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It’s a Start

by Nick

It finally happened. I finally took the plunge into the world of sourdough. It’s been a long time coming. My real hindrance for the sourdough starter has been planning. I’m just not that great at planning two weeks in advance or whatever.

But a few weeks ago, I decided it was finally time to try my hand at this sourdough starter thing. There is a lot of near gospel on the Internet about this sourdough business. I really liked Ruhlman’s write up on sourdough although I decided not to use his method.

Instead I went with Peter Reinhart’s method from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. That means starting with these two kind of strange ingredients:

Yep. Pineapple juice and whole rye flour. That is going to make us a living and breathing starter.

Also, let me apologize in advance. Turns out that starter photos are kind of boring. Canned pineapples and rye flour is basically the best photo in the post.

What’s a starter?

The idea behind the sourdough starter is all about capturing natural yeast. Whether you know it or not there is actually a ton of yeast and bacteria in the air and all around. This means a few pretty cool things. First, if you know the right method, you can capture this stuff and use it to make all kinds of breads instead of the store bought yeast. Second, based on exactly when and where you make your starter, it can taste very different. That’s why when bakeries get it right, they will work to keep their starter for literally decades in some cases.

As you might know, it takes a few days, like 7, to really make a starter. The good news is that there isn’t a lot of work to do on any given day. So let’s get started!

Day 1: Mix 1 Cup dark rye or whole rye flour with 1/2 Cup unsweetened pineapple juice at room temperature.

It will be pretty stiff, but knead it a bit until all the flour is incorporated with the juice. It will smell like well, pineapple, and look about like this:

I'm skeptical.

Color me skeptical.

Put the brown mixture in a beaker or a large measuring cup. Cover it and forget about it for 24 hours.

Day 2: Your mixture will not look much different, but it will smell different. It will now smell like rotten pineapple. Not the best smell. We aren’t going to add anymore rye flour to the mixture. From now on it is bread flour.

So add 1/2 Cup of bread flour and 1/4 Cup more of pineapple juice. The bread flour will lighten the color a little bit.

Looks a little smoother.

Looks a little smoother.

Day 3 Day 4. I was supposed to do this step after 24 hours but I forgot! It was a weekend and I just spaced it. I honestly thought that it was going to explode like some sourdough starters occasionally do. Turns out my wasn’t all that active I guess.

It was just kind of slowly bubbling along. Definitely active though.

It lives!

It lives!

Anyway, so assuming that you do this on the correct day, discard half of the starter. Or you can give it to somebody to make their own starter. You only need half though.

Let me warn you. This will smell pretty gross, but don’t worry, it mellows out over time. Add 1 Cup of bread flour to the starter that you have left and 1/2 cup WATER. No more pineapple juice. Let it sit for another 24 hours in a covered container.

Day 4 (5 for me). At this point the thing should really be growing. In fact, it should have at least doubled in size. If yours hasn’t, don’t worry. Just let it sit for another 12 to 24 hours.

When it has at least doubled, again discard 1/2 of it and mix it with another 1 Cup of flour and 1/2 Cup water. Back to the beaker until the starter at least doubles in size. This might take 24 hours. It took mine twelve.

Your starter is done at this point. I decided to follow Mr. Reinhart’s advice and take it a step further and make a barm out of it. This adds a few more days onto your schedule.

Barm

Barm is basically a very watery version of a starter. It’s bubbles a lot but because it is so wet you don’t have to worry to much about it growing like crazy. It’s a great base for a lot of different breads and stores very easily in the fridge or freezer.

Barm

- 1 Cup starter seed culture (again you can throw away the rest or give it to a friend or something)
- 3.5 Cups bread flour
- 2 Cups water

Note: That works out to even parts bread and water by weight (16 oz. each). That’s a lot of water for a flour mixture so it is going to be very watery.

Measured.

Measured.

Mix your three simple ingredients together and just make sure that everything is distributed well. Obviously, this will be impossible to knead. Transfer the mixture to a clean plastic or glass container that’s at least twice as large as the barm mixture.

Barmy!

Barmy!

Cover this mixture and let it sit at room temperature for 6 hours. It should at least double in size at that point. Be careful when you open the lid after that! There’s a lot of gas in there and it can be pretty potent.

Very healthy!

Very healthy!

You can use this right away to make bread or something but it will develop more flavor if you let it sit overnight. It will stay good and active in the fridge for 3 days.

If you don’t use it within three days then you have to “refresh” it which is what people mean when they talk about feeding the starter or barm.

Here is some more info on refreshing and storing the barm from the man himself!

Ok. So that took me 6 days, but I guess it could have taken 5. Want to see what I made with my barm? Well, come back tomorrow because I’m sick of writing.

One more thing though. Obviously, since this is my first starter ever, I’m far from an expert here. If anyone has any advice or tips, I would encourage you to leave a comment!