An interesting way to create a starter involves using raisins to create a yeast water. I call the resulting starter the Mother, because it will give birth to the many different recipes in this book. An obscure practice in the United States, this method has been widely used in Europe, and I find it foolproof. It is how I chose to create my Mother, which has grown into a voraciously active presence in my kitchen. The following measurements require a kitchen scale. This will ensure you are able to feed your starter with ample amounts of flour and water as well as maintain a true 100% hydration.
Two 1-liter lidded glass or ceramic containers
685 g filtered water
150 g granulated sugar
65 g raw honey
225 g raisins
175 g bread flour
In a saucepan, combine 570 g of the water and the sugar over low heat just until dissolved. Once cool, stir in the honey and add to one of your containers along with the raisins. I prefer to use glass containers with a latch top. Seal and place in a warmish location of your kitchen. On top of the refrigerator is often a nice spot—just don’t forget about it!
Give the mixture a thorough shake several times a day for the next 5 to 7 days. After day 3 or 4 (depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen) you’ll begin to smell the presence of alcohol. The lid will pop when you open it, releasing carbon dioxide as a by-product of fermentation. This means fermentation is moving along as it should and you are on your way to a happy Mother! Leave the jar loosely covered with a lid at this point, allowing the mixture to “breathe.”
After day 6 or 7, you should observe bubbles actively rising to the surface. This is an indication that your yeast water is ready. Add 60 g of this yeast water to 60 g of the bread flour in the other container (this is the jar that will house your starter). Stir until thoroughly mixed, and leave covered with a loose lid at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight. After this initial mixing, small bubbles will indicate signs of life. Add the remaining 115g water and the remaining 115 g flour, position the lid, and allow it to ferment at room temperature for another 8 hours. The excess yeast water can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge to use as a substitute for sweet cooking wine in stir-fries or given to a friend to use! It will keep for up to 6 months.
You now have your own Mother, kept alive by feedings of equal parts flour and water by weight. After several more feedings, when you drop a tablespoon of starter in a glass of water and it floats instead of sinks, your starter will be ready to leaven bread. Remember, once fed, your starter will double in size. Keep it in a container that will accommodate this expansion.
I like to keep about 150 g to 300 g of starter on hand at all times. If you bake less, you may only need half of that. Always refresh (feed) your remaining starter after using it in a recipe with an equal weight each of water and flour. If used often, it is possible to keep it on the kitchen counter and feed it 1 to 2 times per day. If you are only an occasional or weekend baker, the refrigerator is a better home for your starter. If kept chilled, your starter will remain in a semi-dormant state but will still need to be fed a minimum of once a week to keep it active.
By Sarah Owens
From Sourdough by Sarah Owens, © 2015 by Sarah Owens. Photographs © 2015 by Ngoc Minh Ngo. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com
Editor’s note: The following is adapted from Ms. Owens’ Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More, which won a prestigious national James Beard Foundation Book Award—the food industry’s highest honor—in May. A Tennessee native, Ms. Owens received a BA with an emphasis in ceramics from Bellarmine in 2001 and began her career as a professional ceramic artist. She also spent six years as curator of the Cranford Rose Garden and the Rose Arc Pool at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A self-taught baker, she became interested in sourdough because of her own digestive intolerances and fond memories of baking with women in her family. By using extended-fermentation and soaking methods to activate enzymes in seeds, whole grains and flours, she found she could enjoy her own breads. In 2013, she founded BK17 Bakery (BK17bakery.com), a subscription artisan microbakery in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her second book, Toast & Jam: Modern Pairings for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet and Savory Spreads, will be released in Spring 2017. “As an art student at Bellarmine, I learned how important it is to first learn the craft before giving the medium my own artistic expression,” she says. “This has proven an invaluable reference for bread baking, especially considering I love the decorative aspect of baking as much as the edible result!”