By Leslie Bilderback 09/01/2010
Use this starter for any bread recipe, including the Sourdough Rye Bread below, or add it in place of half the liquid in recipes for biscuits or pancakes to add a hint of sour.
3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon granulated yeast
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
Day 1: Combine 1 cup water, yeast, ½ cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour in a ceramic or glass bowl. Stir to combine, cover loosely with damp cheesecloth or towel and set aside at room temperature. Stir this mixture once a day for the next 3 days. After a few days, a dark liquid will accumulate on the surface. This is normal.
Day 5: Add to the starter 1 cup water, ½ cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour. Stir well, cover again and set aside at room temperature for another 5 days, stirring once a day, as before.
Day 10: Again add 1 cup water, ½ cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour. Mix thoroughly. Let stand at room temperature for 6 hours, or until the starter foams and doubles in volume. The starter is now ready to use. Makes about 6 cups.
To keep your starter alive, replace the quantity that has been used with an equal amount of water and flour. Stir it every day, and feed it every 5 days by removing some starter and replacing it with an equal amount of water and flour. (For every cup used, replace with ½ cup water, ¼ cup all-purpose flour and ¼ cup whole wheat flour.) If you do not wish to feed it but want to keep it, you can refrigerate it indefinitely; before using, take it out and feed it for 10 days by removing some starter and replacing it with an equal amount of water and flour.
This recipe has several variations, including substituting specialty grains or cornmeal for whole wheat flour or adding fruit. Red grapes are the most common, but berries, stone fruits and even potatoes work well for added flavor and yeast attraction. To the recipe above, add 1 cup of mashed fruit on Day 1.
*Caution: The starter should be a tan color with a gray liquid that separates and rises to the surface. If it turns pink or yellow, it has picked up a mold and should be thrown out.
Sourdough Rye Bread
The starch content of rye flour makes it an exceptional food for sourdough starter. But more important, the sweet succulent flavor of caraway is the perfect complement to that sour flavor. Yeast is for cheaters, but if you’re worried about the potency of your starter, it’s a fail-safe ingredient.
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup water
Optional: 1¾ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package); add if your starter is weak, or you are in a hurry.
1 cup light rye flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 to 3 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1. To make a sponge (a bowl of warm, fermented batter), combine starter, ½ cup of water and yeast, if you’re using it. Stir to dissolve, and let stand 5 minutes. Add rye flour and beat for 1 minute. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.
2. Add to the sponge the remaining water, whole wheat flour, salt and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 to 2 hours.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 2 equal portions. Roll into tight balls and place on prepared pan, seam side down. Dust generously with flour, cover again with plastic and let rise until doubled, another 30 to 60 minutes. Preheat oven to 475˚.
4. Using a serrated knife, slice a pinwheel or star pattern into the top of the dough, about ½-inch deep. Place a pan of cold water on the floor of the oven to create steam. Bake until golden brown and hollow-sounding, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.