A sourdough starter is one of those things that always seems like a good idea, and recipes that use them sound and look delicious. The problem is you never have one around when you need it, and when you have the time to think about it, it always seems to be too much trouble.
You need five things for a starter. Go get them now. Right now.
2 cups flour
2 cups water
1 pinch yeast
1 pinch sugar
1 2-quart container
Step 1: throw everything into the container. Cover. Shake. Uncover.
Step 2: bake bread the day after tomorrow.
Okay, there’s a step 1 1/2: add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the container tomorrow, too.
The day after tomorrow’s no good for baking? No problem. Repeat Step 2 the day after tomorrow.
Did you make a pilgrimage to San Francisco? No. Did you spend $19.99 on a starter pack from the Internet? No. Did you “leave it sit uncovered for three days in a warm spot near an open window to pick up wild yeast spores in the air?” No. Is it a sourdough starter? Yes.
Now that you have a starter, you have three choices to make:
- bake bread today
- every two to three days, feed it 1 cup flour and 1 cup water.
- if you’re not planning on baking bread for a while, cover it and put it in the fridge, and feed it every week right after you put away the groceries.
When you want to bake, take the container out the night before and feed it to activate it, use what you need on baking day, feed it to replenish it, and then put it back either in the fridge or on top of the microwave or other out of the way place. Don’t cover it tightly when it’s out of the fridge, just enough to make sure nothing falls into it.
If your container is getting full, pour off half of whatever you have and then feed it. Yes, I know, you just wasted 50 agorot ($0.20) of flour (1/8 of 1 kg at ₪4.00 per bag). Skip your morning coffee once a month to assuage your guilt.
Your starter will have the consistency of cake batter. It will smell like a beer. It will have bubbles. The smaller the bubbles, the happier your starter is. Like champagne. Or beer.
You can’t freeze a starter to death in the fridge; yeast hibernates. You can starve it to death, but if you can remember to water plants, program a Tivo, call your Mom or say Havdalah, you can remember to feed your starter.
If it has liquid on the surface, just pour it off. It didn’t break; it’s not a hollandaise. It’s just the alcohol which is a by-product of fermentation. Which is why it smells like beer.
Do you think you starved it? No worries, do this: pour out half of whatever you have. Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup water. Check in an hour. Are there bubbles? It’s alive. Feed it again tomorrow. No bubbles? Add a pinch of yeast. Feed it again tomorrow.
Think of it as a pet. Call it something pet-like. Call it Bubbles. Or Spike. Maybe you can call it Fame. It’s gonna live forever.