Well maybe not miserably, but pretty bad. First, here’s the good news. We are into week three of my sourdough experiment, and as you can see from the picture to the left, the starters are doing great. They are more than doubling every six to eight hours, and they are full of bubbles. They smell wheaty and sour, but not very yeasty.
Is there such a thing as a sourdough starter bug? I might have caught it. Besides the whole wheat and the white starters that you see, I also have a rye sourdough starter that I’m keeping in the fridge and feeding every few days. It is so cool to see these things, made out of flour and water, grow. They truly are alive.
(Which kind of fills me with foreboding since I’m pretty bad at keeping things alive after the initial excitement wears off. Just ask the flowers that I plant every year. About halfway through the summer, I start forgetting to water them.)
Early last week, I started using some of my discarded starter (from both starters) to make waffles. Pretty good waffles, if I do say so myself. I use the pancake recipe out of Michael Ruhlmans Ratio book and just add some starter. I haven’t been measuring how much, but it is probably about a 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup. Like most people who keep sourdough starters, I’m finding that I hate discarding any starter.
As the weekend approached, I decided to build up the starters so I could try some serious baking. I didn’t realize how quickly you can build up the amount of starter you have, especially when you are feeding it three times a day. By Saturday, I had several cups of each of the whole wheat and white starters. I decided to start off my baking with a recipe for sourdough English muffin bread from my friend Laura.
Laura warned me that the dough for this bread is very, very sticky and wet, but even then, I was a little surprised at just how batter-y the dough was. It was full of gluten (seriously, it looked like stringy snot), but boy was it wet. However it smelled good, just a little bit sour, and I was full of hope. That hope lasted about 5 hours when I realized that my dough was not rising. Not even a centimeter. It was full of bubbles, but there was no rising to be seen. Anywhere. I put it in a warm oven, talked sweet to it and even offered it bribes, but no dice. It seemed perfectly happy to stay where it was. So I went ahead and poured the dough into bread pans, let it sit for another couple of hours to see if it was going to change its mind and rise (it didn’t) and finally baked it.
Yeah, I got cement bread. For those people out there who think I never bake up failures (you know who you are) here’s a picture of the baked bread:
Funny thing, though, the bread tasted pretty good, like a real English muffin. It was just wet and heavy and didn’t want to brown at all. My legs, which haven’t seen shorts all year, are tanner than this bread.
After doing a little internet legwork, I think I just don’t have enough yeast in my starters yet. I’ll keep babying them along for another couple of weeks, seeing if I can build up the yeast population, then give this bread another try. In the meantime, I’ll just add some commercial yeast to my breads to see if that makes up for the lack of wild yeast.
After the bread recipe, I still had a lot of starter leftover, so I decided to try sourdough pretzels from the King Arthur Flour website. Using this recipe, I made a batch of white pretzels and a batch using my whole wheat starter and white bread flour. The pretzel doughs were easy to make. The only problem I had was actually forming the pretzels. The dough wanted to stick to my hands more than anything else. The pretzels were really good, especially just out of the oven. They didn’t hold up so well, getting a little chewy and dry the longer they sat. Fortunately, toasting them in a toaster oven brings them back to life. I didn’t take pictures of the white starter pretzels, but I did of the whole wheat ones.
Because this recipe uses some commercial yeast, I had no problems with wet heavy dough. As you can see, the pretzels didn’t brown much in the oven, so I’ll have to look into why that is happening. In the meantime, I’ll keep feeding my starters and gearing up for another baking spree next weekend. Stay tuned.