About three years ago a friend gave me some sourdough starter and the instructions for making bread from the book Tartine Bread.
At first I faithfully followed all the instructions for making bread and maintaining the starter, but it sure got tiresome after a while. And I noticed that the starter is far less fragile than most instructions would have you believe - I don’t know what the longest period of time I’ve let it sit undisturbed in the back of my fridge is, but one time it completely dried out. I’m sure I’ve let it go for 6 weeks at a time or more. Now I just feed it when it occurs to me that it’s probably been a couple of weeks or more since the last time I did.
Anyway, I make delicious bread with the starter but no longer follow any fussy directions or recipes. These days, here’s how I make sourdough bread:
The evening before the day I want to make bread, feed starter with 1/2 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour. Leave out over night.
In the morning, put 1/2 cup of starter back in the fridge for future use. Make a sponge with the remaining starter - I don’t follow a recipe, but generally I’ll use about 2 cups warm water, some milk powder, about a tablespoon of sugar, and then add “interesting” flours/additives until I get a sponge texture. Yesterday I used mostly whole wheat flour, along with a little teff flour, some raw wheat germ, and some brewer’s yeast.
Let the sponge sit for a couple of hours.
Add a scant tablespoon of salt and then white flour until a proper dough is achieved. Then proceed as one generally does for bread making: rise, punch down, put in baking containers, complete second rise, bake.
The one thing I have found is that the starter I have needs a lot of warmth. Room temperature is generally 70-75 degrees year round in my house, and doughs I make with commercial yeast will happily rise fairly quickly if left on the counter. But for the sourdough, I let it rise in the microwave with a big glass of very hot water so that it is in a really warm environment. As long as I do that, it rises at more or less the speed of dough made with commercial yeast.
So to you other sourdough aficionados out there, do you fuss over your starter and your bread-making recipes? Or do you just kinda toss it together the way I now do?