Hola people. The leaves are beginning to change color, the temperatures are starting to drop, and I think it is safe to say that autumn has made her way down here. Well, as much as we get that favored season down here. I don’t know about you, but as soon as our heater kicks on for the first time, I inevitably start thinking about bread. Warm fresh bread and the whole house smelling of homey yeasty goodness. Last year, I embarked on a sourdough journey, and cultivated a seed starter, which sadly did not make it through the summer.
For those even newer to the world of sourdough than I, here is a quick and dirty primer on sourdough home-baking. First, sourdough, unlike most other yeast breads, uses what is called a starter. The starter is essentially a living creature – a baby made of flour and water (and sometimes other things, depending on your inclinations as a parent), that feeds, ferments, and grows. Some people will jumpstart a starter by adding commercial yeast. However, most sourdough folks prefer the wild yeast method, whereby you put out some flour mixed with water (and perhaps some honey, or molasses) and this mess will attract wild yeast spores. Yes, believe it or not, there is wild yeast floating around in the air. And it differs from location to location. One of the reasons San Francisco sourdough is so prized is that San Fran is viewed as having “special” local wild yeast.
So, your flour and water mess will collect wild yeast. The starch in your flour will also attract lactobacilli, a good bacteria. Just a note, a starter won’t typically attract undesirable bacteria due to the fact that the starch in flour is a little hard for most bacteria to handle. Over the course of a few days or weeks (depending on the method you use), will “grow” as you feed it additional flour and water, and will produce carbon dioxide, in addition to alcohols and lactic acid that will ward off “bad” bacteria. When you feed your starter, you will also divide it and toss some. Eventually, however, you have something that is ready to be used to make actual bread.
There are all sorts of crazy feeding schedules and rules out there, so you can get as mystic or as simple as you want in your quest to birth the perfect starter. Some methods in involve a seed, then barm, then starter method, that I think of as a 3-step method, which is the method I have been working with. Trust me when I say I could have chosen far more complicated methods. Basically, you mix the flour and water and wait for the yeast to come – at this point, you have your “seed.” You feed and reduce on schedule for the next few days, checking to see how much the seed rises in between. When your seed triples in under 12 hours (again, this is according to just one of countless methods), then you have achieved “barm” state. Barm is what hangs out in your fridge, scary off visitors and family alike. You can feed your barm or not; it basically “sleeps” while in the fridge. When you want to make bread, you scoop out some barm (much harder than it sounds, since barm basically has the consistency of a 3 year old’s snot), let it get to room temp and away you go. Barm can last for years – many many years – as long as it doesn’t get contaminated. Like mine did. So…
Are there any other sourdough bakers out there? Anyone local who might have a cup of barm to spare?