It's time for me to get a new sourdough starter going. With my previous experiment, I've been shocked at how easy it is, given the right conditions. My MIL gave me a starter for Amish Friendship Bread that someone at church had given her.
I eventually stopped giving it sugar, and instead fed it some extra flour and milk, letting it rise slowly in a jar in the kitchen. It made for some great sourdough bread, a process which was much more intuitive then I would have guessed. Since I was making bread every 10 days(still roughly following the instructions for the Friendship Bread), I found refrigerating it unnecessary. Sadly, Locutus of Borg kicked the bucket one day last fall when, in a fit of exhaustion, I fed it chlorinated tap water.
It felt as though a small pet had died. I suppose, given that it was a large colony of bacteria, I'm not too far off. The months have passed, though, and now that the crazies of moving are over I'm beginning to miss my crusty sourdough bread. I recently discovered some rather heartening news, though...apparently while I had though that wild yeast being different from place to place, meaning that here in Idaho I'd never be able to get my bread quite divine as I did in the Bay Area, this is, in fact, a bit of a myth. From a fantastic blog called Wild Yeast:
Sourdough Story #2: Starting a sourdough starter involves “capturing” wild yeast from the air. Yeast grow on grain and arrive with the flour. One gram of flour contains about 13,000 yeast cells. I don’t deny that there are a few yeast in the environment that find their way into the starter, but by and large the yeast that will survive in the starter are the ones that like the menu there, i.e, the ones that have a taste for grain. Sure enough, they’re the ones that were on that grain in the first place. And bacteria, the other vital sourdough culture component, are everywhere; you couldn’t keep them out even if you wanted to. Alton Brown’s sock puppets may be cute, but their sourdough-diving antics are largely mere theatrics (which I find is so often the case with sock puppets). When starting a starter, you don’t need to keep your flour/water mixture uncovered by an open window to lure yeast and bacteria. The microorganisms are already where you want them, and leaving the lid off will only attract insects and other riff-raff.
Getting a starter going is really simple. Take a cup of flour, and a cup of liquid, mix and leave in a warm place. If it's bubbly and smells like yeast, it's ready to use. Take half(leaving about a cup of starter), mix in more flour and liquid. Use what you to took out to make bread, or toss it out if you don't have time. While our friend at Wild Yeast asserts that there's no difference between a new start, and one passed down through generations, I found that my later bread had a slightly more complex flavor, but needed a bit more time to rise. That's it. The fundamentals are that simple.
Since a starter is a living thing, though, here are some tips to avoid having your starter end up like poor Locutus:
Pick a glass or plastic container. Something like a jar has sides the yeast can climb, and is easier to retain a moist environment inside of. Metal containers or utensils cause problems.
Leave the lid ajar. Too much air, especially in dry climates, leads to a nasty crust forming, while a total seal leads to a change in the process taking place. Good for pickles, bad for bread.
If your start separates, leaving a layer of alcoholic-smelling water on top, then it means that your yeast have used up their resources, and are going into stasis (something very similar happens with the "mother" inside a jar of vinegar). Stir it up, add more flour, let it sit for 24 hours or so, and start using it more often.
Your start can go in the fridge if needed, but it needs a feeding and at least 24 hours at room temperature before it can be used.
Last but not least, don't ever feed it chlorinated water!
For more about making sourdough, check out this great site.