My sourdough starter has no name. I know there is a trend that suggests I should name it, because if everything goes as planned, I can then bequeath the family starter to future generations. But I just can’t make the commitment.
After all, I’ve already murdered two sourdough starters, one in the ’70s and another in the ’90s. Naming them did not help their fate and, really, it’s just too much responsibility.
But the internet is a powerful thing. When everyone I knew began making their own sourdough bread, Instagramming their eye-poppingly bronzed loaves, sporting ears on the surface. I ogled their breads, cut open to expose the classic sourdough’s airy holes.
It wasn’t long before I knew I’d take another plunge into the world of sourdough.
I am clear-eyed this time. I know the pitfalls. I know that my interest may flag and I’m encouraged by a recent Food52 story that tells of a way to dehydrate a starter — like putting my newspaper on vacation-hold.
If you, too, are hearing the siren call of sourdough, the first thing to do is ask a friend who is already well down this rabbit hole to share some of their starter. They will be thrilled.
You will, of course, hear the provenance of this blob of off-white bubbling mass housed in a plastic deli tub. There will be discussions of hydration and ratios and when to add the salt. About autolyse and gluten development and long fermentation. The windowpane. So much shaping, folding and slashing. The conversation may even veer to flour mills and building a bread oven.
If you have no access to a starter from a cohort, make one yourself. Sourdough starters are a combination of flour and water and bacteria in the air, the very essence, the terroir, of your home.
I wanted to know how my own kitchen space, where I cook daily, bake constantly and ferment pickles, might bloom in a sourdough starter. In a little more than week, I had a bubbly, lively, happy starter, and I was off and running with crackers, bread and cinnamon rolls.
If you are going to take the leap into sourdough baking, invest in a kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients. Grams are precise, but if you only have a scale that registers ounces, it will still be more effective than using measuring cups.
To build a starter, mix equal parts flour and water and let it sit on the counter for a day. Every 24 hours, feed the starter first by discarding all but about a quarter of what you start with, adding back equal parts fresh flour and water. Every day, the ferment grows and transforms the once rough, dense mixture into a bouncy, wheat-scented bowl of hopefulness.
In a few days, the starter is fed every 12 hours and, after a while it will increase in size in just four hours.
It requires a weekly feeding, and without this attention the bouncy quality that makes sourdough breads full of air holes is harder to achieve.
My nameless starter sat happily in my refrigerator and the weekly feeding schedule resulted in two large loaves of bread every seven days.
That was all fine and good until it far outpaced our consumption and freezer space, too. I made so much bread that even friends and neighbors began to scatter whenever we held out a round shape nestled in a tea towel.