Tag Archives: fermenting

How (not) to maintain a sourdough starter

I know many bakers will tell you sourdough is finicky. I’m here to tell you I wholeheartedly disagree. I imagine sourdough is tricky to maintain if you expect the same outcome every time. It’s difficult to get sourdough to follow a recipe. Sourdough is not jarred yeast. It is not baking powder or baking soda – providing a measured chemical reaction.

Sourdough is alive. And like any creature it prefers staying alive. It does best if you feed it regularly. But lucky for me it doesn’t die as quickly as a houseplant if you forget.

It’s been a couple of weeks (two? maybe three?) since I baked a sourdough loaf. It was Christmas time, I did a lot of baking, all of it sweet. I was pretty sure I’d fed the sourdough the week before Christmas. But when I pulled it out Tuesday morning there was just a sad little half-cup of flour sitting under some grayish liquid. It smelled sour-but-not-spoiled. Good enough for me!

I put two thirds of it (plus the liquid) in a big bowl with three cups of flour and 1.5C of water. I mixed it all into a paste and put it in my warming cupboard.*

I mixed another half cup of flour and water into the mason jar with the remaining starter. Quietly apologized for neglecting it, and stuffed it back in the fridge.

10 hours later my dough was bubbly and happy. I added salt and enough flour to keep it from being sticky. I kneaded it, divided it in two, and formed loaves.

Sometimes my sourdough is amazing and tangy. Sometimes it’s yeasty. Sometime it is dense and maybe could’ve stood to rise a bit longer. Sometimes it’s poofy and baked a little too long. I imagine I’m more like a medieval peasant than a professional baker. My bread is a little different every week. But it’s always good. If I need it to ferment faster I keep it at room temp. If I need to make two loaves I feed it daily. If I’m not using it as often I keep it in the fridge and feed it every 5-7 days (if I remember.) Obviously all this variation is why I never get the same thing twice. But I also haven’t killed it yet!

*I’m not some fancy baker with a fancy setup. I just keep the cupboard over my fridge empty enough to hold a bowl of dough. I imagine everyone here could put bread dough on top of their fridge with a little rearranging.

Black garlic

Black garlic is apparently a foodie thing these days. I’d seen it mentioned here and there, but it’s not like I have time to hunt down exotic foods these days.

Then I was at my local farm picking up my winter veggies and they had a large glass jar of black garlic bulbs.

I unwittingly asked if it was something they grew themselves. And that’s when I learned black garlic is just regular garlic, fermented!

You know where this is going, right? I love fermenting things.

Some googling taught me that clean bulbs are fermented somewhere between 120F and 190F, at high humidity, for at least 3 weeks.

Of course you can buy a tool for this. But some sites also talk about making it in a crockpot or rice cooker. I know from my yogurt experiments that both of those run in the right temperature range. But my rice cooker automatically turns off after 15 hours. And I didn’t want the crockpot dedicated to one thing that long.

Luckily I remembered I have a little dipper crock pot in the basement. It’s meant for keeping dips warm. I bought it a lifetime ago for overnight oatmeal.

And it’s just the right size to plug in, then ignore, for a month straight. For the first twoish weeks the cling film was covered in condensation. For the last two weeks I added a dribble of water every day, or so.

Looks just like black garlic to me! I think I’ll start by making some salad dressing.

Fermentation

I’m on a big kick of things that can be fermented right now! In various corners of my kitchen I have:

  • Kimchi
  • Sourdough
  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha

Long time readers may remember that none of this is really new for me. But my puttering in the kitchen went on pause after Windsor was born. She was not the kind of baby that tolerated mom spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

The big change these days is mostly out of my control. The last 12 months have included a lot. And one of those is I’m lactose intolerant now.

Lactaid milk is just fine for putting in tea and for baking. But it does mean doing a lot more of my own baking. And lactose free yogurt is shockingly expensive. So now I have a yogotherm:

It’s just a tight sealing styrofoam cooler. But it makes large batch yogurt a breeze.

And my digestion is generally happier with more fermented things in my diet. So I dug out my old kombucha jug:

Those scoobys are over 2 years old. (for those of you not familiar, that’s unheard of.) The tea they’re sitting in smells very vinegary, but not off. And there’s no mold at all.

So I brewed a fresh batch of sweet tea and I’m running an experiment. I have one quart with a very old scooby in it. To the second quart I added a cup of raw, store bought kombucha. I’ll report back on how they do!

Sourdough success!

The loaf of sourdough I made this weekend is pretty munch perfect. Soft on the inside, not too crumbly, good crust, perfect tangy flavor.

Windsor ate two slices the first day, plus the centers out of two more while I wasn’t looking.

Sourdough is a bit imprecise, but here is how it went:

Hold over about 1/4 cup of starter when making the previous loaf. Mix in 1/4 cup each of flour and water. Tuck in the back of the fridge for 3 days (Saturday, sunday, and monday.)

