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Sourdough bread starters are quite easy to make. They consist of two groups of micro-organisms:
The bacteria create lactic acid and substances that provide flavour, while the yeasts create bubbles of carbon dioxide to make the bread rise. It is not unusual for the consortium of microflora in a sourdough starter to change depending upon the environment in which it is used. So a San Francisco starter used on the Gold Coast of Australia may not get the same results as in its native town, San Francisco
To make a sourdough starter you need only four things:
A Container: Glass, Ceramic or Wooden.
A 250 ml jar with a plastic lid is suitable.
Use either wholemeal spelt, rye or wheat flour. Make sure there are no raising agents in the flour. Rye is considered by some to be superior in making a sourdough starter.
A Source of Bacteria And Yeasts
You can use any or all of the following sources of microorganisms.
Kefir whey is made by straining milk that has been cultured with real Kefir grains through unbleached linen. If you don't have Kefir you may try yogurt, though yogurt does not contain the variety of microflora that real Kefir grains do.
Rejuvelac is 2-5 day fermented wheat grains. To make Rejuvelac add 1/2 cup of wheat grains purchased from a health food store to 2 litres of water in a mason jar. Cover the jar with muslin cloth to keep insects out. After 12 hours pour off the water and rinse. Lay the jar on its side and sprout the grains until the rootlets are between 1-2 mm long. The grains will need rinsing every 6-12 hours, depending on the weather. In hot weather they may dry out and in humid weather they may go off, but your sense of smell should alert you to this.
Once the rootlets are 1-2 mm long fill the jar with water and leave to ferment for 1-4 days, depending upon the temperature. The Rejuvelac is ready when it has become milky with a light froth. It should taste slightly acidic with a not unpleasant yeasty flavour. Hippocrates Health Centre on the Gold Coast of Australia serve Rejuvelac as a tonic.
Grape Skins. Take 200 gm of good quality grapes. Rinse off debris and squeeze out the juice through a hand juicer. Mix the skins and pips with flour and water to make a starter. Alternatively just crush a handful of grapes with a potato masher and mix the juice and pulp with flour and water.
Raisins. Raisins, currants and sultanas will all provide a source of micro-organisms. Just add a tablespoon of raisins to half a cup of flour and enough water to make a paste. Both raisins and grape skins will produce a distinctive and highly active starter.
Wild organisms. Mix 1 cup of flour with enough water in a glass bowl to form a thin paste. Cover the bowl with a piece of thin muslin and leave outside to trap organisms from the air. Feed it 1/2 cup of flour everyday for 7 days. By the second or third day it should form bubbles and give off a distinctive alcoholic yeasty smell.
Probiotics. AGM Foods in Australia make a B.E. Grainfields liquid which is suitable for making a sourdough starter. But be aware that it contains the same fast acting yeast that is used to make commercial bread and brew beer, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but unlike this yeast when used by itself to make commercial bread the Grainfields liquid will also provide 13 lactobacilli bacteria plus another yeast. (Note that a starter made with Grainfields should be your last preference.) You could also you use an EM culture to make a sourdough bread starter.
Use the best quality water you can find, otherwise tap water will probably work okay.
Add 1/4 cup of flour to a jar and mix in a source of microorganisms from one or more of the following: 1 tablespoon kefir whey, 1 tablespoon rejuvelac, 1 tablespoon grape skins or 6 grapes, 10 raisins, or 1 tablespoon probiotic culture. Then add enough water to make a thick paste. Gently screw on a plastic lid or cover the jar with a cloth and leave on a bench top out of direct sunlight at about 28C.
Once a day for a week feed the culture with 2 teaspoons of flour and enough water to maintain a smooth paste. The culture should begin its fermentation process within 1-3 days, recognisable by the yeasty aroma, bubbles and alcoholic smell. If you have used grape skins then after about four days strain out the grape skins and pips through a piece of muslin.
Each culture will have its own characteristics. The grape starter may become quite high in organic alcohol's, while the rejuvelac may provide a source of highly active yeasts. You may wish to experiment by mixing different types of starter cultures together.
The type of flour used will also support a distinctive consortium of microflora. Experiment with rye, spelt, wheat and so on.
Store the culture in the refrigerator when not in use. Two days before use, remove the culture from the fridge, discard most of it, then feed it a with a quarter of cup of flour and enough water to maintain the consistency and incubate at 25 C. After 24 hours it should be ready to use.
1. The starter loses its activity and does not make the bread rise as much as it used to. How to regenerate the starter?
If you do not use the sourdough starter for a few days then the level of alcohol's will rise until they eventually kill of most off the micro-organisms. Without yeasts your bread will not rise.
The solution is to mix 1 teaspoon of starter with 1/2 of cup of flour and enough water to make a smooth paste. Leave it for 4-5 hours or until the culture has doubled in size then refrigerate the starter to slow down the fermentation process. The next time you take the starter from the refrigerator it will be more active. Leave it for 6 - 8 hours to ferment then take one teaspoon and add it to 1/2 cup of flour plus some water, leave to ferment for 4-5 hours then feed it another 1/2 cup of flour. By feeding the starter increasingly larger quantities of flour at regular intervals you increase the activity of the yeasts which should make your bread rise better.
1 teaspoon = 5 ml / 5 gm. 1 tablespoon = 15 ml / 15 gm. 15 tablespoons = 1 cup / 225 ml. 1 cup = 8 fluid oz / 225 ml. 1 US gallon = 3.6 litres. 1 lb = 16 oz / 454 gm. Temperature 20C = 68F. Conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius: C = (F - 32) / 1.8. Conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit: F = C x 1.8 + 32
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