Sourdough starters – Day 5

You’ve nearly made it. One day to go on establishing your (still immature) sourdough starter. From tomorrow, you can start using your starter in your culinary explorations of the sourdough landscape. Be aware, however, that the starter will continue to mature and develop a greater complexity in flavours over the next months, if not years.

What will I do if I have to go away or just want to have a break from baking? I hear you ask. In the next post, I’ll point you in the direction of some suggestions to slow down, or even stop, the regular feeding schedule if you won’t be baking daily, or even weekly.

Then over the coming weeks, I’ll post some of my favourite sourdough recipes. Be aware that the sourdough community on the internet is active and engaged, and freely shares its collective wisdom on all things sourdough. I recommend you look at different sites for recipe variations or other views on how to care for or use your starter.

The wonderful thing about sourdough is that even if your bread doesn’t finish as expected during baking, it should still taste amazing. So eat up!

Ingredients

100g plain flour (I use organic flour)

100g water (tepid)

Method

Weigh ingredients and place in the glass container with the starter from yesterday. Mix with a fork until all lumps are gone.

Depending on the size of the container you used, it will be getting full. If your starter is active it can expand up to three times its volume during the feeding cycle. So any container over half full after a feed runs the risk of having the starter ooze out over the top. At this point, either put your starter in a larger container or sit the container in a bowl or on a plate and expect to be cleaning up excess starter.

Observations

As I mentioned yesterday, I had to use a different flour as I ran out of my previous batch. Yesterday the starter was slow to rise and didn’t rise very much.

What a difference a feed can make! With the second feed of the new flour the starter became very active and more than doubled in size in around 7-8 hours, much less than the 18 hours it usually takes.

Day 5 starter after its expansion and deflation cycle
Day 5 – the rise and fall of the starter can be seen from the remains of the starter around the walls of the container

Look: The starter had expanded and fallen well before feeding (as you can see in the photo by the remains of the starter around the sides of the container). While not quite doubling in size, the yeasts and bacteria in the new flour responded more quickly to new food. Because of the delay in feeding, the top of the starter had lost some of its frothy appearance and looked more like spent spume on a sandy beach.

After feeding, it had a smooth appearance.

Feel: The starter continued to be very runny at feeding time.

Once you have the starter on a regular schedule of use and feed, you can always stiffen the mix by doubling the flour to water ratio for a feed (2 flour: 1 water). Note that this will impact your bread as the texture or crumb of the loaf is determined, in part, by the hydration level of the dough – a drier starter will (generally, depending on the starter called for in the recipe) require more water to be added to the dough than recommended in the recipe if you are after an artisanal-style loaf with larger holes in the crumb. Once you find a recipe you like, I suggest you play around with it to see what works best for your starter to achieve the crumb and appearance you would like in the baked loaf.

After feeding, the consistency of the starter was still that of a runny paste.

Smell: This is where things got weird for me and this starter. Who would have thought a mix of flour and water would smell like melted butter? But that’s what my starter smelled like at feeding time on Day 5. I even had one of my daughters tell me what she thought it smelled like. She agreed: melted butter. As I said, weird.

Taste: The starter had developed a young fruit flavour at the front of the palette with a sharp, almost acrid, aftertaste. The nice rounded yeasty flavours that were developing with the previous flour has been almost lost.

Your starter should have moved through the sharp vinegary taste and become more mellow with a rich yeasty flavour (and associated aroma). If not, don’t worry, it may be that it will take a few more feeds for the balance between the yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria to settle down. At any rate, you should feel comfortable cooking with your starter from tomorrow.

(Given the changes in my starter, I’ll give it a few more feeds to see if the flavours balance out before baking with it.)

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