Friday, August 8, 2008

Saving Sourdough Two Ways

Today, I'm going to talk about some ways to save sourdough: obviously, refrigeration, and less obviously, drying and bagging. The latter method is particularly import for sourdough bakers who are frequently on the go.

I'm sure that many of you out there have started sourdough starters, and you know quite well that they can be a pain to keep up. For those of you who don't know, keeping sourdough ready for baking requires two or three flour-and-water "feedings" per day, a lot of fretting, and a considerable amount tentative sniffing and testing. To save time, I keep a big jar of starter fermenting on the counter, and a smaller one chilling in the fridge. It works best to start this system on a day when you plan to bake.

-At least 1/2 cup of sourdough starter (I use Mike Avery's starter method: I've never had a starter fail me using this method)
-Two mason jars or similar containers; one quart-sized, one pint-sized
-A refrigerator

1) In your large jar (at least a quart), build up a starter like Mr. Avery suggests. Keep it alive and thriving for at least four or five days.
2) Now, rather than discarding half the starter, leave it all in there, and double this amount. I'll sort out the baker's percentages when I can find a scale, but it should be approximately 1/2 cup water and 3/4 cup flour. Stir it up like usual.
3) Wait 30 minutes, so the yeast can start working on the new material. Put about 1/2 cup of this stuff into the smaller jar, lid it, and toss it into the fridge.
4) The starter in the big jar is for everyday baking. Go ahead and use as much of it as you need to for whatever recipes you want to try, even if they require all the starter in the jar. You have a reserve stock now that can be brought to life as necessary.

This next technique is particularly useful if, like me, you need to travel by plane frequently. I don't see airport securities being very lenient with giant jars of boozy-smelling bread goo. As such, I dry portions of my starters and bring them along for rejuvenation.

-At least 1 cup of ripe sourdough starter
-Parchment paper or waxed paper
-An oven (optional)
-A ziploc bag

1) Decide how much sourdough you want to bring with you (shown above is two tablespoons).
2) Pour the desired amount into a very thin layer on the parchment or wax paper. This REALLY needs to be thin, or the starter will take a million years to dry. If you're in a hurry, put the oven on low for a couple minutes and then put the starter on a cookie sheet in the oven.
3) When all water has evaporated, crush the starter and ziploc it.
4) To rejuvenate a dried starter, simply add warm water and mix vigorously. Allow for an approximate ratio of 3/4 cup water for every 1 cup of dried sourdough.

Email me if you have problems! I have tried this drying technique thrice: twice with success, once with failure. If I find ways to make improvements, I will post them.

Also: I really wanted to avoid apologizing, but I can't help myself. I swear I'll start posting more often. This coming week will by my true vacation. I will be hiding in a remote fishing village, with access to a bad-ass convection oven. Expect great things.