The Care and Feeding of Sourdough

10:31 PM

A long time ago in a far off land before computers, cell phones, and Celiac my friend, Kathy, gave me a loaf of sourdough "friendship" bread, a cup of starter, and typed instructions (typed by a real typewriter) outlining how to feed the starter and make sourdough bread. I still have the original copy even though I'm on my second husband, have moved seven times, and can no longer eat gluten. Looking at that old yellow sheet of paper still brings back the fond memories of my first time actually making the bread. Each time I made it (and fed the starter) I thought about how thankful I was for her sharing it with me.

I was a bit intimidated at first because my usual bread making recipes required adding water and stirring, but I jumped in and was elated (and shocked) when I made the most decadent bread ever. I immediately took a loaf over to my parents' house to show off my newly acquired skills. A few minutes after returning home my phone rang and Daddy said, "I just want you to know that all those years of eating the crap from the Easy Bake Oven has finally paid off." It was evident that this bread was not created by adding water to a mix and cooking it under a light bulb.

For years I made sourdough bread from that original starter, but sadly had to discard it when we moved to another state. Years later life slowed down and I had a huge desire to make that bread again. Unfortunately, no one had any starter to share or knew how to make it. (This was long before I had a computer or the internet and Google hadn't even been invented.) One day I was browsing in our local Waldenbooks (told you it was a long time ago) and came across the book Sister Schubert's Secret Bread Recipes. Inside was a recipe for making a sourdough starter and I noticed the starter's "feeding" instructions were the same as those Kathy had given me years prior. The book came home with me and soon after sourdough was back in my life.

This morning I connected with Kathy on Facebook and we talked about our love of the bread and the frustration of being "starterless". She asked me to share the sourdough starter recipe that I found and I decided to post it here in case others are interested. The instructions sound insanely time consuming and difficult, but it really isn't. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can do it. .

I'm also including the starter's feeding instructions and Kathy's Friendship Sourdough Bread recipe. (The bread recipe is NOT gluten-free, but the starter is. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll attempt a gluten-free version.) It makes three loaves. Eat one. Freeze one. Share one. Above all else...Enjoy!

Sourdough Starter
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons instant potato flakes

Combine yeast and 1/2 cup warm water in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Combines yeast mixture, remaining 1 cup warm water, sugar, and potato flakes in a large non-metal bowl stirring with a non-metal utensil until well-blended. Cover loosely and let stand in a warm place (85 degrees F) free from drafts for 8 - 10 hours. (An oven with the light on is perfect.) Starter is ready to use at this point.

Remove one cup to make bread (or give it to a friend). Refrigerate the remainder (this recipe makes about two cups of starter). Feed your starter about every 3 days (recipe follows). It actually gets better after it gets some age on it.

NOTE: Do not use metal containers or utensils when making or storing the starter. Yeast is picky about this. Also do not store in an airtight container. Yeast requires oxygen to remain alive. I kept mine in a glass jar with wax paper on top and a rubber band around the rim to keep it secure. I poked several holes in the paper with a small metal skewer, but many people use cloth. After you've fed it for a few weeks you may feel like you've adopted a pet and want to name your starter. (I named mine Herman.)

Feed Sourdough Starter Every Three Days
In 2-cup liquid measuring cup mix:
1 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees F)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons instant potato flakes
Add to initial starter and let sit in warm (85 degrees F) oven free from drafts for 8 - 10 hours. When very bubbly take out 1 cup to make bread and return starter to refrigerator. Keep refrigerated and feed again in 3 days. If you do not choose to make bread, give the 1 cup to a friend or discard.

Friendship Sourdough Bread

6 1/2 cups bread flour, sifted (I used White Lilly)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup starter

In mixer bowl mix dry ingredients by hand and make a well in the center. Add oil, water, and starter. Mix on low speed with dough hook attachment (or by hand) until you have a stiff batter and dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
Generously grease a large plastic or glass container with oil. (Do not use a metal container.) Put in dough and then turn over so that the oily side is on top. (I used a large plastic rectangular Tupperware container.) Loosely cover with wax paper and let it sit in a warm spot overnight. (I put mine in the oven with the light on).

Take out dough and punch down. Knead lightly and divide into 3 equal portions. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead each portion until smooth and elastic (5 to 8 minutes). Shape into loaves and place in three 8-1/2 X 4-1/2 loaf pans that have been sprayed with pam. Return to the warm spot (i.e. oven with light on) and let rise until dough rises above the tops of pans (about 5 - 6 hours).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove and brush tops of loaves with butter to soften the crust. (I just peel away half of the paper on a stick of butter and run it over the tops until coated.) Cool loaves on a wire rack. When loaves are cool enough to handle, remove from pans and finish cooling on rack. Wrap loaves tightly with plastic wrap or slice and enjoy. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

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