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Sourdough Woes

After my fairly successful batch of bread bread baking, I had enough bread to last for some time.  I put most of it in the freezer and have been eating sourdough daily ever since (yum!).  Unfortunately, having temporarily satisfied my curiosity around this project, I pushed it aside mentally and started focusing on other things.  In the process, I forgot to take care of my starter.  

Now, apparently starter is very robust and not feeding it for a week or two probably shouldn’t do it too much harm.  However, for some reason my starter doesn’t want to revive.  I kept feeding it and feeding it, and while it would bubble on the top, it was no longer forming the big bubbles it used to make all the way through, which produced the lovely “crumb” (soft inner part) I was enjoying.  When I tried baking with it, the result was the dense loaves I encountered when I first started this process.  

Tonight I finally sat down and did some internet surfing to try and find a way to re-invigorate my starter.  Most of the advice I found I’d already tried (i.e. feeding it regularly over several days).  Then I came across the following link and decided to try what it says.  I’m cutting and pasting it below for easy retrieval in the future (as I’m sure I’ll have this happen again!).  I like how they explain why this works after each step.  Giving me a reason behind an action is the best way to ensure that I actually follow through with it!

Reviving Sourdough Starter

“…sourdough starter has organisms like bacteria in it that are causing the overly acidic nature, foul smell, or separation.  By following this method, you will replenish your sourdough starter culture by regrowing it until the bad organisms are gone….This method causes an environment that is difficult for other organisms to thrive in, but is just fine for the sourdough bread starter yeast

Step 1: Mix the sourdough bread starter well. Discard of all but one cup.  

Why: Mixing oxygenates your sourdough starter and helps it to remain healthy. The yeast requires oxygen to live. If you don’t mix your sourdough starter every few days, your yeast will begin to die off and the bacteria will multiply out of control without the yeast to keep them in check. If you tried to use the bad mixture in your bread baking, it would rise well, not to mention it would taste awful. (Um… this could explain what was going on with my starter!  The last batch of bread I made was inedible and ended up as compost and bird food!)
Step 2: Add one cup of room temperature water. Stir well. Pour out all but one cup.

Why: Though you are watering down your sourdough starter, this step is crucial in order to dilute the lactic acid and bacterial by products that are inhibiting yeast growth. Once your yeast is healthy again, it will keep the bacteria levels in check. And will, once again, be an integral part of your bread baking.

Step 3: Add one cup of flour and about 3/4 cup of water. Cover loosely and let it proof on the counter overnight.

Why: This is the food for your yeast to thrive on. Once it becomes healthy again, your sourdough starter needs to be fed at least once a week, or whenever you use it, whichever comes first.

Step 4: Repeat the above process twice a day until you no longer see activity (bubbles) for one day and then fermentation restarts and the good sour smell returns. This is an indication of healthy yeast growth.

I’m not sure I understand Step 4, but I guess it will make sense as I proceed.  So tonight I went through this process, except that I didn’t throw out the remainder of the original starter.  Just in case…

3 Responses

  1. When you do revive it or otherwise obtain a healthy starter, save a backup by freezing or drying some (there’s plenty of instructions online for both).

    Also, I wonder whether you’re aware of the “no-knead” approach to baking bread, which is a simplified form of the traditional techniques.

  2. Hi Michael – I actually had frozen some as someone else gave me that advice when I first got started. Very good advice it is too! It was good to know in the back of my mind that if my efforts to revive the dough failed, I didn’t have to start completely from scratch again. I did get it going, however, and baked my first batch tonight. Hopefully it will have turned out properly this time!

    This time I froze all the leftover barm as with four loaves of bread baked, I won’t need to make more for a couple of weeks. I hate throwing out the extra starter and when you keep feeding it, it just grows and grows! I have been experimenting with turning the extra starter in to bread and pancakes, but freezing it to stop the process completely seems like the best solution.

    I have never heard of the “no-knead” approach – care to explain or direct me to some info on it? I do enjoy kneading, but wouldn’t mind the option of skipping it if time requires. Cheers!

  3. I actually generally don’t throw out any of my sourdough starter unless it goes bad. A day or so after feeding, I’ll put it in the fridge to slow it down — though even then it should be used/refreshed every week or so, maybe. (Though I think the yeast/bacteria balance is affected by this, so it’s not really the best thing.)

    The no-knead approach was popularized in 2006 by this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html
    Recipe here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html

    If you do a search for “no knead bread” you will see how many people have been inspired by this, as well as the the ways they have simplified, modified it.

    I mainly use specifically the no-knead aspect, as I’ll mix a dough and just let it sit covered for a day until it expands and bubbles, and then I deal with forming it into a loaf.

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