The joys of sourdough starter ownership

November 11 2013 | Guest post by Christi

DSC05447Despite having my partner, our daughter, and a tribe of feline familiars… somehow, our family didn't quite feel complete. From time to time we tried to figure out what was missing… another cat? (We have a one-cat-per-human maximum, so we're currently at quota.) Another lizard? (Our beloved dragon recently passed away after nearly 10 happy sun- and cricket-filled years.) A Kitchen-aid stand mixer? (We decided to adopt one, and though it has made us very happy, that wasn't it either.) As time passed we decided to wait and see what the gods put in our path.

And then, in early December, the gods brought us Audry II — our sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour of Norwich, Vermont.

You see, I find it hard to pass up a deal. For several weeks in a row, King Arthur Flour had a series of amazing pre-holiday shopping offers that I managed to combine with promotional codes and gift cards from previous orders to score crazy good deals on baking goods. And man, do we love baking. We placed four orders in two weeks swearing that each one was the last, until King Arthur of Flour offered up a once-in-a-century deal, and we could order the sourdough crock and starter kit that we'd had our eyes on.

Our sourdough kit arrived two days before Yule and I read the care sheet that came with it several times before taking the starter out of the box and feeding it.

  • One feeding and it started to expand in its large glass bowl.
  • Two feedings and it was bubbling and starting to froth a bit.
  • Three feedings and I swear I heard it burp.

Once the starter was well fed, I pulled a cup out to use in a pair of loaves, fed the remaining starter once more, settled it into its new little crock and tucked it away in the back of the fridge to fester for a week until its next feeding.

We now take it out once a week, remove a cup for baking or passing along, feed it a bit more and give it some downtime in the back of the fridge.

Since Audry II arrived we've had four delicious loaves of sourdough bread and are looking forward to some kick-ass buttermilk pancakes tomorrow morning.

Now our family finally feels complete.

Who else has experience with sourdough starters? What are you making with your dough-y "family member?"

  1. We were recently gifted a gently used bread machine and I discovered how lacking my life really was before I had fresh bread every week. I'm still getting used to using it, but so far, three loaves later, we're very happy. I'm looking at different sourdough starter recipes for it, so this article is very timely!

  2. I've been really wanting to get into sourdough (although now that we're sharing a house with friends, and splitting the fridge-space, it'll have to wait 'til we get a mini-fridge — which we need anyway, because we love leftovers…). Anyone have tips for getting started with sourdough on the cheap? How hard is it to make your own starter? Recommendations for what to store it in? Pointers to instructions?

    • Starting your own sourdough starter shouldn't be expensive. There are as many recipes out there as there are breads, so choose one you feel comfortable feeding and one based on a flour you like to eat in bread. For me, the best container is usually a glass bowl with a plastic lid. Never metal.
      This is the most basic one I've found. It helps to get a chunk of an established starter, but that's really just a way to kickstart the process. And an ancestral connection to the motherbread, if that's your thing.

    • I'm an avid sourdough baker, and while there are about a million different ways to start and maintain a starter, all you really need is whole wheat flour and water. I highly recommend sourdoughhome.com if you are really interested in becoming a skilled sourdough baker – it has a ton of useful information, tips, and techniques, and Mike (the guy who runs it) is friendly and helpful.

  3. Does anyone know what the difference is between a sourdough starter and one of those 'Amish Friendship Bread' starters? Has anyone outside of Pennsylvania even heard of the latter?

    • "Amish Friendship Bread" starter always contains yeast and sugar and is fed a bit differently. The biggest difference is the final recipe; Amish Friendship Bread is a quick bread, meaning you mix in other leaveners and use only a bit of the starter.
      For the record, Wikipedia has answers about its legitimacy (spoiler alert: there's no reason to even suspect this has any actual connection to the Amish.) You break up the starter–one cup in the recipe, one cup to keep growing and three cups to share with friends. It's a chain letter in cooking form, and to get on my soapbox a bit here… if anyone has a sourdough starter and wishes to share it with friends, ask first. The emotional burden of being asked to feed and care for a dough is… too much. -Pours out a 40 for starters who couldn't be here today and the strained friendships they caused-

      • "-Pours out a 40 for starters who couldn't be here today and the strained friendships they caused-"

        DOOTSIE sometimes I think you're intentionally crafting the best comments ever so we'll feature them once a week. But then I think that you're probably just naturally this great.

        Empire Oprah, you're faaaaaaaaaaaaabulous!

        • Oprah would never let her starter starve.
          Dootsie may have let a starter starve and may have cried over its loss while drunkenly cursing at a photo of the friend who provided it to her.
          And Dootsie may have learned later than starters can sometimes be revived, so she may have gone through the entire grieving process again, only more loudly and with more wine.

          Dootsie is no Oprah. Dootsie is a bread-killing monster with no respect for the bonds of friendship.

          • I've killed off many starters, Doots. In fact that's my usual MO :

            1) Buy expensive starter online ( on theory that creating my own starter will result in horrible mutant yeast that devours the world ).
            2) Feed and grow starter according to directions.
            3) Make exactly 2 loaves of bread from starter.
            4) Banish starter to refrigerator where it dies a slow lingering death.
            5) Repeat

      • Dootsie has all the answers all the time. 🙂 I was skeptical, but I figured since there was an Amish community so close by that it could have reasonably originated with them. You know, since I was only about an hour's drive from Intercourse, PA. (Just had to throw that in there.)

        Also I shuddered every time someone says "feed the starter." I imagine it whispering to you from the fridge every time you open the door "Feeeeeeeeeeeed meeeeeeeeee."

  4. My mother and her friends used to pass around a mason jar with a starter for Amish Friendship Bread and for years I was convinced that unless you had a starter from someone else, you could not make sourdough bread or anything of that ilk. Like there a cabal of people created starters with their Amish magic and only passed it on to those who were worthy…
    Even now, though I know it's not true (and that Amish bread isn't really Amish), seeing that you can buy a starter kit still fills me with a, "REALLY? No way…." feeling….

  5. How long does it take to make this bread? Are there variations on the recipe so you don't get burnt out on the bread?

    I too have killed many a friendship bread starter, but have recently managed to not kill some plants as well as two dogs and a cat (tho those creatures annoy me when they need fed!). So I think I want to try bread again!

  6. in pastry school we had to create our own starter and "feed it" for the class duration and make bread at the end. i think we used apple peels to start the starter…? you can get naturally occuring yeast from a ton of sources though- apple peels, grapes, even just the air (ie nothing)

  7. My husband started making bread about 8 months ago. We love it! The book that got him started was "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day"
    You pre-make the dough then only take out what you need. Depending on the type of dough it can last 7-10 days in the fridge. You can make it on a pizza stone or in a bread pan (depending again on the type of dough). We've made pizza, cheesy bread, loaves for sandwiches, etc. Its such a great book.

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