All Roads Lead Back to the Starter
A baker’s true skill lies in their ability to understand and manage fermentation. For everyone, from home baker to professional, this begins with a starter. In the pursuit of creating naturally leavened bread with complex flavor and a moist open crumb, the importance of starter health is impossible to overstate. All roads lead back to the starter.
So what is it? A starter is a mixture of flour and water. That’s it. Yeast and bacteria will naturally flock to this environment you have created for them and, after some time, develop a symbiotic relationship. A miniature world is created.
It is however, a closed system, sugars will be eaten and acid will be created as a byproduct. Eventually, the miniature world will run out of resources. This is why bakers must “feed” their starter.
Starter Creation and General Maintenance (Feeding)
Common knowledge states that it will be about 2 weeks before your mixture of flour and water can leaven dough.
Begin by mixing equal parts flour and water, say a 1/2 cup of flour with a 1/2 cup of water. Leave this mixture to sit and ferment at room temperature for 3-4 days. At this point, your starter will be showing signs of life. It is time to feed.
In the most basic sense, when feeding your starter most of it should be discarded. Why? As previously mentioned, sugars are consumed and acid is created leaving the environment inhospitable.
From this mixture, take merely a tablespoon and throw away the rest. This is referred to as your “seed”. This “seed” will now be mixed with, once again, a 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of water. The yeast and bacteria that have began to manifest now have new sugars to consume and a mostly acid free environment to live in and reproduce.
Continue this routine, taking a mere tablespoon from your starter and providing it with equal parts flour and water everyday for the next week or so. Upon reaching the 2 week mark, your starter should be ready to do what its made for- creating delicious bread.
At this point, it is important to note that these microbiomes we create, they are incredibly resilient. Forget to feed your starter these past few days? It will survive. Going on vacation for 2 weeks? Throw it in the fridge. Yes, it will survive.
At the end of the day, it is up to you. You can be incredibly involved in the health and maintenance of your starter, feeding it twice a day seeking the most open of crumbs. It can also be a bit of an afterthought. Feed it once a week, and keep it in the fridge, It will still leaven dough.
A Baked Joint Bread Team