Add another 1/4 cup each flour and water and put back in the fridge for another 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Feed the starter again, this time leave it on the counter overnight (Thursday.)

Friday: take a 1/4 if starter and put it in a clean mason jar. Put the rest of the starter in a bowl. Add about 1 cup of water and 1.5 cups of flour. Mix briefly, you want the dough to be just a bit wet and right at the point where you’d turn it out to knead it. Instead put a lid on it and let sit for 24 hours.

Saturday: mix bread yeast in a little water with a bit of sugar and let it start to bubble. Turn the bread dough out onto a floured surface and make a well. Pour the yeast in, sprinkle on some salt (I used 1tsp and that’s about right.)

Knead! Add flour as necessary. Let rise for at least and hour (we went to a birthday party, so it was more like 5hrs) Punch down, knead again, put into an oiled loaf pan.

Let rise for about an hour. Bake at 350F I think this was about an hour too. But I forgot to pay attention. Next time!

Bread

Years ago I had an awesome sourdough starter. I cultured it out of the air when we lived in Johnson. It was tangy and stable and made good bread.

Around the time Windsor was born (five years ago, how’d that happen??) I realized I wouldn’t be baking so much. And after a little googling I froze my starter and hoped for the best.

This summer Windsor decided she loves sourdough. She’s making pb&j on sourdough bread. Almost 5 year olds can eat a lot of bread. So I dug the starter out of the deep freezer and let it thaw. I fed it, and 24 hours later it was bubbling.

That’s the first dough I made. I didn’t give it nearly enough rise time and it baked into a delicious smelling brick.

The second week I let the kneaded dough rise overnight. But it barely puffed at all. In the morning I folded dry yeast into it and kneaded it again. This loaf was edible, especially with home made jam. But it was still pretty dense.

The great thing about this hobby is it doesn’t require much. I just add a little flour and water a couple times a week, then do the kneading and baking on the weekend.

For my third loaf I acknowledged the sourdough starter needs some help. So I added bread yeast to the batter starter the night before, and kneaded and baked in the morning.

It looks great! I mean, it is great. It’s light and fluffy on the inside. But it’s not sour.

So I’ll try again. I think this weekend I’m adding the yeast AND all the bread flour 24hrs before baking. Then letting it ferment longer…

Pickles

It’s been years since I made pickles. And I’m not really sure why… They’re so easy! This long weekend I made up for that oversight in a big way.

First the cucumber pickles. These are classic dill with a twist. There’s ginger in the spears, and the coins have a zesty orange chili blend in them (along side the usual dill, garlic, and mustard.)

These are refrigerator pickles. I’ve tried canning cucumber pickles a number of times and they always end up mushy. I figure I have space in the back of my fridge for a couple tasty jars. I use the old farmer’s almanac recipe except the vinegar is half white and half apple cider (because I ran out of white.)

Next up: dilly beans! Are you sending variations on a theme? I had purchased a large bunch of fresh dill, and wanted to use up as much as possible.

Beans, garlic, shallot, dill, and mustard seed. I followed this simply canning recipe.

I didn’t have 4 pints of green beans, so I used the same brine to make:

Pickled cauliflower:

with dill, garlic, shallot, and corriander.

Pickled romanesco:

with dill, garlic, shallot, and green peppercorns.

And pickled carrots:

with dill, garlic, shallot, and clove.

I checked that the processing times for all these veggies was still just 10 minutes (it is) and switched up the spices as labeled. I think they’ll all be delicious. I’ll have to resist opening all 4 at once to compare flavors…

What’s cooking

Nothing. Nothing is cooking in this post, because I have a new fermentation project instead! I got some kimchi starter from my mom over Easter weekend. Kimchi, in case you’re wondering, is a fermented cabbage product similar to sauerkraut but different. (It’s an east/west thing: I think kimchi is Korean and sauerkraut German – but my food geography is fuzzy at best)

I started with the simple kimchi recipe from The Kitchn. In fact I decided to follow it very closely since this is my first try. The big change was that after I’d packed everything in the jar I added some juice from my mom’s kimchi. This is a basic microbiology principle, instead of just letting it sit and hoping the right bacteria take hold adding raw kimchi juice inoculates the cabbage mix with some bacteria that I already know make good kimchi.

I made a couple of small substitutions as well. I swapped out the daikon radish for carrots and I left out the red pepper flakes. I also took their suggestion and used seaweed flakes instead of fish sauce to add umami flavor. The author recommends this as a vegetarian alternative. I was just a little weirded out by the idea of fermented fish products.

I let the jar ferment for five days, tasting it every day. The kimchi had that fermented bite by about day 3 and the extra two days it was more a fading of the fresh cabbage flavor that I noticed. I’m sure the flavors will continue to meld in the fridge.

kimchi

Now I just need to decide what I’m doing with all this kimchi besides eating it as a side dish with the occasional sandwich. Luckily it keeps long-term in the fridge.