Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Ready.....STARTER!!!

The past few days I have made bread twice. Not a packet of yeast in the house. Yet my bread was light and yeasty with a fine texture and a light *crumb*, as they say in baking circles.
I use a *starter*.
A good starter is worth it's weight in gold! I know of some families that use starters that date back 100 or even 200 years!
I made my starter a month ago.
When I made bread, I saved one cup of the dough, put it in a clean jar, added a teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 cup warm water, stirred it up, tightly capped it and stored it in my refrigerator. I shake it a bit every few days and once a week add a teaspoon of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. If it looks a bit dry, I add a bit of warm water.

When I make bread, I spoon out about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of starter into the bowl I am going to make my bread dough in. In the *starter* jar, I add 1/2 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup (or so) of flour and store it in the fridge for next time.
When you use a starter, it can take a while longer for your bread to rise. Some folks recommend letting your dough rise 24 hours, but I never have the time to do that!
I generally add an hour or two to the rising time.

Now, for sourdough lovers out there, you make your starter an entirely different way!
Sourdough starters are usually made by *capturing* wild yeast. I am currently making my own.
Step one, boil a potato in it's skin. Yes, you can cut it up to speed things up. SAVE YOUR POTATO WATER! You'll need two cups of potato water.
Go ahead, eat the potato, I'll wait.
Now, take that two cups of potato water, put it in a ceramic crock or glass jar.
Add 2 cups of flour to it and stir well.
Add 2 teaspoons of honey and stir well.
Now, I use a piece of cheesecloth *rubber banded* over the top of the crock/jar, but some folks leave it uncovered.
Just set it on top of your fridge or in any other *sorta* warm place in your house. Some folks set the crock/jar outside (covered with cheesecloth, I hope!). Let it set for 4 to 6 days, stirring it 3 or 4 times a day to aerate.
It should begin to smell *yeasty* and get bubbles in it. The yeasty smell will have a bit of a sharp-sour smell to it that is different from regular yeast bread.
Store in your refrigerator and treat sourdough starter as you do a regular starter.
Use as you would the regular starter.
Remember to always *feed* your starters and to replace any used with flour and water with a smidge of sugar or honey!

I know...yeast is available as close as your grocery store, but as a *prepper*, I realize that my local grocery store might not always be there! Also, *starters* give bread more *personality* and flavor than commercially available yeast. If you run out of those convenient packets of yeast and don't have the time or inclination to run to the store, it is comforting to know you have starter sleeping away in your fridge, just waiting to wake up and perform for you!

Think of your starters as legacies for your family as well. It used to be a tradition for young brides to receive starters from their mothers (or new mother-in-laws) to set up housekeeping.Some starters have been in families for 100, 200 or even 300 years!
I know of one family that had such a *legacy* starter, brought into the US by immigrant ancestors from Ireland. It had withstood the uncertainties of time and travel for over a hundred years. In the 1960s, a *modern* daughter, disgusted at the smell and of the mindset that "bread is best purchased at the grocery store", threw it out after the death of her mother! Along with the little hand made crock it was kept in.
What a loss! A strain of yeast is gone and can never be reproduced.
I think we should bring back the tradition of mothers handing down starters to their newly married daughters (and sons). Bread is known as the "staff of life" and in giving starters, we are giving them our heartfelt wish that they will have a happy and long life!


  1. sounds good, just have one question: what is the bread recipe you began with? :)

  2. I have been baking bread so long, I can't even remember the last time I used a recipe! Here's my best guess (according to what I did this morning):
    1/2 cup starter OR 2 packets yeast OR two teaspoons yeast (pick your preference)
    1/3 cup olive oil OR 1/3 cup melted veg. shortening OR 1/3 cup melted butter
    2 cups warm water (too warm to stick your finger in comfortably, but not so hot it will scald you)
    1 teaspoon salt
    3 tablespoons sugar OR honey
    3 cups SIFTED white flour
    4 cups SIFTED whole wheat flour

    Get out a big bowl, pour in olive oil/melted shortening/butter, salt, sugar/honey and ONE cup of warm water and ONE cup of flour and stir a bit. Add starter/yeast and stir again.
    Let set 10 to 15 minutes, no more than 20.
    Add half of flour, mix well and then add ONE cup of warm water. Mix in rest of flour well and start kneading.
    Knead until you are cussing or until your arms "feel the burn" (about 10 minutes). If dough seems too sticky, add more flour. If dough seems too dry, add a bit more flour, teensy bit at a time.
    While the dough is on the table/counter (where you have been kneading it), take that big bowl you mixed it in to the sink, wash it out real well, dry it and then coat the inside with olive oil, melted shortening. Put your dough in it and turn the dough over so it is mildly coated with a oil. Put a damp dish towel over the top of the bowl.
    Now, to get bread dough to rise well, I always fill a large cast iron skillet with water, heat the water to boiling and set it in a cold oven. Then I put the bowl of dough in there to rise.
    Let rise about 2 hours or so until almost doubled in size.
    Pull the bowl of dough out and turn it out on your kneading surface and start kneading the crap out of it again. Another 10 minutes or so of great arm building exercise!
    Shape into loaves, or put into bread pans or whatever you plan on doing with it.
    Again, you want to make sure there is a smidge of oil on it (so it won't crack while rising) and covered with a dampish dish towel while rising. (I put it back in the oven to rise, again with a cast iron pan filled with boiling water)
    Let rise another two hours or so.
    Take dough out of oven, pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. (I am in the States, we don't do metric here, so that's Fahrenheit! Convert if you can/must!)
    Put bread in pre-heated oven and bake 20 to 45 minutes (really, it depends on the size of bread pans you use or what size loaves you make)
    When I take the loaves out, I brush them with melted butter for soft crusts, but if you want *crackly* crusts, don't brush with butter.
    Let set about 5 to 15 minutes to *set up*, as my grandmother said.

    When I make *flavored* bread...I put my additives in when I initially mix the dough before the first rising.
    Additives I use:
    Fresh rosemary + sun-dried tomatoes
    Diced apples + walnuts (I always add a couple of tablespoons of molasses to that recipe)
    Fresh assorted herbs....thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, whatever I have or strikes my fancy that day, minced fine, mixed together and then mixed in the dough. Makes great *crustinis* to melt a bit of mozzarella on and then drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on.

    If you are saving a cup of the dough for your starter, save that dough BEFORE you mix in any goodies!
    You can use ALL white flour or ALL whole wheat for this bread, I just like mixing the two. If you use ALL whole wheat, rising will take a bit more time, maybe a half hour or so.

    Hope that helps!


Because of a couple of rude people that left comments that included links to porn pages and such, I have been forced to start moderating comments again.