Amazing But True Sourdough

Kay White, a Breadtopia reader, emailed me her account of resuscitating her sourdough starter left for dead. If this doesn’t substantiate my claims that sourdough starter is hard to kill, nothing will. I hope this is an inspiration for all would be sourdough bakers who are reluctant to take on yet another "dependent".

From Kay…

"I have a dial-up connection (fast connect not available here in the country). Went "to town", paid $5.00 to use the fast connection at an internet cafe and watched your videos with a $4.50 coffee drink. The videos really inspired me!

I had a sourdough starter languishing in my refrigerator, untouched, for at least 2 years. The dried Italian starter I ordered from a competitor would never really activate. I worked with it for at least a month and could only get about a quarter inch of foam. In disgust, I stored 2 jars of it in my refrigerator (the coldest area). One jar developed a mold on it so I tossed it out.  The remaining jar just sat there. 5 days ago, after viewing your videos, I pulled the starter out and began feeding it, it still was doing little to nothing. To my astonishment yesterday it rose about an inch!

This morning I fed it again and to my total disbelief and amazement one cup of starter, fed 3/4 c flour and 3/4 c. water, foamed up and overflowed a quart mason jar! I have activated this starter after allowing it to set, untouched, for 2 years. Glory be!

I also took this starter – 1 cup of it in 4 different containers – and performed an experiment using different amounts of water and flour to feed the starter:

"A" used 3/4 c flour and 3/4 c water
"B" used 1 c flour and 3/4 c water
"C" used 2/3 c flour and 3/4 c water
"D" used 2/3 c water and 1 c water (in rubbermaid plastic container)

After 2 hours:
"A" overflowed the glass quart jar
"B" rose to within 1" of the top of glass quart jar
"C" rose to the 3-1/2 cup mark on glass quart jar
"D" rose 1/4" in a rubbermaid container, less than 1/4 of the amount of
starter.

After 3 hours, all are deflating.

I don’t know the significance of my experiment, if any. What I really don’t understand is why the starter in the rubbermaid container is not rising unless it somehow got something on it when run through the dishwasher??? The container has never been used for anything except to store grits (polenta) in."

Thanks, Kay, for your story.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila Steinhoff February 26, 2012 at 11:08 am

Why do the recipies in Ed Woods Classic Sourdoughs call for a cup of starter instead of a quarter cup? I purchased your starter and have been reading different recipies before I make my first loaf and now I am confused. The amount of flour in the recipe is three and a half cups all purpose flour.

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Breadtopia February 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hi Sheila,

It’s just the way Ed formulated his recipes. There are countless sourdough recipes and they range greatly in the quantities and ratios of their ingredients.

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Charlie June 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm

OK, y’all! Need some guidance, or recipe. I’ve been following your comments now for a few months. Congratualtions your assistance has me using Sourdough Starter and even adjustin a couple of recipes. So I am a happy bread maker. Now comes the issue, Youngest Daughter is planning her wedding for September, and has requested that I make bread for the after ceremony eating, “A nice crunchy crust, soft insidse, with a light garlic flavor?” This would be for about 50 people to go with an Italian meal.

Any suggestions, or how much garlic to use? I have already figured rolls would be easier, but have never got the crunchy crust right, so need some guidance there too.

Basically this is a request for HELP!!!

Thanks Charlie

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Chuck February 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Ooooppps! Forgot the starter in the ingredients. sorry.

David,
I am new to NKSD but yesterday baked my first ever “Rye” bread. It turned out great! I’m not sure it is a formal recipe, but this is what I did.

50g Light Rye flour
50g Dark Rye flour
315g White flour
2 tsp salt
388g water
100g starter
caraway seeds

I let the dough ferment for 18 hours. Then I turned it out on a board, french folded it 5 or 6 times adding the caraway seeds along the way. I formed the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to proof. It proofed for about 2 hours before baking.
As you might imagine, this concoction turned out to be a little wet, but for the first try not bad. I didn’t get the oven spring I am looking for, but the crumb, crust and taste is great. I am going to increase the white flour to 340g the next time. I cooked the bread in a cast iron dutch oven.

Good luck with your rye bread.

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Chuck February 14, 2008 at 2:30 pm

David,
I am new to NKSD but yesterday baked my first ever “Rye” bread. It turned out great! I’m not sure it is a formal recipe, but this is what I did.

50g Light Rye flour
50g Dark Rye flour
315g White flour
2 tsp salt
388g water
caraway seeds

I let the dough ferment for 18 hours. Then I turned it out on a board, french folded it 5 or 6 times adding the caraway seeds along the way. I formed the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to proof. It proofed for about 2 hours before baking.
As you might imagine, this concoction turned out to be a little wet, but for the first try not bad. I didn’t get the oven spring I am looking for, but the crumb, crust and taste is great. I am going to increase the white flour to 340g the next time. I cooked the bread in a cast iron dutch oven.

Good luck with your rye bread.

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Chuck February 13, 2008 at 10:52 am

It’s always been very interesting to know about the origins of a particular culture. Somehow that’s a link to the history of the region, its people and its culturel environment. Ed Wood at Sourdo.com does a great job of giving that kind of information. If you do a search, you’ll find that Dr. Wood has also done a great deal of research into bread, grains and the production of breads.

