Sunday, October 24, 2021

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COVID Cooking: Sourdough starter

Inspired by Grace Terry’s reflection on spiritual transformation, this week we look at the most basic of food transformations: making bread.

The process of making bread is one of simple yet profound transformation. It all begins with yeast.

Sourdough bread is made with natural yeasts, captured from the air. Some sourdough starters go back centuries, even millennia, and have been shared down through the generations from baker to baker.

In fact, in 2019 baker and amateur Egyptologist Seamus Blackley made a loaf of sourdough using 4,500-year-old yeast. He fermented the yeast, which was extracted from an ancient cooking vessel, for a week to make a starter like the one described below; then made his loaf with barley, einkorn and kamut.

Blackley has also collected wild yeast from a medieval forest to replicate authentic spelt sourdough bread. (Follow his bread adventures on Twitter @SeamusBlackley.)

 This cook uses a bread machine to mix and knead the dough and then shapes and rises it by hand and bakes in the regular oven.

This cook’s pandemic efforts, jar of starter in the background.

But before all that, you need some starter! At the beginning of pandemic, this cook was offered some starter by a friend and my family embarked on an enjoyable adventure in daily baking.

If you lack such a friend, the process of creating a sourdough starter from scratch is easy!

Sourdough starter

You will need a medium size bowl, mixing spoon, clean dish towel, medium wide-mouth jar.


• 1 cup all-purpose flour (unbleached, unbromated flour is best, like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill)

• 1 cup water

Mix together equal parts flour and water in a medium bowl. Cover with a clean cloth and let sit undisturbed at room temperature. Some sources will recommend leaving the bowl uncovered and outdoors out of direct sunlight and in temperate weather.

Check the mixture after a few hours. During this time the natural yeasts and bacteria from the air will have set to work fermenting the mixture. When it’s doubled in size and full of bubbles, place in a wide-mouthed jar. Stir in more flour and water until the mixture is smooth and soupy.

Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. A great starter will smell like fresh apple cider or good smelly cheese, slightly tangy and acidic.

Store the starter in the fridge or at room temperature. Feed daily with a teaspoon of flour and water. Pour off any alcohol liquids which may pool on top of the mixture.

The night before baking, transfer most of the starter to a large bowl, mix in about one cup each of flour and water. Cover and set aside until the morning.

Great recipes for pandemic sourdough baking:



Ancient yeast:

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