The last time I made sourdough bread it was awful. No, really, it was. We each had part of one roll, then fed the rest of it to the chickens. I haven’t made anything sourdough since then, and it’s been months. I thought about writing an article called ‘Yucky Bread’, but first I wanted to figure out what had gone wrong. One thing that was different was the recipe. It called for mixing up the bread dough, then allowing it to proof overnight, instead of only mixing up the sponge and allowing it to ‘sour’ overnight. I thought maybe this new technique had somehow made the bread way too sour, which was what was wrong with it.
So, off to my cookbooks I went. It took a while and much reading, then I finally found this information. When you don’t use your sourdough starter for a length of time, and have it stored in the refrigerator like I did, it becomes more and more acidic. This will make your dough, when you finally use it, much stronger. Well, when I made this last batch of bread, my starter had been in the frig for quite a while. I was anxious to try my latest sourdough cookbook, until I made that batch of yucky bread. It has full instructions on how to make sure your culture is fully active and not too acidic on page 30. Now, that I have figured out how to de-acidify my starter, I still look forward to trying out some of these recipes.
I followed the directions on how to ‘sweeten’ up the starter, and it worked great. Fast forward to the present. Even though I reconditioned the starter back then, I never used it to make bread. Since then we have had back
surgeries, accidents and other interruptions in our lives, and throughout that, I barely even fed my starter. When I finally grabbed it, and decided to at least feed it, the dark liquid that is usually on top of the floury dough was dried up. I figured the starter was dead. It still had that sourdough kind of smell, although it was a VERY strong smell, it didn’t smell rotten, which is what I expected. I didn’t think it would hurt to try reconditioning it once again. That is what I am doing now.
Believe it or not, even after several months of neglect, the starter is back to perking along. Reconditioning starter is very easy. Set it out at room temperature, and each day feed the starter about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filtered water. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Remember to only use wooden, glass, ceramic or plastic with sourdough. It doesn’t like metal at all. Leave the starter out at room temperature covered with a towel and let it percolate and bubble. Since my container for storing the starter in the frig doesn’t hold much, I fed the starter for several days to build up volume before I started discarding some of it.
After feeding for several days, keep about 1 1/2 cups of the starter, put it in a new bowl, and discard the rest. Feed the starter you kept, letting it bubble up well between feedings. I will go by several times a day and stir it up, almost in a whipping motion, to add a good amount of air to the mix. You may need to feed it again for several days to build up the volume before you discard any more. Repeat this process until the starter returns to it’s original state and smells like normal sourdough starter instead of the real strong, almost stinky, smell of an acidic starter. How many times and over how many days you repeat this process will be determined by the condition of your starter and your own personal preferences.
A warning. While you are reconditioning your starter, be prepared for your kitchen to smell a little off for a while. It took Frank a few days to figure out it wasn’t the trash or something rotten in the kitchen that needed to be discarded, it was the starter. If you are going to have company, you may want to warn them ahead of time what is happening in your kitchen, especially if you are going to feed them. It is not a rancid smell, it is just rather strong and most people would think it stinks.
A side note. While I have my starter out in this working state on the counter, I have learned to keep it away from my kefir. We always have a quart of kefir in the works and that spot on the counter is the ideal place to keep the sourdough as well. But, the last time I reconditioned the sourdough next to the kefir, the kefir almost stopped working. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I remembered reading an admonition somewhere that the yeasts from the two cultured items don’t play well together. Now I keep them across the room from each other, which works out much better.
|My first sourdough bread, 2013|
I have been reconditioning this starter for a week now and still have several days to go before I will be satisfied with the results. When I walk by it, I still smell some of that ‘stinky’ strong smell, which tells me it is not at the state that I would like for it to be. After it’s in good shape again, I hope to make another batch of bread, and this time, I hope it’s edible. Frank appreciates a fresh batch of bread much more than the chickens. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Until next time – Fern