Tuesday, May 3, 2011
One of the questions I get most often is - "Where can I get a sourdough starter?"
Three answers - Raise your own starter, buy a starter, or bum a starter. All three options work. Some better than others - if you go from my experience!
1. Raise your own starter.
This was the option I started with first. I loved the idea. Mix a little flour and water and watch the yeast grow! Only one problem, it didn't work well for me.
I first followed the directions from Heavenly Homemakers. Now, I know her directions have worked well for others, but I didn't have success. The bread I baked was absolutely horrible.
The second attempt was from directions from a magazine. Once again, I had some bubbly action but not enough to rise bread.
The third time I followed the directions in Artisan Breads Every Day. This time I made bread that actually was edible. In fact it tasted very good. But when I attempted 100% whole wheat bread, it was another failure.
But since that attempt was the best yet, a year later, I followed the Artisan Breads Every Day directions again. Again, I was able to bake good bread, just not excellent. I kept that starter alive for a few months before I got tired of caring for such a thick dough-like starter.
I should back track and say that I was going for the purist method. I've seen recipes that start with a little commercial yeast. I wanted a 100% wild yeast AND 100% whole wheat flour. Maybe I was stacking the odds against me.
I also know now that I was too rushed. A new starter needs time to develop and strengthen before it is asked to rise 100% whole wheat bread. If I was repeating the experiment, I would spend a few weeks using the starter for pizza crust, waffles and muffins before trying bread.
Another mistake that I know now was that I would tire of my starter and place it in the refrigerator. This is fine for a mature starter but for a new starter, it couldn't take the neglect. I think this is why my starter kept getting weaker instead of stronger.
If you want to try making your own starter, I recommend using the pineapple juice method. I had my best success with this method which uses pineapple juice instead of water for the first couple days to keep the bad bacteria from growing before the good bacteria has time to take hold. For complete directions, download the free ebook "Beginning Sourdough".
2. Buy a Starter
Numerous online sources sell starters. One company is Cultures for Health. I've never purchased a starter from them but they have numerous types and also very helpful videos and information on their website.
King Arthur sells fresh sourdough.
The cost is very minimal and, I think, a great bargain to avoid the headache of a failed starter.
3. Bum a Starter
Free is best, right! After all my tries at sourdough baking, I finally was given a sourdough starter and had instant success! Getting a mature starter allows you to have professional results immediately without the growing pains of growing your own.
If you have a friend who has sourdough, ask for some starter. I'm sure they would love to share. Sourdough starter is something you always have extra of. If you live local to me, I would love to share some of mine!
If you don't know of anyone local who uses sourdough, there is a free online source. I got mine from Old Sourdough and have been very pleased with it, but he is no longer is mailing starter.
Another free source is Carl's Friends, a group of friends of Carl Griffeth who, in honor of their sourdough loving friend, share starters with anyone who sends a self-addressed stamped envelope. I've heard that it is an excellent starter.
Most starters you receive in the mail will be dried. You will receive instructions on how to rehydrate your starter.
If you are interested in sourdough baking, in my opinion, it is worthwhile to acquire an established starter. Once you've figured out a few tricks, then you may try growing your own starter. This is one of those, please don't do as I did and learn from my mistakes. I wasted a lot of time growing my own. If I would have just started four years ago from a reputable sourdough starter, I could have had years more of sourdough baking. Just think of all the wonderful bread I missed from my stubbornness. Sigh.
But if you are contrary like me, I won't stop you. You may be one of those who gets it right on the first try!
Have you attempted your own starter? How did it work for you?