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Caring for your Starter

Great bread starts with starter: a mixture of flour and water fermented by natural yeasts and bacteria in the air. Natural starter makes a slower-rising bread than commercial packaged yeasts, and the slower rise allows the full flavor of the bread to develop. Once started, the sourdough is not difficult to maintain, and once you get used to the slower rhythm of baking sourdough breads, you will never go back. If you feed your starter adequately, it will have no "sour" taste -- just the full flavor of real bread.

  • The best source for starter is another baker.  (Ours is from Mitchel who brought it to SLC ten years ago from Eli Zabar in NYC.)   To make your own, see the instructions in Nancy Silverton, Breads from the La Brea Bread Bakery.
  • Starters will change depending on what they are fed. Therefore you may wish to keep separate white and rye or wholewheat starters. However, rye starters go very sour very quickly, so be sure to keep a white starter as a "mother" culture.
  • Starter should be fed twice or even three times a day unless refrigerated. Refrigerated white flour starter does not need to be fed for several weeks (see below).
  • To feed your starter add equal amounts of flour and water so as to double the total volume: i.e., if you have 1 cup of existing starter, add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour. This doubles the amount of starter each time you feed, so you will have to spill some off. Be careful in disposing of unwanted starter since it dries into a form of concrete.
  • Between feedings, leave your starter open to the air at room temperature. It should bubble and froth. If you think of it, stir it once between feedings. The consistency should be similar to a pancake batter -- adjust water or flour if needed. If you are not feeding it enough, it will become strong smelling and sour, or water will separate on top, or it may even turn brown. None of these are fatal: just start feeding it more.
  • When you are not going to use your starter for a few days, you can refrigerate it in a sealed container. Feed it before refrigerating it. Refrigerated starter does not need to be fed for several weeks. On removing it from the refrigerator, feed it again and do not use it for at least 4 hours. Sometimes I find that the starter makes distinctly better bread if it has gone through at least a couple or three feeding cycles, so it is a good idea to remove the starter from the refrigerator a day or two before baking.
  • Starter is alive, composed of natural yeasts and bacteria from your original culture and the air of your kitchen. It will vary according to how you feed it, what yeasts are nearby and so on.
  • Underfed starters get very sour and may develop a layer of water on top or even turn black. Do not panic -- just feed it several times, leaving it open and at room temperature in between.
  • We have not found a successful way of keeping starter alive and untended for more than a month, although Nancy Silverton says that drying it will work.

Now that you have starter, you will want to use it for other starter/sourdough recipes.

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