Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sourdough Starter Suffers Benign Neglect

A couple of years ago, I read about a class at the Missouri Botanical Garden that captured my culinary imagination. Father Dominic, the bread-baking Benedictine monk, was going to teach a sourdough bread class at MOBOT, using wild yeast captured in the gardens. I needed to know more about something like that!

The class was delightful and Father Dominic is a natural and enthusiastic teacher. Students came forward to participate in the demonstrations, a timer went off at erratic intervals signaling the awarding of bread baker’s door prizes, and everyone went home with his own wild yeast starter to feed and nurture for baking.

Since that class, I have dabbled in sourdough bread baking. My first loaf was perfection – at least to a novice baker. From that time on, I have created my own starter from organic grapes and one from my own Prairie Wood wild yeast. At times, I have had more crocks of sourdough starter in my refrigerator than one could say grace over. Eventually though, my supply dwindled to one lonely container of starter and, during the holidays, it was lost in a dark corner of the garage refrigerator suffering from benign neglect. It resurfaced last week and I decided to see if there was any life left in it, despite research to show it to be a lost cause.

The starter looked like one that had been left for a time, complete with that fine layer of grayish liquid “hooch” on top. I removed the lid and took a sniff – a sourdough delight! Usually, I stir the hooch back into the starter solids, but this time I poured most of it off to further assess the situation. Even benign neglect can have an adverse effect on lactobacilli. After bringing the starter up to room temperature, I scooped off half of it and added some flour, bottled spring water, and a pinch of sugar. Within seconds, I had bubbles forming in the starter. It’s alive!!!! I nursed it along for a couple of days, dividing, discarding, and feeding it back to health. Of course, I could not bring myself to throw out all the divisions of feedings, so I am now back to countless containers of starter in my fridge.

Yesterday I decided it was time to make some dough – or maybe three batches of dough would be better! The first rise was good and I put them into the refrigerator after that to slow things down until today. Two of the batches of dough are now coming up to room temperature for shaping and the final rise. I can’t wait! I am a proud mother watching her children grow and mature. Knowing how kids can act out occasionally, I hesitate to invite you back to see the final results, but what the heck! Stay tuned for the results – good or bad.

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