Though I’ve been baking my own bread for a while now, I came to sourdough a little later than I should have. I say this because I like sourdough bread but never realised how easy it was to make one’s own starter. All it takes is some flour and water, and a lot of resting time in between regular daily feeds. So why make a sourdough starter with green grapes?
There’s not much of a story behind this other than the idea of using green grapes to make a sourdough starter caught my fancy. I came across this on the net while reading about sourdough bread and wanted to try it out.
A sourdough starter is nothing but a mixture of flour and water that sits at room temperature to “capture” wild yeast and make it multiply. Wild yeast is all around us (probably in the flour too) and sourdough method was what was used to make bread before the advent of commercial yeast production. Wild yeast is attracted to an environment where they can multiply. So they feed on the sugars in the flour producing alcohol and carbon dioxide which is what bubbles up in the starter. The starter also has naturally occurring lactobacilli in the flour and they produce lactic acid which is what gives sourdough its sourness or tang.
The rationale behind using grapes in a sourdough starter is twofold. One is that the surface of the grape is rich in wild yeast. The other, the sugar in the grapes helps produce a more vigorous fermentation in the starter.
So ideally, you want to use fresh and unwashed grapes in sourdough. That means organically grown grapes from a trusted source would be the best way to go. I just used store bought grapes after washing them and it worked. I don’t know how much the grapes contributed to the success of my starter but this starter has been the most active of my starters so far. You can still go ahead and make this starter exactly like this without the green grapes.
I read somewhere that “A starter breathes life into bread. If the loaf is the body, the starter is the soul.” If you’re a sourdough baker you know this is absolutely true!
If you like bread, love to bake it and have never experimented with sourdough then this is the time to get going. It’s the easiest thing to do. One starts by mixing together a given ratio of flour and water and letting it sit at room temperature for about 12 hours until it is bubbly. I don’t weigh my ingredients very often and find that equal volume/ cup measurements also work pretty well.
Then it’s a cycle of feeding your starter with equal amounts of fresh flour and water and mixing it in every 12 hours or so. This keeps the wild yeast happy and busy and your starter should be ready to use after about 3 days of regular feeding so long as it is active. If you’re not ready to use your starter right away, feed it and then refrigerate it. Then feed it once weekly and put it back in the fridge.
That’s about all there is to it. It’s also very difficult to kill a starter in the normal course of things so as long as it is fed, your starter will make little or no other demands.
Some Thoughts on Sourdough Starters –
- Flours like whole wheat, rye, spelt, barley, or even rice should work but if you’re making Sourdough Starter for the first time, it might be a good idea to start out with all-purpose flour.
- It is believed that chlorinated water will interfere with the fermentation of a Sourdough Starter. So you can use mineral or any other non-chlorinated water. My tap water comes chlorinated and isn’t safe to use as is anyways, so I use filtered water.
- A largish wide mouthed glass jar with a loose fitting lid is best for a Sourdough Starter. If it has a metal lid, you can punch a couple of holes in the lid. The wide mouth allows for easy mixing and the loose lid allows for air circulation and escape for the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. I use a one litre glass jar for my Starter.
- There are different ratios of flour to water that can be used to make a Sourdough Starter. Most people recommend a 1:1 ratio (100% hydration), that is equal amounts of flour and water mixed together.
- Yeast grows best at a temperature range of about 22C to 27C (72F to 80F). So if your weather is cooler than that you need to find a warm place for the Starter to grow, and in a warmer climate you need a cooler place. How long it takes to have an active Starter also depends partially on this.
- The key ito knowing if your Starter is close to being active enough for use is to watch it. If there is a reasonable amount of bubbling up and consistent rise in the jar, usually within about one to four hours from feeding, then it’s good to go.
- If you’re not into large batch baking or baking very frequently, it might be a good idea to make a smaller batch of the starter. Most bakers advice discarding half the starter before regular feeding but I’m not happy about throwing away food. This discard can be used to make waffles, pancakes, scones, muffins, crackers, etc but I don’t always have the need to make something with the discard. So I make smaller quantities of the starter.
- At some point, if you do not use up or discard some part of your Sourdough Starter the jar is going to fill up. So with a little planning ahead, you can use up this discard in recipes other than bread.
- Ideally, the consistency of the Sourdough Starter should be on the firm side and not soupy or thin. If your Starter shows signs of this, you can adjust by mixing in a little more flour to achieve a firmer consistency.
- The longer your Sourdough Starter ferments, the stronger the flavour of your bread. However too much fermentation can make for very sour sharp bread, so it’s a good idea to refrigerate the starter after about 3 to 4 days especially if it very warm where you live.
- Loosely cover the jar in which the starter is in and refrigerate it. Remember to feed it just before you do. When you’re ready to use the Sourdough Starter, keep it out until it is at room temperature. Feed the Starter and allow it to ferment until it is bubbly (about 10 to 12 hours). Now you can use it to bake bread.
- Sometimes, during the process of fermentation, you might find a brownish coloured liquid collecting in the jar. This is called “hooch” and is the alcohol which is produced during fermentation. It is generally an indicator that the Starter hasn’t been fed enough or frequently enough. You can just pour the hooch off and continue with regular feeding cycles.
- Please note that I live in the tropics where it is very warm. Fermentation takes much less time here. The temperature where you live will determine how long your Sourdough Starter takes to ferment and become bubbly.