Adventures in Sourdough and a Lesson in Persistence

Saturday, July 14, 2012
Sourdough, perhaps you are so sour because you're a heart breaker!

Sourdough and I, got off to a rough start. Joy (of Gourmeted.com) was kind enough to give me some of her sourdough starter, and even hand wrote care and feeding instructions for me. I was so excited, and carefully fed and measured my starter, but three days later it appeared to be dead. You hear stories of starter overflowing from its container... mine just sat there, and I couldn't figure out why.

I read and read, learned about flour ratios, hydration, and feeding schedules, and nothing seemed to help. You know you're obsessed when you look up at the ceiling tiles and think wistfully, that is what my sourdough starter should look like.

I don't know how much flour I went through, but it felt very wasteful.  E told me to give up on the sourdough, because it seemed like too much trouble. Of course, stubbornness set in. I would have my sourdough! I decided to conduct an experiment, we split the starter in half.

Up till now: feeding starter enriched bleached all purpose flour. Two weeks in fridge with two feedings, and 5 days on the counter, daily feedings, with zero growth, only bubbles.

Experiment Day 1

Mr. Rye) Added rye flour to the sourdough starter and water, just eyeballing it, uncaring of bakers rules, then set it on the counter. I don't know if it doubled, but it grew.
Miss Fizzy) I continued to add bleached enriched flour. Zero growth.

Experiment Day 2

Mr. Rye) After feeding another eyeball measure, filled an entire bowl overnight. It more than doubled, but was thick and gooey, like the time I made biga. I wasn't certain of the hydration, but it grew. I used this bowl of goo to bake sourdough bread (used this recipe). The bread didn't rise as much as I expected, but it did taste good. There was a definite sour tang to it.

Check out that sourdough. Perfectly crunchy crust, with awesome crumb.
Slightly chewy, holes the perfect right size. (I know what crumb means now!)
Miss Fizzy) Fed with unbleached flour. It started to grow a bit (increased by 1/8th), but the growth was so slow I worried that was all there was to it.

Experiment Day 3

Mr. Rye) I fed it with unbleached flour instead of rye (what the manuals recommend) it doubled in the exact amount of time specified (6 hours). It had fallen a little already by morning. The hydration is closer to ideal. It behaved like a perfect starter, with a predictable growth schedule
Miss Fizzy) Grew by 1/3, overnight which is more growth than I've ever seen from it. I think after a couple more feedings it would be good. Doing well but not quite there!

Conclusion

My problem was the flour choice. The rye, being organic and unbleached, provided better nourishment for the starter. Unbleached flour free of additives also worked well.

Now I've split Mr. Rye in half and refrigerate some of it, and see how it reacts, vs. leaving some of it out on the counter all the time.

I wish I took more photos of my sad sourdough experiences. I'm still a bit worried about Mr. Rye, but he seems to be doing good right now. I'm going to make sure he gets fed later, because now I'm thinking of pizza dough, English muffins, bagels, and of course, a perfectly crusty loaf of sourdough.

Sometimes you just have to persist. Take that E! Can you taste that sourdough? I know you can.
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