Number 20 on my semi-neglected 101 Things list: create a sourdough starter from scratch. Last month, with cool weather and nice breezes flowing in from the bay, I decided the timing was perfect. Eschewing the more complicated-sounding grape-containing starter in my Nancy Silverton book, I looked to The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum for guidance.
The recipe recommends organic rye or whole wheat flour to start off with, as those apparently have the most wild yeast cells already and the least chance of contamination. My supply of rye flour (organic? not sure – got it from the bulk bin at Henry’s) was running low, so I supplemented with some pumpernickel flour (whole-grain rye, essentially) to get up to four ounces flour. To this I added four ounces cold water, then took my measuring cup outside and covered it with plastic wrap.
After two days, I brought the proto-starter inside to start the feeding schedule. The starter did not smell very good at this point – sour and fermented, yes, but not good; in the absence of any visible signs of spoilage I simply blamed the odor on the rye flour and continued with the feeding schedule, throwing away half of the starter and adding 2 ounces each of bread flour and water. The next morning, I was happy to see air bubbles – it might actually be working!
I fed it again, with 2 ounces each water and flour, and the next morning I was rewarded with more signs of life – the starter had more than doubled in size overnight, so I was pretty confident that it would soon be viable for baking.
I fed the starter for three more days, discarding part of the original each time to keep the volume manageable, then poured about 1 cup into a quart-sized jar for refrigerator storage and gave it an extra feeding.
I had about 1.5 cups of starter left, so I started a simple bread recipe based on the San Francisco Sourdough recipe in Ed Wood’s Classic Sourdoughs. I added 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water to the starter, then let it rise for about 4 hours at room temperature, at which point it had doubled in size:
I then dissolved 1.5 teaspoons salt in 1 cup water, added this to the dough, and then mixed in 3 cups of flour one at a time. I then kneaded in one more cup of flour, and formed two round boules:
I let the loaves rise for about two hours before slashing and baking at 400°F, spritzing the oven three times in the first five minutes of baking to help the crust formation. After about 45 minutes, success! The first loaves from my new sourdough culture were complete!