The inspiration for making sourdough starter came from Tara at Tea & Cookies. I’m always fascinated by kitchen science, so I read her recent posts on the subject with interest. And I’ll ferment anything that will hold still long enough. But honestly, I’m more of a throw-it-in-the-bread-machine kind of baker, so I didn’t really have a compelling urge to try making my own starter.
That is, until the perfect reason presented itself. That reason was my friend Rob’s birthday, which was then only a few weeks away. Rob regularly turns out stunning loaves of artisan bread, and therefore it was obvious that he could put a sourdough starter to excellent use. And I wanted to give him a really great gift. What could be better than a present I had spent a couple of weeks creating myself? Let the kitchen science commence!
I followed Tara’s instructions, which originally came from The Fresh Loaf. Sourdough starter is simply flour, water, and time, each in their proper proportion. I made two batches, just to be sure that I’d have one to fall back on, should the other one come to a bad end. I found that making sourdough starter is part science, part art, and also a bit like raising Sea Monkeys—a lot of peeking at the jars, checking to make sure they were warm and cosy, and nurturing them along. The starter smelled different each day–first like flour, then like garbage, then warm and yeasty and rich and alive. The texture also changed daily. It started out like paste, then grew stretchy and bubbly.
Some days my starter grew splendidly, other days it seemed to take a break and slumber in the warm cupboard next to the water heater where I had stashed it. On those days I let it be, and it mostly came around in time. One jar mysteriously and completely gave up the ghost around day five, but that was okay–I just tossed the contents, split up the starter from the more cooperative batch into two jars, and carried on.
After about a week, I put my two jars of vigorous sourdough starter in the refrigerator. Then a week later I pulled them out, gave them another feed (equal parts starter, water, and flour) and left them out overnight to double again before putting them back in the fridge.
The hardest part of the whole process? Keeping it a secret! I was so proud of my starter that I longed to blog, tweet, and generally blab about my progress to anyone who would listen. But I maintained the silence of the grave until it was time to deliver the birthday gift. And finally, I can tell everyone all about it! Phew!
A funny thing happens when you care for a living thing and watch it thrive. I got fond of those jars of starter that I had coaxed along. I wanted to continue to nurture my remaining jar, and see it continue to develop. And there was so much potential in that jar that I wasn’t satisfied until it fulfilled its destiny and was turned into nourishing, delicious bread.