Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Farewell, my little hero (and How to make your own Sourdough starter)



This is a sad post.

I love my sourdough starter. I care for it like a baby, feeding it a couple of tablespoons of flour and water everyday, scooping off any nasty grey bits once in a while, keeping it warm by the oven or slow-cooker when I bake or make stews. The day feels better when I see it happily bubbling away or smell its sour scents in the morning.

The past summer, I smuggled it back to Singapore despite the liquids allowance for hand baggage, because I didn't want it to die of suffocation or extreme manhandling in my check-in luggage. I didn't realise it until after I cleared security, but I was actually holding my breath, praying the bored officers wouldn't ask about that odd jar sitting in my handbag, and then opening it up to reveal.. toxic gunk that could be used to start a (stink)bomb. And then I had to smuggle it back to London in fall. I know, I'm nuts.

This time though, I FORGOT. How stupid can I get! I've been feeding it hearty meals the past few days to get it healthy and fit for the journey (and to use up my whole spelt flour). AND THEN I FORGOT. I doubt any starter, even one as strong and happy as mine, can survive 3 months in the British summer without a feeding. Yikes.

What to do?

I'm making a new starter. It's actually pretty simple. You only need 2 ingredients- flour and water (plus 1 optional secret ingredient).

How to make your own sourdough starter
Ingredients
wholegrain flour (as fresh as possible. rye is especially easy to start with.)
water (filtered or spring or at least dechlorinated by leaving tap water out for a few hours for the chlorine to evaporate)
natural pineapple juice (Star tip from The Fresh Loaf! The wild yeast you want to capture from the air prefers a slightly acidic and sweet environment.)

Method
1. Day One: Mix 2 tbsp of flour with 2 tbsp of pineapple juice.
2. Day Two and Three: Repeat. Just add on. You should get a bubbly mixture that smells slightly yeasty.
3. Day Four: Scoop out and discard some of the mixture, leaving behind about 1/4 cup (no need to be exact). Feed now with flour and water. You can feed maybe 1/4 cup of each daily, or 2 tbsp of each twice daily (I find this more effective.)
4. Repeat till you get a bubbly lively yeasty smelling sourdough starter that slightly expands (i.e. you see holes in it), usually by Day Seven. It may die or go flat halfway but it'll spring back to life ultimately. A warm kitchen is the optimum environment.
5. You can now use it for your baking or cooking, or just leave it in the fridge and take it out once every week to feed with a bit of flour and water for a couple of days to keep it happy. (I have even left mine in hibernation for a month before and it's bravely survived.) But since it's still a baby, I suggest keeping it out for a couple more weeks with daily or two-daily feedings to boost its flavour and strength.

It will take a while of pampering for it to be as brilliant as its predecessor. The best sourdough starters have been passed down for centuries, from baker to baker's son to baker's grandsons. I'll leave my future generations a jar of sourdough starter ("you mean that's all there is in Grandma's will?!" )

Meanwhile, here's one of my favourite recipes which my little hero has made with me in the past:

and bread of course, but I've not done a post on that.

Sourdough Honey Whole Spelt Loaf

Thank you, and farewell.

This is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

23 comments:

  1. That's Love there! Smuggling anything across Singapore is almost impossible. My dad smuggled a puppy from Russia to Singapore once, but he wouldn't dare to go further. :)

    So new starter... mark of new beginning for generations to come huh? Sounds charming.

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  2. Oh, I'm sorry for your loss!
    I almost held my breath with you while you were going through customs, LOL.
    Like the pineapple juice tip, I'll try and remember that one!

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  3. That is so sad. I hope your new one tunrs out well!

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  4. I am so impressed with your smuggling skills, is that wrong? Good luck with your new starter. I will pass along your tips although I have never seen pineapple juice, so unique! I have dehydrated some starter for an emergency, though I don't travel. My emergency would be something like accidental "help" from a child.

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  5. I don't have much interest in making my own sourdough. I do love your site though and I'm glad I can now comment easily. All best, StephenC

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  6. haha i don't recommend anyone doing what I did. But i'll still do it again. This fall, I'll be bringing back my new starter (: Right now, it's looking not bad.

    Thanks stephen(: I'm glad you can comment now too!

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  7. I have never made sourdough before, and never knew you need a starter for it. It is so fascinating. I've tried smuggling chewing gum back, but that is about it.

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  8. I've taken sourdough starter, kambucha, water kefir, dairy kefir and a buch of vodka tinctures through the Mexico boarder back to the states before. Luckly for me though they didn't stop me to search the car...

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  9. I haven't tried making sourdough yet, but it's been on my baking list for ages! I love your smuggling story. Totally made me grin. I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm happily following you now!

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  10. Hiiii Shu Han

    Ok, I am so gonna do this. Tried once before with grapes (a Nancy Silverton recipe) and failed miserably. That one was a rear pain that required a few feedings a day in the beginning, and it took three weeks all in. Yours looks more straight forward. Wish me luck!

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  11. I've tried making a starter before, using the instructions from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday and it totally failed :( Your method sounds a lot simpler. I can't wait to give it a try!

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  12. kayla: so we've all smuggled sth before;)

    katie: and I thought I was crazy..

    mary: my friends react to my story with a mixture of amusement too, and horror.

    kt: good luck!!

    kyleen: yes, i hope you get a starter going with this! it's really effective, i have a new starter that's going strong, although still young (:

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  13. Hi Shu Han,

    Reading your blog inspired me to try to make my own sourdough bread--up to this point, I've only ever made plain bread. I did some more research and thought this might be of interest to you: http://packham.n4m.org/sourdo.htm

    Packham suggests storing "starter flakes" as backup so you can always restart your batch in case anything unforeseen happens.

    Best of luck and happy cooking!

    A

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    1. I'm really really happy to hear I got you interested in sourdough! I went to see the link, wow sounds good! thanks so much for sharing it! I'm definitely keeping that in mind now! hope you're having fun with your sourdough by now (:

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  14. Hi!

    What happens if i accidentally touched the starter with bare hands on day one? Should I throw it out? Can staphylococcus grow on this medium?

    x

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    1. I'm slightly paranoid, so I would throw it out, especially since you're on day one, there's not much loss here. It would be even worse if you continued nurturing it for days and weeks and then discovered odd coloured mold growing on it.

      Good luck, keep me posted (:

      x

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    2. I knowww. I'm paranoid too but it almost feels like having an abortion :( I look at it every minute like it's a baby. Is this insanity?

      Thanks for your reply though :) I think I'll just grow this one and start another at the same time and see what happens.

      x

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    3. if that's insanity, then we're both insane (: I felt like I had lost my child when they took it away from me at the airport.

      ok good idea to keep this one but start a backup too! you might even want to try this new one with another type of flour, just so you can play around with two types of starters!

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  15. Do you think it's possible to grow this in Singapore ? Will it turn moldy?

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    1. definitely! I started one in Singapore when I was back last year. It'll in fact get bubblier even faster because of the warm weather, so if you're bakign with it, watch out for the shorter proofing times!

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  16. Hi, is there any tips you can share for such hot and humid weather esp in places like Msia and Spore? Can you share your experience, please? I've always wanted to try but the thought of it getting moldy after few days of hard work scares me...

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    1. I've done it, it's perfectly fine. It will get bubblier faster and bread will proof quicker. Certain molds are fine, you might see a layer of grey liquid at the surface... just scrape it away. Also, keep it on a cooler drier shelf in Singapore. Good luck!

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