Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bread Starter

When in September we began building our still incomplete masonry oven, Trent bought a grain mill. Suffice it to indicate that it has not seen much use since then. However, on Saturday I dragged the thing out to grind some wheat berries to mill in order to make bread starter (aka "poolish" and "biga").

I have little patience for hearth breads that are conventionally leavened with pure cultures of yeast over short periods of time (less than 24 hours). Sure, a bread that is made from good flour and is allowed to rise a couple of times over the course of a day before being baked can be very good. But to produce bread that has real character and deep flavor you need to ferment at least a portion of it for a very long time.

I like to start hearth breads three to four days before baking by fermenting a portion of the flour that will be used in the final loaf (or loaves). The basal reason for this is to produce a vigorous and diverse microflora that will breakdown the starches and proteins in the grain and leave behind a bunch of flavorful by-products. If I'm lucky, the starter ends up with enough live yeast to leaven the bread but I don't count on it, neither do I care if it doesn't work out that way. If the starter looks like it does not enough yeast to raise the bread, I just toss in come SAF yeast and move on.

Here is a slide show of a starter that I began yesterday morning (Sunday 1.18). The only yeast etc that is in there was what was present on the ingredients when they were combined and whatever rained in from the atmosphere of my kitchen.

Some photos of Trent's mill in action on Saturday (1.17)


Rich said...

I commented back on a post where I felt you and Mike were giving sourdough an undeserved hard time. You described your method at the time, but this description is better. To me this is what real sourdough is all about. Once you get a good starter going you can keep it in the fridge. Even if you only use it a couple times a month it should stay alive.

BTW I have a neat trick for a starter. It seems that the lactobacillus creates an acidic environment that the yeasts(which can be found on pretty much any non-bleached four anyway) love. Make a slurry with flour, water, and pineapple juice to seed the acid. Kinda like the way they spike the instant yeast with ascorbic acid. Let that go on the counter for a day or two then start cutting it with a plain water flour mix once a day. Within about a week you should have a nice bubbly starter(that won't taste like pineapples)
It seems most starters take a long time because you are waiting for the lactobacillus to get going...not the yeast. Once you get one going the other should just follow. I can vouch for this one as I have used it several times after having killed many a starter due to my laziness

I digg your work man.


Bob del Grosso said...

Thanks for the tip Rich, I'll try it. Do you know why it works? It's not obvious to me except that maybe because the juice lowers the pH the conditions become more favorable to bacteria that thrive at low pH.

Rich said...

From what I understand the lacobacillus makes the acid, but needs the yeast and their byproducts. Yeast likes the acid, and the simple sugars the laco make. Rather than waiting for one to get a foothold and stimulate the other you can sorta cheat.
I think I stole the idea from

I got very geeked out about it all when I got interested in bread. is full of useful stuff.