Written by Zac on March 9th, 2011

Eva and I have fallen off the bread wagon since moving from our cramped Toronto apartment and coming upon a regular supply of quality bakery bread. After Eva broke out our bread maker and baked a dense olive loaf, I decided to take a stab at something new: Sourdough. Sourdough had long been something of a mystery – stories of sourdough cultures preserved through the centuries made it seem like a complicated art form akin to brewing, which does take some time to learn. I was wrong, sort-of.

Sourdough StarterSourdough starter, aka wild yeast culture, is REALLY easy to make. Get ready for it: water, flour, thyme (or was it time?). Went to a local organics store, Johannes, and picked up a few kilos of unbleached stone ground organic whole wheat flour which I later used with an equal volume of filtered water (1/2 cup each, though I later learned that a ‘Poolish’ sourdough starter should be equal weight, or about 2:1 flour:water). I poured them in a clean jar, lightly screwed on the lid so that it wasn’t sealed, and waited. I let this sit for about 24 hours before adding another ½ cup water and flour, doubling the total amount- this is repeated twice daily. Within the first day or two it had separated a bit, there were some tiny bubbles along with a middle layer of fluids that I proceeded to pour off (apparently I should have stirred this back in, oh well!). A battle begins between bacteria and yeast, but yeast tends to get the upper hand by acidifying the mixture and thus driving out the bacteria.

Hold up a minute: Yeast? Bacteria? Where the heck did they come from? Though both are inescapably ever-present around the house, the yeast in this case primarily comes from the unbleached flour! Wild yeast tends to stick to all sorts of fruits and grains – these little klingons were responsible for the ancient wines of Rome and Greece, the bezerker Mead of the Vikings, the Ciders and Perries of England, the mysterious soma of India, the Incan chichi, and a long long list of ancient hooch that most cultures discovered at some point or other.

Sourdough Starter 2

So, mix about 2 parts unbleached flour to 1 part unchlorinated water (let the water sit in the fridge for a day if you don’t have a filter), and get your own starter rolling! ‘Feed’ your starter with the same mixture twice daily, doubling it each time (discard excess starter before adding to it; flour is cheap). Do this for about 6-7 days, or until it’s doubles or triples within 3-4 hours and doesn’t have unpleasant smells (might smell floury, slightly sour, but not bad), then you can make bread or throw it in the fridge and leave it for weeks to months – just pull it out a day or two before you want to use it and feed it per usual! I move back and forth between whole wheat and white flour, though I believe the preferred option is white. Continue feeding, or refrigerate and start feeding it again a few days before you plan on baking! Also, rather than composting the excess starter, consider using it to make sourdough pancakes: 1 egg, 1 cup starter, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp olive oil, ¼ tsp salt, and then add ½ tsp baking soda RIGHT before cooking – they expand rapidly. Enough for 2 full pan-sized pancakes. You can also find recipes for pancake and biscuits online – though do wait until your starter is really rolling before trying these. Plenty of recipes online for making bread from this, and here’s a good youtube run-down once your starter is going.

As an aside – I also did a test run a bread using beer yeast.. It was much slower to rise (an extra hour or so) and had a distinctive flavour to it that I rather liked though Eva didn’t seem so fond of. Can’t put my finger on it, but a sort of hearty though lightly bitter taste.. I made it using whole wheat flour, though I think white flour would have been a better choice to showcase the unique taste. Opened my eyes to the vastness of possibilities here – Beer’s flavour and aroma are significantly impacted by the yeast used, and there are a WIDE variety of yeasts available.. Can only imagine the diversity of breads that could be made with all the little variations out there!

And on a completley unrelated note, here’s breakfast – gastronomical, no?

Breakfast Smiley Face


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