Monday, September 10, 2012

Rye sourdough starter recipe

Late summer to early fall is the absolutely perfect time to grow a new sourdough starter.

Of course you can begin growing a sourdough starter any time of year.  I find that in the late summer and early fall, the air is full of natural yeast, especially if you have fruit trees near by.  That powdery substance on grapes - that's yeast.  For reasons I don't understand, yeast lives with fresh fruit.  So if you live in the city (like I use to) and you want to grow your own starter, make sure you buy some fresh, organic, fruit and keep it in your kitchen while the starter is growing.

By capturing the natural yeast that lives in the air all around us, you can grow your very own sourdough starter.  This starter can be used to create all sorts of different breads, make pancakes, even (I've read) beer!

This time of year, it is also warm enough to leave the windows open and allow the fresh air into the kitchen.  Although sourdough (or any bread for that matter) does not like to be in the draft, it grows better in a place with lots of airflow and I find it grows even better in a house with lots of activity going on.

There are two reasons why I perfer to use rye flour instead of regular flour in my sourdough starter.  First, it just seems to capture and grow the yeast faster and is less fickle than a white flour starter.

Second, I'm always eager to expand the nutritional profile of the food I eat.  (Hey, that sounds pretty good doesn't it?  I just made it up.)  Since I'm using white flour for the final bread most of the time, I find it comforting to think that I'm getting a few different nutrients by having a rye starter than I would get with white flour alone.

If you want to make whole wheat sourdough bread, that's fine.  I'm simply on a doctor ordered, low-fibre diet, otherwise I would be milling my own whole grains (again) for making bread.

This recipe is heavily inspired by the one in How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson .

Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe

  • 1 and 1/2 cups rye flower
  • 1 pinch commercial bread yeast (optional, but helps a lot)
  • a few drops of milk (optional, but helps a lot)
    • sour milk is best, but not so easy to come by these days given how processed store bought milk is - it just goes lumpy and doesn't sour like milk use to.  But any milk works fine.
  • Water (see note about water at the bottom)
In a medium bowl combine the flour, yeast, milk and enough water in the bowl to make a thick pancake batter.  Mix really well. cover with a clean cotton towel or cotton pudding cloth and place in a warm part of the kitchen. Leave there for three days.  It should be bubbly by the third day and ready to make the sponge.

If it shows no signs of being bubbly, you can try the sponge step, or just add a couple of Tbs of water and flour, mix vigorously, cover with a towel and leave for three more days.

When you are not using your starter, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge.  When you use the starter, keep back a couple of tablespoons and feed it with half a cup rye and half a cup water.  Cover with a towel, and leave sit overnight or, during the day for 4 hours.  A house is normally warmer and has more activity during the day so it doesn't take anywhere near as long for the starter to refresh.  

However, be sure to leave a plate under the starter in case you are away too long and it overflows.  It drys as hard as concrete and is a real *ahem* to clean off countertops!

A note about water:  If you are on city water, you might have trouble growing a starter due to the purification chemicals they use to keep the water safe for drinking.  You could buy some filtered water, but I find this doesn't seem to work well either.  What I do is to take my water, boil it in the kettle then leave out on the counter overnight.  This seems to get rid of whatever it is that kills the yeast but keeps enough of whatever it is that makes the yeast grow.

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