The Maine Ingredient – latest column

Wow.  What a response to this weeks column in the Portland Press Herald on No Knead Sourdough Breads! Biggest response to a column ever.  The three recipes include Rustic Sourdough Bread, Brown Rice and Flax Seed Bread and Maple, Oatmeal, Sourdough Bread.  I’ll make the same offer to readers of the blog that I did in the column.  If you’d like to try working with sourdough in your bread, just email me with your address and I’d be happy to send you some of mine. It’s 100 years old and was given to me by a guest on our windjammer.

I’ve been refining my own version of this technique for over a year now based on Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times and the subsequent article that ran in Cook’s Illustrated.  Neither used sourdough and I’ve found it so easy to incorporate into what has become a solid producer of excellent quality bread with a thicky, crispy, golden crust and a moist, irregular-holed interior.

Space in the column didn’t allow for me to talk much about the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, and while it’s fairly simple, like everything, a few tips here and there to prevent major disasters is maybe helpful.  What is first and most important to remember about sourdough is that it is a living, growing organism.  For this reason, it’s most important to keep your culture in a loose lidded arrangement or a plastic container with a lid that can pop off.  If you store it in glass, the pressure will cause the glass to shatter and it is one unholy mess to clean up.

Because it is living, it needs to be feed.  It is forgiving and I think they regulate themselves to a certain degree as I notice mine changes from winter to summer.  In the summer I’m using and therefore feeding my starter almost every day and it’s fresh and lively all the time.  I don’t refrigerate it and even in the warm galley, it’s fine.  In the wintertime, however, I do refrigerate to dial down the activity.  I use it more sporadically and I notice that it’s overall just a little slower.  This is what I would suggest for most home cooks who will be baking at the most once or twice a week.

How to feed your starter is by using 1-2 cups in a recipe and replacing it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water.  It should be the consistency of pancake batter or a little thinner.  Shake it well and return it to the refrigerator.  You can make starter with any kind of flour, but I usually just use all purpose white, mostly for space reasons.

A happy starter is always slightly sour smelling and filled with bubbles.  One that is starving and not as happy has a sharper smell and has separated into a watery top layer and a thin bottom layer.  If this happens, it’s not dead, just feed it and maybe use less of it in a recipe as it’s going to give a stronger flavor.  Then bump up your feeding a little bit.  That’s it.  Also, if you find that once summer arrives and you aren’t baking bread for a few months, just freeze it.  It will come back to it’s lively self in the fall once you defrost and feed it.  I’ve had my starter for years now and its still going strong.

Many happy loaves to you all!

UPDATED 6/15/10
Due to the overwhelming response of requests for this starter we can no longer offer it free of charge. There is now a nominal charge of $10 for the starter and $5 for shipping. Thank you for your understanding.

© 2009 Anne Mahle


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