May 4, 2012

Wild Yeast

May we introduce? These are our little babies, two quite different individuals; both are exceptional and one of a kind. And both are very much alive! To keep them active and happy at all times, we use them in our baking on a regular basis. The two sourdough cultures go back to Florin's time as a baker. The rye culture he started himself from scratch, while he got the white flour culture from a friend. 

If baking with sourdough is something that interests you, but you don't have a source for the culture, just start your own. It's easy and fun. All you need is water, flour and a little bit of patience.

How it all works

In a sourdough culture there are two kinds of micro-organisms: the flavour-producing bacteria (lactobacilli) and some sort of leavening agent (in this case, wild yeasts). A sourdough culture (or starter), used in bread baking, is a symbiosis of these two types of micro-organisms. 

While the particular species may vary from culture to culture, the basic mechanism is always the same: The lactobacillus is what gives sourdough bread its characteristic flavour. It makes the culture acidic, and is responsible for keeping the culture healthy and "clean", while fighting other compeating micro-organisms and pathogens. The yeast is what makes the dough rise. In the process of fermentation, the carbon dioxide that is produced, will create the air pockets that give bread its characteristic structure.

Once you started a sourdough culture you need to feed it on a regular basis. If you decide to keep your culture at room temperature you will have to feed it quite frequently, approximately every 12–24 hours (depending on the ambient temperature and on how active your culture is). If  that sounds too intense for you, you might consider refrigerating your culture right after feeding it. You can keep it in the fridge for about week. To use it in baking, remember to take it out of the fridge the day before you actually want to use it. Let it come to room temperature, then replenish it once and give it time to ferment. Now it should be ready to go. 

Feeding your culture involves removing parts of it, to get rid of its waste products (so that the environment doesn't become hostile to your pet microbes), then replenishing the remainder with fresh water and the type of flour of your choice. Make sure that all of the flour is hydrated. 

Day 1

To get started, take a clean container and mix about 200 grams of flour (wheat or rye) with 200 grams of water. Close the container and have it sitting at room temperature. 

Day 2

Feed your mixture after 24 hours by discarding half of it and adding again 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water. Make sure that everything is mixed well and all of the flour is hydrated.  

Day 3

At this point there will probably be some signs of fermentation, your water-flour mixture might start to show bubbles and might have risen a little bit. Keep feeding your starter following the same schedule as before. 

Day 4

Today you should see a lot of rising. The starter might have doubled in size, or even more. If that is not the case let it sit for another 12 to 24 hours. Feed it the same way as before. It is ready, when it expands in only a few hours after feeding. It might also take another day or two, to get to that point.  If you decide to make a stiffer starter, add some extra flour.

There you go, you have helped your own sourdough culture come alive!

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