Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Starter

My new set of classes, protein fabrication and artisan breads, have me completely re-energized. The sun came out again, the smell of the earth is seeping up through my open windows and I get to start over just like everything else. Artisan bread is such an interesting course. There's so much I've learned in just one session (and a lot of reading), like how yeast was only just discovered as an organism that can be harvested and sold in the late 1800s by Louis Pasteur. Before that, folks just added water to flour, let it ferment, kept feeding it and using it and feeding and using the exact same starter sometimes for generations. Families would pass the bread starter on as a wedding gift. There's a sourdough starter in San Francisco that is more than 100 years old. This is exactly the sort of thing that completely enthralls me but is also the sort of thing I will absolutely fail at. I am going to kill it at one point or another. I've already had one close call.

One of our assignments for the artisan bread class is to make and maintain a sourdough starter for the entire quarter. We're supposed to show up the day of the final with our starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread. If the starter is dead, so are we. The starter is sitting out on my counter on day seven of the fermentation process. It's starting to get a little bit stinky with a faintly sour aroma. This starter is a tad bit high maintainence. Starting on day three it has to be fed twice everyday, like a pet. In the morning before work, I scrape about one-tenth of the goop into a clean glass bowl, stir in half a cup of water and then two-thirds of a cup of flour. Then I cover it and let the bacteria feast on the fresh flour. When I get home at 5 p.m., I repeat just dumping the leftover starter into the trash. Yesterday, I missed a feeding. I forgot to set my alarm for work. Fortunately, I woke up only 10 minutes late, but I ran out of the house before tending to my fermentation project. I thought for sure that would be the death of the starter, but it was still bubbling when I got home that night, which is probably only going to encourage more neglegent behavior on my part.

The starter won't be ready for the oven for another couple days, although I probably won't be ready to make the bread for another couple of weeks into the class. Apparently patience is key when it comes to delicious bread ... this should be interesting.


Anonymous said...

Is it still alive?

Jess said...

100 year old starter! whoa.
I applaud your efforts, this is exactly the reason that I have never ventured to make sourdough.