Let’s Cook Something: Quarantine Edition Part 1

In this, the inaugural post of Let’s Cook Something, I decided to start with something that is useful in times where a global pandemic is sweeping the land and the zombie apocalypse is just around the corner.

What happens when there isn’t anymore instant yeast available to bake bread? Running out to the corner store isn’t an option anymore since there are zombies banging on the front door demanding to be let in. Oh yeah, and there isn’t a corner store to run to.

The solution: sourdough starter using wild yeasts! Sourdough starter is a versatile leavening agent that can be used to not only make bread, but biscuits, pancakes, waffles and even cheese crackers (thanks Alton Brown).

Making a sourdough starter is so easy even Rob can do it. All it takes is equal amounts of unbleached all purpose flour and filtered water, and some time.

Let’s get started! For part one, we are going to create the initial base for the sourdough starter. It takes 125 grams of unbleached all purpose flour (measuring flour by volume is like trusting Rob to with IT work, it’s a long shot at best) and 125 grams of filtered water. Cheap bottled water works fine, that’s what I use. It’s probably best not to use tap water as the fluoride and chlorine will probably kill the natural yeast before they are able to flourish. I haven’t tried it with tap water, though, so I can’t say for certain it doesn’t work. All of this will be mixed in a large bowl and then covered with a tea towel (not pictured above because I hadn’t grabbed it yet). Once the starter takes hold, it will be moved to a quart sized jar for it’s regular care and feeding. The Guinness has nothing to do with sourdough, it’s just for me because cooking makes me thirsty.

I measured out 125 grams of water and flour. I used a paper plate for the flour as it makes it easier to handle, as can be seen by all the flour I spilled on the counter.

I put them both in the much larger bowl than I actually needed (adding the water first so when I added the flour it wouldn’t throw dust everywhere), and then I start mixing them using just my bare hand!

Yes, I washed before I did this. I plan on eating whatever this makes, too.

Once I’ve got a good mix of the flour and water, I scrape everything down to the bottom, and that’s it! That’s the beginnings of a sourdough starter. Soon, if everything works out, the wild yeasts in the air, the flour, the bowl, and anywhere else wild yeast likes to sow their wild oats (is that what wild yeast do?), will start munching on the flour and converting that to gas (CO2). Not only that, but the yeast will start teaming up (hopefully) with the natural lactobacilli to start lowering the pH with lactic acid which will kill the less than desirable things that might be hanging around. This will also add flavor and that tell-tale sourdough tang!

The last step is to simply cover with a tea towel (herbal print is optional) and then set it on the counter for the next two to three days. Hopefully in that time things (good things) will start to grow. If they do, the dough should rise some and have the bubbles to show the yeast are pooping carbon dioxide.

All that’s left to do is pour myself a Guinness and then immediately drink half of it, because it’s Guinness!

A few notes:

  • DO NOT trust James’ method of using taint yeast for the starter. You don’t want the bread made from anything that comes from that place.
  • A glass bowl is typically recommended, though I don’t think a good plastic mixing bowl will have any problems with the acidity that might be produced. Especially with as young as this starter is. As it matures, a glass container is probably a good idea as the higher acidity over time might leech some plasticky flavor into the starter. I would avoid metal as it could stain from the acidity.
  • Rob, if any of these words are too big for you, or if I need to write this out in big red crayon, let me know.

In a few days I will be back with part two to see how everything worked.