Sour Dough Starter

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    We finally got tired of failed sour dough attempts using boughten starters or recipes that are confusing and so varied as to be useless. We’ve kept some going well for a couple of years but eventually even if we follow the suggestions we find for renewal they tend to die off or start producing what looks like a swamp of weird growing things. There’s also the problem we had of a starter that works well with whole grains and flour made from rye, buckwheat or things like oats. What ever we used never seemed to give the bread the lift we wanted. Getting a real sour taste also has eluded us. So we gave up and tossed the rule book.

    We put two cups of whole rye flour in a bowl and added two cups of luke warm water from our tap. Hard water seems to run contrary to a good culture so we used softened water from the appropriate tap. We left it in the summer kitchen for a week after which we were rewarded with a bubbling mass of beautiful sour smelling culture. I set aside a cup of it and added a cup of all purpose wheat flour and a cup of water to save for further use. I’ll add a cup of each today and keep stirring once a day for the next week then let it go dormant in a pint jar in the fridge or use it again, saving yet another bit for more use.
    Going on instinct, we added two more cups of whole rye flour and one and three quarter cup of water. We lightly dusted the top with a bit more rye flour and covered the bowl with a cloth setting it back in the summer kitchen to work it’s magic. This morning we added a teaspoon of salt, two table spoons of oil and eight tablespoons of wheat gluten. We then stirred in two cups each of whole rye, whole wheat bread flour and white wheat bread flour. A vigorous session of kneading followed and we separated it into two loaves, formed them and put them in two oiled bread pans. We let them rise for a full four hours, cut a split in the tops, painted them with a bit of milk and a sprinkle of poppy seed. Fifteen minutes in the oven at 400 degrees with another hour at 360. We cooled them on racks and rushed to try as soon as possible to do so. The results are heavenly.

    The problems we’ve had are as mentioned, hard water, with locking into a time for the sponge to work or the dough to rise. We’ve found that each flour or combination, each yeast and the temperature and humidity need to be taken into account. We can’t go by a recipe that says something needs to “rise for two hours”. This culture only needs one rise not the two that conventional yeast requires. Basically we needed to bake a lot of half good loaves to get to the place where we could use our experience and instincts to produce good bread. We needed the confidence to decide what to do based on what we know, what the various ingredients(especially the yeast) and the environment dictated.

    Now if we can keep the yeast beasties alive were on the road to the real staff of life with no more flour and water paste eh.

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