My Sourdough Adventure

I decided to play with sourdough breadmaking, so I read a lot of webpages to get up to speed on the basic concepts.  That’s when I discovered there are a lot of opinions about making sourdough starter.

This is a journal of my sourdough adventure.


2014.12.14

Since there are so-o-o many opinions about making a sourdough starter, I decided to ignore almost all the advice and do it my way.  That means the lazy way, of course.  Minimize the fuss and bother, and hope for the best.

Instead of throwing starter away, I’ll start with 20 grams and double it each day.  On the second day, I’ll add another 20 grams to bring it to 40 grams.  On subsequent days, I’ll bring the total weight to 75 grams (not quite double), then 150 grams, then 300 grams, which I think will be the perfect weight for what I want to do.  No discards!

Let’s see what happens.


2012.12.14@15:10

I cleaned out a crystal container and sterilized it with hot water.  It will prove to be too small in a couple of days, so I’ll have to get something else soon.  I mixed 10 grams of cold tap water with 10 grams of flour.  Well, actually, the measurements may not have been too exact.

Yes, that’s right.  I said tap water.  The whole purpose of this adventure is to minimize fuss and bother, so let’s see what tap water does to me.

I’m using President’s Choice Organics whole wheat flour because it contains only one ingredient: whole wheat flour.  I learned a few years ago that the additives in other flours cause me health problems.  The PC flour is the only one I could find that contains nothing but wheat, so it wins by default.

I placed the flour/water mixture (it doesn’t seem right to call it starter at this point) on top of the refrigerator and threw a clean dishcloth over it.


2014.12.15

I got an e-mail from Carol B, who is moving in a couple of days (I offered to help; I hope I don’t forget). She offered to be a taste tester. Sounds good, I thought, but I told her I won’t be making bread with it for about a week and it won’t fully develop its taste for several months. Colonizing yeast and bacteria takes more patience than what I usually have, but as long as I’m having fun with it, it’s okay. Once it becomes a routine, I shouldn’t have any problem.


14:27

I’m getting bored with what I’m doing and I need a coffee, so I’ll peek in on my baby and see how she’s doing. I don’t really expect to see anything, though. It’s only been one day, and my apartment is always cold. It will probably look like some flour and water mixed together.


14:40

The bowl I’m using weighs 482 grams (I weighed it before I started yesterday). Now it weighs 496 grams, so my little colony weighs 14 grams. I put in almost 20 grams yesterday, so I’ve lost a few grams, probably from evaporation.

To bring it up to the desired 522 grams (482+40) I needed to add 26 grams, half flour, half water. Due to measurement error, I actually added 12 grams of cold tap water and 12 grams of flour, bringing the total weight to 520 grams.

Stirring it wasn’t easy. It developed the consistency of Silly Putty. [Do they still sell Silly Putty?] Mashing it with a fork was quite difficult, but I know it’s important to have it well mixed. I read a story yesterday about someone’s experience with not mixing well enough. Her/his result was one of those bad colours you don’t want to see in your starter. Bad colours mean the bad bacteria won and you don’t want to eat the result.

Done for another day. Tomorrow I’ll double it again by adding 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour. Tune in then, same bat-time, same bat-channel.


2014.12.16@19:00

I had a busy day earlier, so feeding time was delayed. The entire process started at 18:45 and it’s now 19:00, so it took 15 minutes.

The initial weight was 518 grams, down 2 grams from yesterday. Again, I assume it was evaporation.

I added 23 grams of water and stirred it in as best I could. I can see now why some of those web pages use the term “sponge.” That is the best word to describe the consistency. When I poured in the water, it was like a sponge sitting in water. It took a lot of stirring and mashing to get an even consistency throughout, and I never did completely reach that goal.

Then I added 24 grams of flour, and stirred and mashed and stirred and mashed. Eventually I got a fairly even consistency throughout, but it’s getting pretty stiff. Perhaps too stiff, I thought, so I added another 6 grams of water.

Then back to stirring and mashing. I got it to a nice even consistency with a final weight of 569 grams (minus 482 grams for the bowl = 87 grams of starter).  I see that that’s significantly higher than the 75 grams I had planned.  Oops!

I tasted the little bit that was left on the fork. It tasted exactly like flour mixed with water, but there was an almost imperceptible taste of something else. Could it be that things are starting to happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Covered with the dishcloth and back on the top of the fridge.


2014.12.17@18:21

I know my objective is to take shortcuts and be as lazy as possible with this experiment, but this time I just may have to be careful instead of lazy.

The culture/sponge/starter/whatever is quite hard to stir, and it’s getting harder every day. To make life easy on myself, I would like to toss it in my breadmaker on the dough cycle and let the breadmaker do all the hard work.

The trouble is I’ve been using that breadmaker to make bread. That means I’ve been putting yeast into it. If I put my starter in there, it may pick up some of that yeast. One of those webpages I read told me that sourdough uses certain yeasts and certain bacteria. The yeast I bought in the store will compete with the food source that the bacteria need. If the bacteria starve, it won’t be true sourdough.

So I need to make a decision. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

P.S. – I bought a new container for my baby. Three litres – that should be enough.


2014.12.17@18:45

Nothing exciting happened today, other than the taste test. The almost imperceptible taste I noticed yesterday is gone, but the texture seems a little gritty. I wonder if that’s significant.

I haven’t seen any bubbles or noticed any rising yet, but this is my opportunity to learn patience, so I’m not going to get excited. The low temperature in my apartment could easily account for that.

