I’ve put off doing my own sourdough starter because frankly the science of it all scared me to death. I just seemed so hard.
I say seemed, because I never really took the time to research it. I first wrapped my brain around the idea that sourdough had to actually sour from a friend who owned a restaurant that made sourdough pizzas. As he explained the process of “feeding” the dough perpetually, I couldn’t really grasp it. He made it sound like The Giving Tree, a perpetual, evolving thing that just keeps growing and providing… manna like, I assumed.
Years went by and I liked the idea of making sourdough bread and pizza dough and what not. But the science of it held me back. I harked back to freshman science when I was about to fail the “sludge” experiment so I just ate it and wrote down what I tasted well enough to get a C and pass the class.
But in the past year as my dough projects in the Test Kitchen grew increasingly complex, I knew I wanted to do sourdough most of all. Still, for some reason the block in my brain stopped me from actually learning how to make it.
On impulse I bought a couple of cultures off Amazon. When they arrived, I glanced over the five pages of instructions, full of complex terms and regressed back to high school. I set the packets aside.
Weeks passed. Stupidly.
Until finally I just got fed up, dumped the culture in a bowl and read the first page of instructions to get the (dough) ball rolling. I figured I’d adopt the ole AA mantra: One day at a time. Besides there were two culture packets. I could screw one up I reasoned.
As it turns out there was no reason to feel intimidated. I finally went Internet surfing and read through the relatively simple process of starting dough and turning it sour. My culture gave me a leg up and a good taste.
I had my doubts the whole time it sat there, with me “feeding” it (which means dumping in flour and water, really… that’s it). I ignored the ideas of making my own proofing box and carefully watching temperatures and just left the thing on my ledge very much like when I am told every kid does at some time when she sticks toothpicks into an avocado pit and watches it sprout over time.
Eventually the thing took on a life of its own and soon bubbled happily over the rim of the jar. I found an easy “starter” sourdough recipe for those using a start the first time and soon was making bread.
*This was a herb and chili powder wheat sourdough:
Now I’ve got about three jars ready to go for future sourdough inventions (the seven-grain lemon pepper sourdough was delightful) and my “starter” chilling in the fridge until the next time I need to zap her back to life.
I’m still not sure how it all works, and I know I could probably do it better. The kneading process was pretty much the same, but sure smelled rich and flavorful and yes, sour.
With a little thought it could become more science and less magic, but for now, I’m happy with the magic. I don’t understand what’s going on in there, but I like eating it, which come to think of it, isn’t too far off from freshman science class after all.