There’s this charming little thing in the baking world called starter. It is a wild yeast culture. All that is needed to culture your very own wild yeasts (yeastie-beasties) is flour and water. You’ll need to seed your initial batch with a source of established yeast, like a dollop of somebody else’s starter, or commercial yeast. After that, you may culture your own pot without any additional yeast.
Here’s how to start and nurture your very own starter:
- In a good-sized bowl mix together 1 cup Flour, 3/4 cup Water, a one packet yeast. Cover lightly with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Let it sit out on the counter for 24 hours.
- Prepare a container for your yeastie-beasties. Choose something that is glass (like an old jam jar). Punch holes in the lid to allow the yeastie-beasties to breath. Wash it very thoroughly.
- After 24 hours, discard all but about 1 Tbsp of the starter.
- Put your saved 1 Tbsp starter in your prepared container. Add to it approximately equal parts of flour and tepid water. Stir it together. Ferment 12-24 hours on the counter. It is ready to use when it smells tart, is nice and bubbly, and has very little liquid floating on the surface.
- Or…put your jar in the fridge and hold it until you need it again. At that point you’ll need to “sweeten the pot” by following steps #4 & #5 again.
If starter is not to be used within 24 hours of mixing, store it in the fridge to retard the growth of the yeast bacteria. You may store your starter in the fridge like this for several months. It will not be ready to use, but with a couple rounds of sweeting the pot, you’ll have your starter back in top-top shape. Yeast is a very resilient type of bacteria, and will spring back after being exposed to punishing conditions, even freezing and dehydrating. It is pretty amazing stuff, compliments of Mother Nature.
“Sweeting the pot” just means that you discard most all of the spent starter and feed it with fresh flour and water.
Starter stages of development:
- It starts as a lumpy looking mess
- After about 4 hours, small bubbles manifest on the surface
- After 12-24 hours it turns into a bubbly mess with a nice sourdough smell to it-This is when the starter is at it’s peak.
- Finally, it turns into a gross-looking, yet smooth, blob with a bunch of liquid floating on the surface. At this point it smells kinda gross too and has very little active yeastie-beasties left in it.
When it has reached the final stage it’s only culinary use is to feed your next batch. Simply pour it out into the trash, but leave whatever clings to the side of your jar alone. Use the clinging starter to seed your next batch of yeastie-beasties. Stir in flour and water to make a thick paste as per the directions above.
Mastering the art of the starter is something that you have to explore on your own. It is part science and part feeling. Other people’s experiences are helpful, but each batch of starter is unique to the house it is in. As such, each batch acts differently. I have a couple more pointers/guidelines to help you.
- Use tepid water (85-100 degrees)
- Use only flour and water to sweeten the pot
- Yeast grows best in slightly warm, humid conditions (85-100 degrees)
- Check on your starter at regular intervals so you can observe how it looks. Note the differences in fermentation on the counter and in the fridge
- If you’re making it into bread, mix the starter into your dough before it is at it’s peak.
- Always use a bit of the old starter to start your new batch.
- Experiment with turning the starter into sponges and then baking into bisquits, waffles, muffins, etc. It’s very versatile and adds a lovely flavor.
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