Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sourdough Starter Experiment

I've wanted to try making a sourdough bread, but to do so, I'll need to first make a sourdough "starter".  While this requires a bit of time to accomplish, the effort involved is minimal.  In a bowl I mixed:

150 grams whole wheat flour
150 grams water
about 10 (crushed) green grapes

Firstly, we need to know just what makes a sourdough bread dough "sour" or tangy.  The starter I'll be making will be the product of both bacterial and wild yeast growth in the "media" of water and flour I've mixed.  There is an incredible, symbiotic relationship between the lactobacillus bacteria (that will hopefully grow) and (wild) natural yeast.  Since the byproduct of the bacterial growth is lactic acid, the pH of the water / flour mixture will, of course, be low.  This (conveniently) prevents the growth of commercial yeast, as in active dry yeast, yet creates the perfect environment for the wanted "wild" forms of (saccharomyces) yeast.

The flavors produced through the growth of the beneficial bacteria and wild yeast depend on the environment in which it is grown.  For instance, something produced on Long Island could have a very different taste than something produced in another state or another part of the world.  The cool thing is that this starter can be kept indefinitely as long as it's "fed" periodically with more flour and hydrated with additional water.  Sourdough starters were actually kept by early settlers as they made their way westward (and Lord knows that took some time :) ).  I've read where some starters have "lived" on for over 100 years!  (Just Google San Francisco sourdough bread).  Therefore, one's starter is really the "signature" of one's bread.  Mine will either be cursive or an "X"  :)

OK, why the green grapes you ask?  There are many recipes for starters and this is just one of them.  From what I've read, the frosty white "stuff' on grapes is actually a natural yeast.  Hopefully, the grapes will help to get my starter going quickly.  Time will tell.  Success or failure will be evident in a couple of days.

Edit 9/7:  Since I'm using grapes to help make the starter, the yeast variety won't be "native".  However, as I keep this starter going, the native yeast(s?) will eventually take over...

Here's what it looked like just after mixing.  I'll leave this covered with a towel at room temperature for the next 48 hours (stirring the mixture occasionally at least twice a day).  There's the possibility of seeing some fermentation activity at the 48 hour point, but it could very well take much longer...   In case there's any doubt, I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing :)

Edit 9/8:  It looked like I was getting some fermentation action within the first 24 hours so I tried to get the grapes out of the starter.  I then realized that I REALLY crushed the grapes instead of gently crushing them :)  Now I had to figure out a way to pick all the grape pieces out of the bowl.  I managed to strain this glop (eventually) and added another 1/4 cup of WW flour and 1/4 water.  Over the next 12 hours I saw no activity at all so I just put two (whole) grapes in the "starter".  So far, I haven't seen as much as a bubble (but that wouldn't be unusual).  Might take another day or two.


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