Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sourdough journey part 2: culture activation and planning

It’s now day 4 of my sourdough journey. At the weekend I started the activation process for the culture I ordered from Sourdoughs International, and the starter has gone from a runny paste that separated after a few hours (like the two small images), to a mass of bubbles with a strange but not unpleasant creamy, tangy smell, and now the culture is less active with a thinnish layer of bubbles a day after its last feeding (larger bottom photo). I also split up the culture to 2 jars and am now feeding both, in order to have a back-up. The instructions are to continue feeding with flour and non-chlorinated water every 12-24 hours until the volume of the culture increases in the jar by about 3 inches within 2-4 hours of the last feed. Hmm.. I’m going to need whiteboard markers methinks.

It’s definitely not just a paste of water and flour, that’s for sure. I’m uncertain as to whether I’ve got enough active yeast to rise a loaf, but will trust and press on. I’ve read that there can be a bit of a dip of activity in the middle like this, that the initial spurt of activity was likely not to have been the yeast I’m trying to cultivate but local microorganisms from the flour. I read that this ‘dip’ is when the desired yeast start to activate and multiply, because now the ph of the mixture is acidic enough for them to thrive, thanks to the bacteria. I don’t yet understand how the frequent discarding of some of the culture before feeding helps in this regard, as it surely dillutes the acidity... More to learn. (Edit: I later learn that acidity is good, but not too much. And so diluting the acidity when refreshing the starter brings back to suitable ph levels for yeast thriving.)

While I anticipate the full activation of my sourdough starter I’m planning the weekend’s baking. According to the book I’m using, a number of proofs are required, at various temperatures to get the best balance between leavening power of the yeast (cool 21 is good) and tang from the lactobacilli bacteria (a warm 32 degrees is good). The proofing box will come in handy again, and I have a feeling that in bread making experience is just as important as theory, and so there will need to be much trial and error before I understand what I’m doing. (Oh no! We’ll have to eat lots of sourdough bread, whatever will we do? ;) )

To help me get my head round all the stages of sourdough bread production, and to make sure it’s ready in time for tea on Sunday, I made a handy chart.

It’s not very fancy, but it helps me choose a time to start that isn’t too troublesome some each step in the process, and will hopefully have me all organised for success! I have a little performance anxiety now – what if it’s terrible! I will still post, and together we’ll figure out what the problems are and turn it around for next time. Wish me luck!

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