There have been some serious glitches in the supply chain, as we all know, leading to toilet paper hoarding and hand sanitizer evaporation. Grocery store shelves have been eerily empty of paper goods and poultry, canned soup and flour. It seems to be easing somewhat – and man, isn’t there going to be a big sale on chicken wings soon, now that every sports bar is closed? – but yeast is one of those things still missing lately (although Food Lion had some yesterday…). Very frustrating if you are craving a fit of dough kneading to vent all the frustration due to it all. Well, just make yourself some starter!
Here are some pro tips on making a starter and keeping it alive from Chef Kevin and from Nancy Silverton of La Brea bakery:
- Start with a very clean environment – bowls, gallon container, measuring equipment, hands etc.
- Get comfortable with weights in grams
- Get an organic apple from the market or one you find in that abandoned orchard and cut thick peels from it
- Or use organic grapes (unwashed) about 1 pound
- Put these peels (or grapes) in a net bag or cheese cloth
- Make a slurry of flour and water – equal parts by weight (this is key) – with the water being slightly warm, about 78 degrees
- Put the net bag of fruit peelings or grapes into the slurry and leave it out at room temperature, squeezing the bag to crush the fruit a bit, pushing it to the bottom of your container
- Cover the container tightly with a lid or plastic wrap
- Leave at room temperature – 70 to 75 degrees
- Keep your eye on it for signs of fermentation – should happen in two or three days
- On day three the batter should look foamy, with frothy bubbles
- Open your container and smell it – it should smell fruity and yeasty
- Cover back up and continue to Feeding
- Feed the culture with about 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water (again equal parts by weight), mixing it in with your hands or a rubber spatula
- Swish the bag of fruit around a bit but leave it in
- Now just wait as the culture turns to starter
- If mold appears, remove it promptly and add another 100 grams of flour and water as before
- Soon the smell, which may have become a bit unpleasant after the 3rd day, should be more agreeably yeasty
- Around day 10, remove the fruit (squeezing any juice into the culture) and begin the permanent feeding schedule
- Stir the contents well
- Pour off all but about 100 grams. You can discard this culture, give it away or save it in the fridge or freezer in case your remaining starter dies
- Transfer the remaining culture to a clean, seal-able but not airtight container (airtight might result in pop! goes the lid!)
- For the next five days, to build up the bacteria and yeasts, feed the starter a few times a day, adding flour and water equal to the amount of starter you have, doubling every time. For instance, if you have 100 grams of starter, you’ll add 50 grams of flour and 50 of water for your first feeding. 4 to 6 hours later, second feeding: 100 grams of each. 4 to 6 hours later, double the feed to 200 grams of each
- No more than 15 hours of fermentation later, you can do one of two things: keep building the starter for stronger flavor and power, or start using it right now. Nancy Silverton continues dumping culture and feeding three times a day for 4 days. That’s a lot of culture to dump! Kevin says you can use the starter after the last feeding and just keep building it up; it will evolve with time and use. You can use the culture that you throw off in pancakes or muffins, it just won’t be as powerful.
- To use your starter, since you know already it is equal part by weight flour and water, just subtract that amount of flour and water called for in the recipe and substitute your starter (and, after you use what you need, add 50 grams of flour and water to the remaining starter, let it build up for about an hour at room temp and then put it in the fridge for storage)
- For example: Your recipe calls for 1000 grams of flour and 800 grams of water. Weigh out 800 grams of flour and 600 grams of water, adding enough of your starter to make up the remaining 400 grams
- After the first feeding frenzy, you must keep feeding the starter. After you use it, you feed it 50 grams of water and flour and put it back in the fridge. When you are ready to use it, take it out of the fridge and feed it once or twice again, as you did before, to build it up before you use it
Any questions? Call Kevin!
PostScript: Here’s an interesting story in the NYT about a collection of ‘mothers’.