Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


A Crush on Sourdough

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Change is something we may think we want but often find difficult to adjust to. When I first heard about the 100-mile-diet, it sounded like a radical idea even for someone like me who has been a staunch supporter of the farmers market for many years. I’ve had more than one lively conversation around the kitchen table about the difficulties of living without various foods and ways to replace those shipped here with ones we can grow or make ourselves. With relative ease, eating local food has expanded into a lifestyle that encompasses much more than what I put on my plate. Sure, I’ve relaxed my standards on a few things but I still love the challenge of using what’s available in our beautiful corner of the country. Eating local has become a way of looking and considering how I eat as much as what I eat.

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As I was wondering how to make a truly local bread, I stumbled upon the idea of making my own sourdough starter. Flavor is usually at the top of my “gotta have” list. Naturally-made sourdough has that hands down without even trying and there’s no need for any packaged yeast or dehydrated starter. The reason I’m bringing this up now is because you can make your own sourdough starter right in your kitchen with flour, water and grapes. Organic grapes have all the natural yeast on their skins you need and they’re in season right now. Their appearance will be brief so I’m letting you know even before my starter is officially ready to use so you won’t miss out. By the time I found this recipe last year, local grapes were long gone so I’ve been patiently waiting. In the meantime, I received a jar of starter from a friend who had gotten it from another friend. That’s the way it works so make your own and share it with your friends.

The recipe I found is in Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook. (If you haven’t heard of Leslie or her incredible bakery, be sure to check it out. Sally & I are particularly fond of frequenting their SODO location for our meetings.) It’s easier than you would imagine to tend your starter and once you’ve got it going, it isn’t high-maintenance. When you consider what a flavorful and nutritional powerhouse it is, it’s worth it. Don’t get me started on how beneficial fermented foods are for you. Let me just say, they’re one of the very best things you can add to the microbial mix in your tummy for better digestion and absorption of nutrients. They’re jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and amino acids. And to top it all off, the fermentation preserves the food, giving your bread a longer shelf life.

The starter I inherited is made with unbleached white flour. I’ve used it with all sorts of flours with excellent results. I decided to try a starter using rye, whole wheat and unbleached flour in part because it reportedly has a more sour taste. I’ll have to get back to you and let you know which one I like better once I’m able to compare the two. Leslie Mackie has several different starter variations in her book. The one I’m using is called the “Campagne Natural Starter.” Here’s all you need to get started:

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Natural Sourdough Starter Recipe

6 ounces organic grapes

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup fine rye flour

1/4 cup coarse whole-wheat flour

11/2 cups filtered water, at room temperature


Feeding Formula Recipe

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup fine rye flour

1/4 cup coarse whole-wheat flour

1 cup filtered water, at room temperature

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Place the grapes in the center of a square piece of cheesecloth. Bring the sides together and tie with string, leaving a long tail to lift it out later. Whisk together the flour and water until lumps are fully dissolved and the consistency is like pancake batter. Using your hands, crush the grapes and then lower the whole sachet into the starter. Set the bowl, uncovered in a warm room, about 70 degrees for 2 days.

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Bubbles start appearing on the starter’s surface by Day 3. Remove and discard the sachet of grapes. Mix up a fresh batch of feeding formula (recipe above) combining the flour and water by whisking together in a separate bowl. Stir this into your initial batch and let it sit in a warm room for another day.

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Stir the starter with a whisk and discard half the mixture (I put the discarded half into my compost). Stir in a fresh batch of feeding formula and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Then place, uncovered, in the refrigerator for another day. Each day until the tenth day, repeat this process, ideally at the same time each day — take it from the fridge, discard half, stir in fresh feeding formula, let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours and place back in the fridge uncovered. After 10 days, the starter will be ready to bake with and will only need to be fed weekly or so depending on how often you bake bread.

After reading Leslie’s section on “maintaining a natural sour starter,” I realized that I haven’t been following this regimen and so far a more relaxed method has worked for me. The difference may be that I’m baking no-knead bread so the starter gets a chance to be revived overnight mixed with the flour and water. I usually pull out my starter (it’s in a 12 oz jar) hours before I want to use it, dump in a couple of tablespoons of flour, mix in some water, stir it all up well and let it sit until I’m ready to use it. I use a little less than half the jar for a large loaf of bread. Often I’ll add another tablespoon of flour and some water afterwards and let it sit out again before storing it in the fridge until next time. Luckily, I bake about once a week so my starter gets refreshed then. I’ve never given much thought to times when I’ve left it for more than a week but probably the most I’ve left it is two weeks.

The safer method is to feed the starter at least once a week even if you don’t plan to bake bread. Remove it from the fridge and stir. Discard half, stir in a batch of feeding formula and let it sit for two hours before returning it to the fridge. I suggest you refer to the book for more specific instructions. Somehow just reading about it makes it seem way too complicated and time-consuming. I’ve had great success with a much more laid-back approach. After all, who needs one more thing to take care of?

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Anxious to try my starter, I did and after 5 days it worked well. I may continue for the full ten days just to complete the experiment but feel fairly confident in saying that 5 or 6 days is probably plenty of time to get a wonderful starter going. It can only improve with age as hopefully we all will.

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8 Responses »

  1. I am going to try a gluten free version of this over the weekend. I will let you know how it turns out.

  2. Krista, I have some Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free flour if you want to try that. I think it’s a great idea. Can’t wait to see if it works.

  3. I have always been so scared of making breads that call for starters, I think I will try to follow this to the “t” and see if I get the results you have, how do you get such a crispy and beautiful crust?

  4. Ruth, I used the “no-knead” method to bake the bread. You always get a wonderful crust that way. I’ve linked the instructions in the post. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.

  5. Poppy,
    Congratulations on another excellent posting, and on your recognition by Foodista for that excellence. Blog of the day (10/6).

  6. Poppy, this bread looks so delicious! As soon as I have a little time, I’m going to try it–there is nothing better than fresh-baked bread!

  7. Great post. I’ll be baking vicariously through you for a while … but for later reference, do you know if organic plum skins can stand in for grapes? The bloom on the plums we got was amazing.

  8. Audrey, I think plum skins could work. When you start baking again, let me know and I’d be happy to share some starter with you.