25 November 2011

Starting a Starter

I finally decided to tackle sourdough. I've wanted to try it for a long time, but I was intimidated. It seemed like a lot of work, and I'm not great at babysitting things. As it turns out, it's really not a big deal. I used the starter recipe in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and after a week or so, I had a happy, bubbly starter. Maybe even a little too happy.

The first recipe I tried with my new starter was the basic sourdough from the same book. Despite some issues with my dough sticking to my proofing towels, and a totally awful scoring job (must get a lame!), my loaves still turned out pretty decent looking for a first attempt! They tasted great, too. The sour flavor really came through. I was actually a little surprised; I expected them to fail.

Reinhart's starter recipe is annoying in that you end up with an unreasonable amount of starter once you've finished building it up. I can eat maybe one loaf of bread a week, so keeping a gallon of starter in my fridge at all times makes no sense. After I got my starter up and running, I decided to scale it back and only keep about 5 oz. of starter. I also froze a little chunk of it, just in case I manage to kill what I'm keeping in the fridge or accidentally use it all up or something.

Since I had a lot of starter I wanted to discard, and no desire to actually discard it, I decided to try a couple of other recipes.

Whole wheat sourdough bagels were my first experiment. I googled and picked a recipe pretty much at random. I've made bagels a few times before (always using the excellent recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice), and these were easily the most disappointing I've ever made. They had no sourdough flavor at all, even after spending a night in the fridge. The texture also wasn't quite right. Next time I'll try another recipe, or just go back to the tried and true BBA yeast bagels. These did use up quite a bit of starter, though, which was the goal.

Next up, sourdough tortillas! I had beans in the fridge, so these were meant to be. I followed this recipe, subbing in some whole wheat flour, and vegetable shortening instead of oil. They turned out really delicious, with a distinct sourdough flavor. They stayed sort of anemic looking, but they would have turned into crackers if I'd cooked them any longer. Maybe my pan wasn't hot enough. I don't cook with cast iron much, and I think I might not have let it preheat long enough. I was still really happy with these, though. I will definitely come back to this recipe next time I make tortillas.

I still have excess starter to discard, and it just keeps building up with my weekly feedings! I'm working on using it up, but my freezer is getting really full. I will eventually have to accept that I just need to throw some of it out, but until then, it's bread city around here.

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