Here are today’s measurements:

  • To start:  482 g dish + 80 g starter = 562 total
  • Added:  36 g water + 34 g flour = 80 g total
  • Final weight:  482 g dish + 150 g starter = 632 g total

Tomorrow I’ll add 75 g of water and 75 grams of flour, which will bring me up to my desired weight.  After that I’ll have to start discarding half each day.

I wonder if letting it sit for two days instead of one will help.  That certainly appeals to my laziness.


2014.12.18

Laziness is kicking in. I didn’t even write down the time. For those keeping track, it was in the evening.

I started with 142 grams of starter in a 482 gram container. Total weight was 624 grams. I can see one bubble. Ho hum.

Remember that new container I bought yesterday? Well, if I didn’t start using it today, my starter would have overflowed its container. So I transferred my little baby to her new crib today. The container weighs 1,866 grams, so I’ll have to use that number in all my calculations from now on.

I added 79 grams of water and 79 grams of flour, which brought the total weight up to 2,149 grams (minus 1,866 for the container = 283 grams of starter).

Nothing much seems to be happening, so I think I’ll just ignore it tomorrow. Maybe 48 hours without a feeding will stimulate some action.


2014.12.20@19:10

It’s time for a surprise.

When I brought the starter down from the fridge, I noticed that the plastic bag was resting on the starter. No problem, I thought. I’d just remove it and scrape the starter off the plastic and back into the bowl.

I got distracted, though, so I ripped the plastic bag off much too quickly, which ripped much of the crust off the starter. I wasn’t able to scrape it all back into the dish, so I lost some starter to the garbage can. I noticed the starter was very watery. And I do mean very.

But I didn’t care about losing a little. Just look at what I had left – an off-white, bubbly liquid that smelled very strongly of yeast. It was obvious that something big had happened in the last 48 hours.

I couldn’t resist tasting a little, which revealed that it was also slightly acidic. Hmmm, yeast and acid? That’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening. I think I might be on the right track here.

For the record, the total weight was 2,105 grams (1,866 container + 239 grams of starter).

This is the day I started discarding. At 239 grams, I’m a little under where I should be. The other 61 grams are in the garbage with the plastic bag. So I discarded only 66 grams, bringing the total weight down to 2,039 grams (1,866 for the container + 173 for the starter).

I then added 73 grams of water and 72 grams of flour, bringing the total weight to 2,183 grams (1,866 for the container + 317 for the starter).

And now I’m off to bake some bread with the discard.


2014.12.21

The bread I baked last night was a comedy of errors. Sadly, I cannot blame the disaster on the starter. I’ll just have to blame it on a lawmaker named Murphy. I’d tell you more, but it’s just too embarrassing. I’ll let your imagination run with it.

Tonight I took half for breadmaking and added equal weights of flour and water to bring it back to 300 grams.


2014.12.22

Yesterday’s bread was okay, but I used some commercial yeast, so I can’t really judge the starter by the loaf I made. I’m not making any bread today, so I moved the starter to the fridge. It seems like it works well if I let it sit on top of the fridge for 24 hours, but it seems too runny if I let it sit up there for 48 hours.


2014.12.29@23:30

I just had my first bite of an incredibly delicious loaf of bread. It was well risen, especially when you consider that I’m using whole wheat flour, and it had a slight, but noticeable, sourdough taste. This is the first loaf I’ve baked without any commercial yeast.

I have achieved success! The rising and the taste were a direct result of the starter. You wouldn’t believe how elated I am right now.

So here’s what I think I’ve learned. I have no experience baking, so I am reluctant to say the following are true. Let’s just say it’s my current belief system.

  1. I know acid and metal don’t get along well together. Sourdough starter produces acid, so I didn’t use metal containers. However, I didn’t carry it to an extreme – I did use metal cutlery for stirring and scooping. It didn’t cause any problem.
  2. I didn’t use plastic, so I have no conclusion to report. However, I doubt I will ever use plastic in the future, so I’ll just have to live with not knowing.
  3. Remember the first few days? I started with a small amount on the first day, then doubled it each day until I got to my desired weight. This procedure worked well and produced no discards. I strongly recommend it.
  4. Time and patience are the most important ingredients. For example, today’s beautiful loaf had to rise for 5 hours before baking. That’s a long time to wait, but boy, did it pay off. I will experiment with a 6 hour rise time next.
  5. Tap water works fine, at least in Waterloo, Ontario.
  6. The slightly cool air in my apartment didn’t seem to matter. My baby lived and happily bred on top of the refrigerator.
  7. The flour I use is the only flour on the shelf with only one ingredient – wheat. So it’s the only choice I have. However, I don’t believe bread made all-purpose flour could possibly taste better than the loaf I just sampled.
  8. I don’t do any manual stirring anymore. My breadmaker can take care of that for me. Some people have expressed concerns about stirring starter with a breadmaker because they don’t want the commercial yeast to take over. However, since I’m no longer using the commercial yeast, I don’t have that concern.
  9. When I make bread, I feed the starter first, give it some time, then divide it in two – half for the top of the fridge and half for a new loaf of bread. Some people divide it in two, then feed the starter. The way I do it seems fine, and I can make do with only 150 grams of starter instead of 300. I’ve gone back to my original container – it’s just the right size.

Well, that’s the end of my sourdough adventure. I’ve learned a little and I plan to continue making sourdough bread. I hope you’ve enjoyed my adventure, too.

Now who can I give that jar of commercial yeast too. I have no need of it anymore.


© Copyright 2014 by Warren Gaebel, BA, BCS. All rights reserved.

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