Getting Started with a Starter

I’ve been interested in making homemade bread for a while now.  I’ve tinkered with different recipes and tried my hand at new techniques, but my results are inconsistent and sometimes disappointing.  Earlier this month I was thrilled to try out the Average Joe Bread Kit, which  requires no kneading and surprisingly minimal effort.  The delicious results are completely amazing, but I’m not ready to stop there.

So, I signed up for a few bread-making classes at Sour Flour Chicago.  The first class focused on starters, which are the base of all breads.  I was always so mystified by the “starter” concept: what is it? what does it do? how is it made? how is it maintained?  Turns out that a starter is what gives bread its lift, and it is used in place of commercial yeast.  A starter is quite simple to make – just some flour, water and time. Natural yeast eats through a flour and water paste, growing and creating carbon dioxide.  The fermentation process depends on five variables: temperature, hydration, ratio, food and time.  I also gathered that lots of experience and practice are needed to know when a starter is ready and how much should be used in a recipe.

According to the Sour Flour teacher, devoted bakers are very loyal to their starters.  Some starters have been lovingly maintained for 100 years!  As a way to honor this most important ingredient, all starters are given a name.  I named mine “Vida,” and nearly a week later she is going strong after daily feedings of additional flour and water.  I hope to start baking with her later this week.

The class was in the early evening, and since I had gone out with friends the night before and then worked the entire day I was feeling a little bad about not spending enough time with Evie. So, I bravely brought her along, not knowing how long her attention span would last.  She loved it!  The teacher was so kind – he gave her a small pile of flour and cup of water to “work” with, and he even let her bring home a starter all her own.  Naturally, she named hers “Evie.”

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Written by Maureen

More posts by: Maureen

2 Comments for this entry

  1. I’m impressed. I love the idea of baking bread and having my own starter…. I kept an Amish Bread starter for a while, but lost it when I went on vacation. I’m a little nervous of a real sourdough starter.

  2. I’m just starting to understand the process for yeasted breads, but I can see using starter in my future. I love the idea of naming the starter, probably helps with remembering to take care of it.

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