Once upon a time, there was an innocent, novice, bread baker who started to notice a little chill in the air. The days began to grow shorter, and the leaves on the trees turned yellow. She knew Autumn had arrived, and those long cold days of Winter were only just around the corner.
As always, her thoughts turned to food. She reminisced fondly of the previous Winter; great steaming bowls of veggie packed soups, served with toasted slices of sourdough bread, mmmmm. That simple combination made for delicious and healthy lunches, while fulfilling the comfort factor that was required to satisfy her soul in the middle of Winter, even when served over the stainless steel bench of the staff cafeteria.
But wait, a marvellous thought came to our idealistic baking heroine! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to bake her own sourdough bread, warm and inviting, ready to be sliced and toasted, to serve with nourishing bowls of goodness ladled from great steaming pots. Her minds eye could see the great soup vat sitting atop the old wood fired, kitchen stove, wafting steam and emanating wonderful aromas, that seemed to be an invisible invitation to all and sundry; “Come, pull up a chair around the great wooden table and sup ’til you are filled.” A truly vivid imagination does our innocent bread baker have, given that she knows full well only 2 people in her entire extended family of 10, will come anywhere close to eating sourdough bread with soup for a meal. (and, she has no such wood fired stove!)
But, our heroine is nothing if not tenacious. Her single minded determination, to make a sourdough bread that she felt was of standard, led her to reach her hand into the dark recesses of the fridge and pull out a sourdough starter that had taken up residence in the back of the fridge.
Oh what a sad, sorry and *’hooch’ drowned sight that starter was! Our novice bread baker had neglected the poor starter due to ignorance (and a punishing work/family schedule!), and was immediately faced with a long, slow road to try and breathe life back into the struggling mass of living beings she had so cheerfully thrown together several months before.
She dutifully fed and watered said mess, and waited…and waited. Not surprisingly, in hindsight, nothing much happened.
*Hooch is the liquid that separates from the starter.
Many, many websites were read, to find the answer to her dilemma, but it was all so confusing!
One writer wrote of the confusion for novice sourdough bakers being that they keep too much starter. Our innocent baker would say that the crux of the confusion for novices is that there is too much freedom in the world of sourdough bread!
What is the one best way to feed a starter? The one best recipe? The one best technique? The one best flour?
It doesn’t exist, of course!
The whole point of sourdough bread is that it is baking bread using only natural yeast, as the ancients did. Which ancients are they, our intrepid heroine asked? Whichever, bread eating ancient civilisation, you may wish to poke a stick at, is the general answer!
So, in her Zen sourdough moment, when the light finally penetrated through the fog, the answer was revealed to her.
All techniques, all cultural differences, and all things are equal. You need to find your own path.
The innocent little baker, was delighted! She was free, free to be herself; to learn and create.
Oh, you should have seen her scouring websites with renewed vigour in order to understand the science, trying to digest the ramblings of water and flour ratios. Wrapping her head around the intricacies of activating a fridge bound starter, and since she is actually a biologist at heart; throwing herself into experiments to mark the timing of growth and visually interpreting the different stages of her starter sponge.
Then, one afternoon, she stumbled upon the fact, that it is traditional (somewhere or another) to name your starter. Of course…it is a living thing after all!
It was actually an easier task than she had imagined. She had read of people giving their aspirating, wet, doughy lumps, such uncouth names as, “Creature” or “Thing” and no matter how she considered it, that train of thought just didn’t seem right to her. In a flash of genius, over a hot cup of tea, she realized that her starter was;
- born of white flour and *honey, with a little help from commercial yeast
- a pain in her arse
- that she had no idea how to make it happy
- it had taken a considerable amount of investment on her behalf to learn about its moods
- it took forever to get ready when she needed it
- it was refined and didn’t smell too bad 😉
and, that no matter all its shortcomings, she loved it!
*Honey is a stupid choice, as it is an antimicrobial and we are trying to grow yeast and bacteria! Who came up with that recipe?
“Princess” was an obvious choice 🙂
Princess has now leavened (slowly, ‘though successfully) 4 loaves of mild and refined white, sourdough bread to the bakers great delight! Lovely toasted and perfect for soup, yes, there was success for our happy baker!
PS: For those who may be interested, I am noting down a few things that I learned about feeding and starting Princess, I hope it helps you in your journey, and if not, at least I have it all written down for my own reference!!
To feed only
Keep 30g of Princess and throw the rest away
Mix in 30g of water, incorporating plenty of air
Mix in 24g of plain flour and 6g of rye flour
Leave to sit on bench for at least an hour
To build up enough Princess for baking
Take Princess out of the fridge 2 nights before you wish to bake
Empty all of Princess out into large bowl
Mix in 65g water, incorporating plenty of air
Mix in 65g plain flour
Cover loosely and leave overnight
Mix in 125g water, incorporating plenty of air
Mix in 125g plain flour
Cover loosely and leave for the day
Up to 250g of Princess is ready to be mixed into bread recipe to be rested over night!
Spoon 30g of Princess into clean jar and feed according to feed only instructions, ready for next bake.
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