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Elaine Revelle: Mastering your starter for the sake of baked goods
THE WOODEN SPOON

Elaine Revelle: Mastering your starter for the sake of baked goods

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wooden spoon

wooden spoon

Technically, you could call me a serial killer.

I say that because my victims over the years are too numerous to count. 

I confess, I’ve killed, by neglect, more sourdough starters than I can count. Oh, I start out with all good intentions, then end up doing them in and eventually die, they do.

With all my recent baking, I decided to drag out my starter and realized I was again guilty of mistreatment. While I won’t confess to being a career criminal, I do admit that my acts are basically the result of pure laziness.

All it takes is regular feeding and an occasional discard to avoid a gigantic fermenting blob in the crock in the corner of my refrigerator.

This year, I’m turning over a new leaf. I’ll join SKA (Sourdough Killers Anonymous) and take the vow to be more diligent.

And, I invite, no, I challenge, you to join me in this effort.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up in less than two weeks, let’s see if we can bake a tasty bread for the expected corned beef or Reuben sandwiches.

First, here’s a little sourdough history. 

While we, particularly on the West Coast, think of San Francisco as being the birthplace of sourdough, there are some who credit Christopher Columbus with bringing it to our shores.

While the San Francisco strain may be unique, wild yeast is in the air everywhere. There’s no need to buy a commercial packet of “sourdough starter.” All you need is flour, water, salt, sugar and a smidgen of regular yeast to lure some wild beasties. Oh, it does take a few days, as well. 

This week, let’s start our starter. Next week, it will be time for use and maintenance.

I’ll follow up with directions and at least one recipe.

While an earthenware crock is traditional, any loose-lidded container will work.

Case in point, son-in-law Robert keeps his in an Olsen’s Bakery cookie tub. Cookie tubs work well; they are waterproof and have tight but not sealed lids as well as a handle. 

Plus, you’ll get to eat a tub of cookies first.

I have a crock that's about 8-inches high and about 5 inches in diameter. Bought many years ago at Valley Hardware, they are easy enough to find and, if on a diet, they don’t come with cookies.

By the way, I’ve experimented by adding starter to a variety of things, most with excellent results. In addition to biscuits, pancakes and breads, I’ve made sourdough dumplings, æbleskiver, waffles and cakes, giving everything a lighter texture and interesting flavor. 

Of course, it’s all relative; the more you add, the more pronounced the flavor results, so you do have to be careful not to overpower a delicate recipe. It’s fun experimenting and, in most cases, the taste is so subtle that it’s not readily obvious what you have added. But I guarantee it will make your baked goods unique.

And a final note on starting your starter, most recipes recommend stirring with a wooden, not metal, spoon.

BASIC SOURDOUGH STARTER

1 envelope (1 tablespoon) dry yeast

2 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 cups warm (105 degrees) water

1/2 teaspoon salt

With the exception of salt, whisk dry ingredients to combine and place in large bowl or earthenware crock. Add water and mix. (Don’t worry about some small lumps as they will dissolve as the starter “starts.”)

Cover with cloth and place in a warm spot, free from drafts. Stir daily for three to four days. The mixture will ferment and take on a pleasant sour smell. 

When “soured,” add salt, stir well, cover loosely (if lid is tight, make sure it has a hole or air vent in it) and store in refrigerator until ready to use. If mixture separates, stir well to incorporate clear liquid that forms on top. 

“I’m not sure the original name of this bread but the taste is reminiscent of Thomas’ English Muffins," Wendy began. “I guess the name English Muffin Bread is more descriptive and appealing than Thomas Bread.” Adding, “I got this recipe from Katie Cavali and it’s been my ‘go to’ ever since.”

Longtime Valley resident Elaine Revelle can be reached at thewoodenspoon@juno.com.

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