Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Fungus Amoung Us: A Sourdough Primer

A Fungus Among Us: A Sourdough Primer

Wild yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is everywhere, in every season. It is on the strawberries you eat in spring, the best of the July cherries, and the grapes ripening in October. The first leavened bread was baked thousands of years ago, around the same time as the first beer was brewed, and the first grapes were crushed for wine. It came to greet the dawn of agriculture on this planet. It supplies our bodies with B vitamins, and gives us the ethanol to brace our spirits and fuel our vehicles.

I'm going to show you how to capture this beneficial and wily creature.


This one is not commonly used, but it's my favorite.

Grape Sourdough Starter

1/2 pound of red table grapes OR 1 cup of raisins, soaked in warm water for 2 hours.
2 cups unbleached flour
2 tbsp raw sugar
Warm water
One glass or ceramic container with a loose fitting lid
Rubber band or string.

In a blender, puree the raisins with the water, or the grapes without water. Transfer to a small sauce pan and bring to a quick boil. Set aside. Once cooled to room temperature, add the raw sugar and two cups of flour. Stir in enough warm water to make a smooth batter. Now things get tricky. I like to set the container with the batter in it and covered with the cheesecloth, either outside or by an open window overnight, just to guarantee exposure to the wild yeast. After that you can move it to a warm, dim corner of any room. Let it ferment for 3-5 days, or until you see the mix riddled with bubbles and smelling vaguely "beerish". If the mix settles, you'll need to stir it a little. I like to use a chopstick that has been wiped with vodka or hydrogen peroxide. If the mix smells "off" or rotten, or has a colored film on top, discard it and start again. If everything looks good, then you're ready to make bread.


Sourdough Yukon Gold Starter

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp raw sugar

Combine potatoes and water in a small stock pot or medium saucepan. Cover and boil until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain cooking liquid into a large glass measuring cup. Reserve potatoes for another use.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups of potato liquid to a large ceramic or glass bowl. Add flour and sugar to the bowl; stir to combine. Cover bowl with cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature until the starter begins to ferment and bubble, about 4 days. The starter is now ready to use. Again, if it doesn't look or smell right, don't use it.


Starters are alive and need care. A properly cared for starter can live for more than 100 years. There are boulagers (Breadmakers) in France and Italy that have used the same starter for centuries.

Storage and feeding of the starter: Put the loose lid on the container and store it in the refrigerator. Feed the starter every 2 weeks. Begin each feeding by discarding all but 1 cup. Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup warm water into the remaining mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature overnight. Replace the lid and return it to the refrigerator.


Sourdough Tomato Focaccia

1 1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup grape starter
1 tbsp dry yeast
3 cups + one cup flour
1 tbsp sea salt
3 tbsp raw sugar
2 cups warm water
Olive oil
1 cup shredded parmesan

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, three cups flour, salt and starter. In a separate glass container, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of warm water; wait five minutes and combine with the other ingredients. Add the remaining water and stir to a soft but solid consistency. If it's too wet, add some of the extra flour; if too dry, add a little more water. Form into a ball in the bowl, using olive oil or butter to moisten the surface of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 4 hours. Divide the dough in 1/2, placing each half on separate oiled baking sheets. Smooth the dough out until a half inch thick. Dimple each portion of dough with your fingertips, and drizzle with olive oil. Let the dough rise for an additional hour. Set oven to 425°.

Bake each focaccia until light brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 3-4 additional minutes. Remove and serve with good olive oil for dipping.


I've found that these starters can be added to any recipe by omitting 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, then substituting 1 cup of starter. For sweet recipes, the potato recipe works better; for savory, use the grape version.

I'm attempting to give you ideas that can improve your cooking abilities daily. I hope you can use them to bring a little more life to your everyday meals.

No comments:

Post a Comment