Monday, 2 May 2011

The Sourdough Game: Part III

I could have named this post 'WHAT A RELIEF!', because that's exactly what I felt this morning when I came downstairs and took a peek at the jars I've been using to cultivate my rye and wheat starters.

For those of you wondering what I'm talking about, we have already been through some preparation, and then some mixing together of flour and water (high tech, or what?), and finally a couple of days of waiting impatiently for exciting stuff to happen.

However, since I've started this, I've found that (unbelievably) some of you are following along and trying to cultivate your own starter, or two. That's great - but - I began to experience a creeping sense of dread. I have done this before and have two happy and mature starters of my own, but I began to worry and fuss like an expectant nanny-goat.

'What if my attempt doesn't work out.'

'Why didn't I do all this weeks ago, and post the results afterwards, rather than going through the process NOW, just like some of you, and wondering if it will go wrong?'

'If it fails, should I (a) come clean and admit it, or (b) swipe some of my mature starters from their pots and spike the 'new' ones into action?'

Anyway, my starters are now showing small signs of life, so the panic was unnecessary.

Here they are:

Mr. Rye

Personality traits: Bubbly under a calm surface, quick to react, energetic
Body type/physical features: voluminous and substantial
Signature fragrance: honey meets beer meets fusty old cupboard

There are many small bubbles under the surface, and the mixture seems to have 'grown' in volume.  It looks a bit like chocolate mousse.
There are only one or two bubbles to be seen on top - the activity is going on under the surface. It smells slightly sweet and a little bit sour.

And Mrs. Wheat:

Personality traits: Foamy on the surface, but with a slightly split personality
Body type/physical features:  thin and pale - looks like she needs a good feed
Signature fragrance: yeasty with a hint of sour milk 

You can see that the mixture has split - there is a yellowy watery layer sitting on top of the main layer of mixture- this is fine, and can just be stirred in. There are only a few small bubbles under the surface.
There is a foamy layer above the watery layer, containing many small bubbles - a sign of activity! It smells quite sour, but sickly and yeasty too.

So, what if yours doesn't look like mine? And what now?

I'll take those questions separately.

What if your Mr. Rye or Mrs. Wheat isn't showing their unique personality yet?
If your starter isn't showing the exciting and unmistakeable signs of life - the bubbles and the sour or slightly sweet smell - then please don't panic. It may take a little longer. Why would it take longer? Well that's a whole other story, but it could be to do with the exact type or age of the flour you've used, it could be that my kitchen is slightly warmer than yours, and so my beasties are multiplying more quickly then yours, or a whole host of other factors. Every starter is different - that's why it's so exciting! Don't be discouraged!! Bear with it, follow the instructions below, and in another few days you will know whether it is definitely a no-show (unlikely if you followed the rules in this post) or whether it is alive and kicking.

What now?
Well we're going to 'feed' our little monsters, and see what happens then. Never a dull moment around here!

First 'feeding' for the rye starter:
1 tbsp rye flour
1 tbsp water

Add the flour and water and stir it really well. The mixture will be little thicker than before. Let it stand out overnight. 

First 'feeding' for the wheat starter:
1 tbsp wheat flour
1/2 tbsp water

Again, add the flour and water and stir the mixture really well. It will be thicker than before. Let it stand out overnight.


Pleeeease let me know if you're following along! I'd be interested to know if your starter is showing signs of life yet. In fact if you are following, and you fancy emailing me with a photo of your new sourdough pet, I will feature it on here. Promise.

Finally, if you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask me. I'm definitely not the world's expert, but if I don't know the answer I will do my best to find out. You can email me from my blogger dashboard, or just post your question in the comments section below.  If the answer might be relevant to many people I'll post the reply here on my blog.

I'll be back tomorrow with what to do next, and to answer any questions you have. Sleep tight - and mind the bugs don't bite!

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  1. I'm afraid we had a little incident at our house and my poor starter didn't even really get a chance to start! Never fear tho, I have another jar and I will redo ASAP. I may be a few days behind tho :) So cool!

  2. Hope you do! Good luck with it this time! :-)

  3. Bravo on the bubbles! I should have started this with you, but right now the last thing I need to be doing is worrying about sourdough starter. I'll live vicariously through you and keep a hold of the original link so I can start in myself when ready.

  4. Phew...your writing makes me excited and worried at the same time. I'm sorry I'm just an audience here, but I'm really enjoying your process. Good luck and keep us posted with your progress! It's fun!

  5. So funny that you gave them names!

  6. I have to try this !!!! can´t wait for the baking to begin haha :D I wanna see what the final product is gonna look like !!

  7. Thanks everyone.

    Inga - that's the exciting part - you can bake lots of different sorts of bread with these starters - just like you can with commercial yeast. There will be lots of different final products!

  8. Said in a Dr Frankenstein voice: "It's ALIVE!" :-)

  9. I started a sourdough starter last September and it's still going strong (just fed it now actually after not feeding it for 3 weeks so she's really strong right now!) and I love the bread she makes (her name is Lucretia)... my method was pretty much the same as yours, so it's pretty failsafe and I get a lovely loaf whenever I choose to bake! here's some of my efforts:

  10. Dom - your bread looks great! I've made lots of sourdough bread of different types since starting with sourdough about a year ago, but wanted to make sure folks knew what I was talking about first - hence the little game. I only feed my starters (both rye and wheat) about once every one or two weeks now, but I think they do need more attention and nurturing when just starting out! :-)

  11. This was really helpful. I have a starter that is 5 years old now. It is always a thrill when you can see it take hold. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  12. Isn't it interesting to see how the starter "lives"? Thanks for the updates Ruth!

  13. Brava!!! questo tipo di ricetta ha bisogno di tanta pazienza.
    Un bacio bella

  14. Just saw this post, it's a really good series and your descriptions of the aromas is excellent. I'm going to book mark them and point people this way for help :)

  15. Thanks so much Joanna - I'm pleased you like it! And you are such an accomplished sourdough baker yourself!


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