Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflections, sourdough update

So, I know I've explained this before, but sourdough bread is bread made from wild yeasts. The yeasts are cultivated in a mixture of flour and water called a starter. A starter is like a pet. I feed my starter every night before I go to bed. ...or at least, I'm supposed to. These days, the starter sleeps in the fridge. In the cold temperatures the starter basically goes dormant. I keep it in the fridge because I'm just so busy lately that I don't have time to make bread, and if I don't have time to make the bread then feeding the starter flour every night is just a good way to waste flour.

A few months ago I made a loaf of sourdough bread, and that was the first time since we moved into the house that I had done so. My sourdough starter is a couple years old now, a young age for a starter. Starters can live forever, as I understand it, as long as they are fed.

My starter really has taken a beating since we moved into the new house, and even before the move, my starter had suffered long periods of time in the fridge without food.

You can imagine that basically all fun activities stopped for the summer while we were moving. The Other Adult was gone with the Kid for the weeks leading up to the move, and in the first few weeks after the move. During that time, I packed a lot, disassembled furniture, watched back to back episodes of the Office and Star Trek (yup, I'm one of those), made phone calls to the Realtor and signed papers and ate Luna bars and slept 4 hours a night and stressed about termites and roof problems and renting a moving truck and driving a moving truck, and everything fun I ever did or ever wanted to do was pushed aside. Beer brewing, sourdough, painting, reading. I didn't do any of it over the summer. Ah, well actually, I did read. I re-read the Pillars of the Earth over the summer. Re-reading is not even like real reading though, it's like...pretend reading. Cause you're not increasing the list of books you've read or learning anything new. You're just massaging your brain, like dreaming.

And during that time, the moving time, my starter lived in the fridge. I have serious affection for my starter because it was there with me through this. Chugging along. Like me. I brought it to the new house in a cooler with refrigerated condiments and the depleted contents of our freezer (and that was basically all the food I had left, after spending all my money on gas and trips to the new house and movers and packing tape). My refrigerated pet. My starter. It was one of the first things in our fridge in our new house.

So then we got busy pulling out carpet and tearing out the bathroom floors and painting and replacing light fixtures and fixing the brick wall in the back yard and meeting with contractors and unpacking. And every weekend was some new DIY project and my hands were always filthy and there wasn't time and the starter sat in the fridge, where it sits today. If my starter is lucky, I remember to feed it weekly, which is really how often you're supposed to feed it if it's in the fridge.

A few months ago, as I mentioned, I tried to make my first loaves of sourdough in our new house. Not surprisingly, the starter is not as vigorous as it once was, and I didn't get as much rise out of the loaves as I wanted. What's more frustrating is that the oven, that 1940's O'Keefe and Merritt stove that came with the house, does something very different than our old characterless oven in the apartment we moved out of. The bread I made in our new oven was slightly overdone on bottom and the crust was rock hard. My old methods either don't work in our new oven, or somehow during my forced vacation from bread baking, I lost my touch.

So this weekend I hope to make another batch of sourdough. First I need to prep the starter. I'll take it out of the fridge tonight (wednesday night) and feed it a good healthy dinner. Stir vigorously to aerate the mixture. Then I'll feed it again tomorrow (Thursday), and then feed it early the next day (Friday) so that the following night (Friday night), I can make my sponge. Then I bake on Saturday.

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