.

The good yeast can live in the acid environment and the bad critters pack their bags and go away. And unlike regular yeasts, sourdough yeasts don't eat maltose (a type of sugar) so they leave that for the bacteria to munch on. The bacteria add to our starter's flavor, and the yeast add the bubbles. Meanwhile, everyone else gets out of the swimming pool.

Bubbles are looking good.
Day 7

Just like the previous few days, today we're going to add another ounce each of flour and water. Bubble activity is definitely increasing. One thing to look for is how fast the bubbles come back after stirring. It's one thing to see bubbles first thing in the morning, but it's not ready to bake until it's a little more lively.

One flavor tip: unlike the yeast in a sourdough that needs oxygen to reproduce, the bacteria carries on whether there's available oxygen or not. And the bacteria only produces lactic acid when the oxygen has been depleted. So, if you like a sour sourdough, let it sit undisturbed for a while. The yeast will take a little nap, but the bacteria will be busy creating that sour flavor that's sought after in sourdoughs.

In other words, you don't have to be too nice to your starter. A little neglect at the right time can be a good thing.

It's getting close, but it's not quite ready yet.

Day 8

How are your starters? Mine is really getting active. Lots of bubbles, close together, and they come back quickly when I stir the mixture down. It also is starting to feel different when I stir. Before, it felt like stirring a cake batter, but now it feels frothy. Today, we'll add the usual ounce of flour and ounce of water and stir it occasionally.

When a starter is new, there are all sorts of yeasts and bacteria that come into it from the air, the flour, the baker's hands, and the water. In the beginning, they're all competing for survival, but the particular strains of yeast and bacteria that create a sourdough work together so well they're almost a sure bet to out-compete anything else in the mixture. Now that the bacteria and yeast are so active, there's not much chance that anything else will invade.

While not every sourdough culture will be wildly successful in terms of flavor, texture, rise, or any other criteria, the yeast and bacteria do a pretty good job of keeping out the types of things that could make you ill. Which is pretty amazing, if you think about it.

Day 9

It's looking good.

Give your starter a good long look. This might be the day of your first harvest.

One thing to check out is whether the bubbles are just on top, or whether there are bubbles throughout the jar. The frothy feeling yesterday was a good sign, and now when I look at the side of the jar, my starter is showing bubbles throughout.

Pay careful attention to what happens after feeding and stirring. The mixture should rise in the jar when you're done. If you've got a small jar and a lot of starter, you might find starter crawling all over your countertop in the morning.

I've seen this more than once when a starter has decided to become very active during the night. This is why you don't want to seal the jar tightly. It's better that starter oozes out gently rather than causing a small explosion.

Since my starter is looking quite active on Day 9, I went ahead and removed 4 ounces of the starter and put it in a bowl. I added 2 ounces of flour and 1 ounce of water, stirred it, and covered the bowl. Leave this mixture on the counter overnight, and you can actually bake with it tomorrow! (Make sure you have bread flour, kosher salt, and olive oil on hand for tomorrow and you'll be ready to bake your first sourdough bread!)

Meanwhile, the starter in the jar gets a meal of its usual one ounce each of water and flour.

If your starter isn't quite active enough, and you don't see bubbles up and down the side of the jar, don't despair. You can keep feeding it until it's ready. If the jar's too full to keep feeding, you can take a little over a cup out and use this proto-starter in a not-quite-sourdough bread.

Day 10

Yesterday, since my starter was bubbling along the sides of the jar, I set aside four ounces of the starter and mixed it with some flour and water in a bowl.

Today, that proto-dough in the bowl has risen and bubbled nicely. Time to make bread!

But what about the rest of the starter in the jar?

And here's a side view.

It's bubbling away, even more than it was on Day 9. Congratulations, you're ready to start making some pizza dough!  Follow the link to the recipe at the top of the page. You will start by harvesting 4 ounces of your sourdough starter and mixing it with 2 ounces bread flour and 1 ounce water in a bowl. This will rest overnight at room temperature.

And the rest of your starter? Feed it again today, one ounce of water and one ounce of flour. If you don't have time to bake over the next few days, don't fret. As long as there's room in the jar, there's no need to discard any starter.

Day 11

Hey Starter-Alongers! How are your starters? Mine was bubbling and happy on Day 11, and I fed it again with one ounce of water and one ounce of flour.

At this point, you can continue feeding regularly and harvesting starter when you want to make bread, pizza crust, waffles, and other sourdough products. As long as you feed it regularly, it can keep you company on the kitchen counter for as long as you like. Of course, if you don't harvest regularly, that jar will start getting full and your starter will start crawling out of its containment an making a mess on the counter.

To slow down the starter's need for feed, all you have to do is refrigerate it. I always feed right before refrigerating so it has enough food to last in cold storage, and then I check on it the next day. If there was a lot of activity over night, I give it another feed and stir, just to make sure everyone's tucked in and full, and then I forget about it.

The mixture in the bowl looked like this:

And this one became a pizza dough.

Day 11 + a week

People often worry if they've killed their starter by leaving it in the refrigerator for a long time without feeding it. The thing is that when it's refrigerated, the yeasts slow down and become practically dormant. A yellowish liquid usually forms on top, referred to as "hootch" by sourdough folks. Hootch isn't a big deal. Sometimes the hootch starts looking like it's got black sediment in it. This also isn't a big deal. It's yeast cells that have died off, but chances are that there are plenty more still alive.

Just for the fun of it, I left some starter unfed and at room temperature for a week. At that point it smelled strongly of acetone. Not something you'd want to eat. I stirred in some flour and water, and it sprang back to life even better than before. So it wasn't dead or dying, it was just napping and waiting for a little food and a little stirring.

I've never had a refrigerated sourdough go bad on me completely, but it's possible that you can get mold or really nasty stuff growing in an unrefrigerated one if you leave it undisturbed for long enough. I know, because I left some starters for even longer than that week. Some simply fell into a deeper sleep while others developed truly nasty odors and some grew fur. I didn't try reviving any of those - the acetone-smelling one was about my limit. I figure that it's easy enough to grow a new starter if I have to. I might have gone to greater measures to revive one of my foreign starters, though. Maybe.


So there you have it - sourdough starter from start to finish to bake to neglect and resurrection. Of course, at any stage, your sourdough might fall behind or leap ahead of mine, but that's okay. Different sourdoughs develop differently, so there's no need to panic if you don't have bubbles on the third day or if your starter smells like beer instead of buttermilk.

And if it fails completely, you can always try again. We've wasted very little in product, and not a lot of time. Next time, try bottle water or a different brand of flour, and see if your results are different.

And of course, this isn't the only set of directions for building a sourdough starter. People swear by a lot of different methods, so if this doesn't work, try another method. All that matters is that in the end you've got an active culture that you can bake with.