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Sourdough Starter

Earlier this year (around the time of my back operation when I was required to take things easy for a protracted period of time) I was re-reading The Little House on the Prairie series. Again. In particular I was fascinated by By the Shores of Silver Lake where Ma and Laura introduce their sourdough starter. (Though I have to admit my first thought was “I wonder whether pasturized, homogenized milk can be used to make sour dough…the jury is still out on that one, I’ll let you know).

“When  you haven’t milk enough to have sour milk, however do you make such delicious biscuits, Laura?”asked Mrs Boast.
“Why, you just use sour dough,” Laura said.
Mrs Boast had never made sour-dough biscuits! It was fun to show her. Laura measured out the cups of sour dough, put in the soda and salt and flour, and rolled out the biscuits on the board.
“But how do you make the sour dough?” Mrs Boast asked.
“You start it,” said Ma, “by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours.”
“Then when you use it, always leave a little,” said Laura. “And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water,” Laura put in the warm water, “and cover it,” she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, “and just set it in a warm place,” she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. “And it’s always ready to use, whenever you want it.”
“I’ve never tasted  better biscuits,” said Mrs Boast.

By the Shores of Silver Lake – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Sounds simple, doesn’t it! Far too simple, or so I thought. I scoured the internet looking for “recipes” for sour dough starters and from what I can gather the basic advice is:

  1. Gather a glass/plastic jar with a loose fitting lid.
  2. Mix equal amounts of flour (rye, white, wholemeal, whatever) and water (recipes call for filtered, but I say use your judgement). Some recipes also point out that you can use unsweetened juice or commercial yeast to kick start your recipe.
  3. Leave in a warm place.
  4. Feed daily with the same equal amounts of flour and water.

So, off I went. I acquired a cool glass jar with a loose fitting lid.

2L capacity for $2, with a cream enamel lid. Best. Find. Ever.

2L capacity for $2, with a cream enamel lid. Best. Find. Ever.

I bought better quality white flour. I mixed it with water. And I waited.

At this point I’ll mention that I had trouble finding consistent information about how long I had to wait until this sourdough starter was created and strong enough to bake with. So far I have seen: one day, seven days, fourteen days.

I’m currently on day 4, and I suspect I have killed my starter. While it does have a few bubbles, it’s turned into a sludgy type of liquid, and I haven’t really seen it grow.

Day Three Sourdough Starter

This is the starter on day three – you can see some of the bubbles in the picture. At this stage, it smells slightly yeasty.

Day Four Sourdough Starter

By day four it had gone all sludgy and had a weird smell (still yeasty, but almost sweet and bitter at the same time as well). You can still see the bubbles, though.

As I mentioned above, the information I found said that the starter should be fed daily, but while I was trying to find information about what had happened to my sludgy, slightly off (and not in a good way) starter, one of the troubleshooting guides said that this can happen when the starter isn’t fed frequently enough – they recommend every 12 hours.This might not be a big deal when you’re using large amounts, but since I’m starting off small with 1 tablespoon of water to 1 tablespoon of flour, it’s entirely possible that it needs to be fed more frequently, so I’m going to abandon this attempt and try again.

Take two! Here's hoping I can get a starter working before Christmas!

Take two! Here’s hoping I can get a starter working before Christmas!

Maybe it isn’t as simple as I thought.

Have you ever tried to make something you thought would be simple? Or been inspired by something in a book?

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