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breadtopia February 13, 2008 at 10:41 am

Ok, cool.

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Bob Packer February 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

Eric,

The two Italian starters Chuck was referring to are commercial starters from Ed Woods. I have both and they both make a medium sour bread. I noticed on both that the sour increases considerably the next day.

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Chuck January 30, 2008 at 7:02 am

The two starters I purchased were from Ischia and Camaldoli (regions in Italy). I managed to destroy the Camaldoli and after my frustration with attempting to get it activated, I tossed it out. The Ischia starter, on the other hand, activated within several days and does a great job of leavening. “Italian” starter refers to the region of the world from which it came. I think it’s always interesting to try giving a short history of the starter and information about it whenever you give someone either a “care” loaf or a starter for their own use.

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breadtopia January 30, 2008 at 6:57 am

What’s an Italian starter?

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Chuck January 30, 2008 at 6:41 am

I bought two of the Italian starters and one absolutely died; the other does a great job of leavening but never achieves more than about a half-inch of foam on top. I recently activated another starter (non-Italian) and it practically jumped out of the jar after only two days. With the first starter, I tried everything I could think of – watching it closely, “washing” it, etc., etc., and nothing seemed to work. It may just be a characteristic of that particular starter but I can’t understand why yours worked as it did. It may just be that you have a magic touch.

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breadtopia October 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Hi Judy,

I’d be interested in hearing how your testing (on yourself) goes with adding more and more grains. I’m sure others would too. I know some people have found that their intolerance for grains turned out to be some other additive or commercial yeast and that they can gradually transition to freshly ground organic grains leavened with wild yeast cultures (sourdough).

I just dropped your starter and thermometer off at the post office. It’s an all white flour starter, but it’s real easy to switch it to a whole wheat or rye starter if you want just by feeding it those grains for a couple days.

It’s okay if your house is on the cool side. Cool is actually a better temperate to proof bread in than warm. Things take longer but you getter better flavor development with the longer and slower rises.

Good luck with everything.

Eric

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Judy Davis October 30, 2007 at 9:48 am

Hi Eric, I started a sourdough one week ago and at the same time found your website. My starter recipe called for one cup of freshly ground rye and one cup of water every day for seven days. I think the worst thing about sourdough is the wait!! During this past week I saw some bubbles, the starter developed a nice sour smell, but never did any rising. Yesterday, I decided to add spelt instead of rye to see if I could get some action going and much to my dismay, found the top of my starter covered with little while powdery-looking “things”. I guess I knew it was mold, but not wanting to believe it (it still smelled okay), I added my freshly ground spelt anyway. Well, it did do a little bit of frothing, still never rose and this morning was covered with those little colonies again. So, I guess I have to throw the whole thing out. Until just a few weeks ago and the last five or so years, I have not been able to tolerate any grains at all. A few months ago I started adding rice, and when I had no reaction, got braver and braver and began adding more and more grains. Trial and error has taught me that commercial bread is a no, and as you can imagine, I am yearning for some good bread. I have a book called Nourishing Traditions that has helped me navigate this healing process I’ve had to go through and that is where I found the sourdough starter recipe. However, since I am so impatient, I have just ordered your sourdough starter so that I can at least anticipate something tried and true while I try my recipe again. My kitchen isn’t very warm right now as we are in-between seasons here, therefore, the furnace runs part of the time, but during the day it warms up enough that it doesn’t come on. Otherwise, I have no idea why my starter didn’t work.
Just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your website…found many in my search and yours is definitely the most helpful!! I’m thinking that without your forum and videos, I might just have given up. I’ll let you know what happens after I receive your starter!

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breadtopia October 12, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Not yet, David. But the site is sorely lacking one, especially considering the popularity of rye. There’s a recipe in Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood for Swedish Limpa Rye that I particularly like. Maybe I’ll do a video on it one of these days. But it’s not likely to be anytime soon.

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David Poole October 12, 2007 at 2:31 pm

I particularly like rye sourdough bread. Is there a recipe within Breadtopia for exactly that? Thanks.

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Brian Avery October 7, 2007 at 1:19 am

I’m looking for ideas for an unusual bread recipe. Each year we get together with friends for what we call “Liverfest”. Surprisingly (at least to me) when we tell new friends about Liverfest they are eager to participate and this year we expect 8 to 10 couples to enjoy various appetizers and liver main courses. I would like to bake a sourdough bread to compliment the liver theme. Querying the web leads to a store of medical information and recipes for dog treats. I thought perhaps a bread incorporating caramelized onions might work. Any other ideas out there?
Other than being eaters of animal insides we are actually fairly normal people. Once a year for liver is enough but everyone viewing this site probably shares our love of our daily great bread. Kneaded bread has its merits but no-knead bread is wonderful, fun to make and easy to experiment with. Try it if you haven’t yet. I’ve gone overboard by making a thermostatically-controlled proofing oven and purchasing a cloche and various pans and tools for baking bread. None of it is absolutely necessary but I suggest buying at least the dough whisk and plastic dough scraper. They work much better than spoons and spatulas.

Enjoy

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