Having combed over several web pages and consulted my Bread Bible, once back from the Brushwood trip I set out to make an all-rye sourdough starter. This wasn't exactly covered in my sources, but it seemed to me that if I proceeded roughly as for a wheat starter, I would not go far wrong (and if I did, I refer you to my first point: Flour Is Cheap).
For dizzying arrays of further information on sourdough, check out Sourdough Home.
This is what I did, and it worked.
Get you about a pound (500 g) of rye flour, which will be more than enough for all of this (if you get more, that's good, you'll have a head start on what you're actually baking with).
To start off your starter, ensure that the following are all scrupulously clean (sterile is not necessary):
- A 1-cup glass measure.
- A smallish bowl.
- A quart container that will not react with acid and can be made to seal not-quite-airtight--the most common form of this is "a quart canning jar with lid", but stoneware crocks are also good, if they are small and have lids.
- Your hands.
- A wooden spoon.
- A rubber, silicone, or otherwise flexible scraper.
Once you have the hardware assembled, here's the initial software:
- 120 g rye flour
- 120 g water
If you insist on volume, that's:
- 1 c + 3 T rye flour
- 1/2 c water
However, that's an estimate and a guess: coarse flour will not measure the same as fine, and measuring flour by volume can vary a bit with the weather.
Mix the flour and water: your result will be a fairly thick batter. Pour this into the quart container and cover well, without quite sealing airtight. If you can see through your container, mark where the top of the starter is in relation to the sides of the jar--I like a rubber band for this.
Put the jar in a warm--not hot--place for twenty-four hours, out of direct sunlight. "Warm" here is about 75-80°F (25°C). Personally, I've found that "inside my electric oven with the light on" is just right. If yours is gas, the pilot light alone may suffice.
You may not notice any change, either by sight or smell, just yet. Be just and fear not...
For subsequent feedings, I like two bowls, the measuring cup, and the starter's home container, and a whisk in addition to the mixing spoon. To give your starter its first feeding, take the jar out of the warm place, remove and discard half its contents (120 g by weight), and add:
- 60 g rye flour
- 60 g water
- 1/2 c + 1 1/2 T rye flour
- 1/4 c water
I know, that sounds horridly wasteful, doesn't it? But, at least at this stage, there's nothing to be done for it.
Add the water to the starter and whisk to incorporate. Then, change to the spoon, dump all the flour in at once, and mix.
Take a moment to clean out the sourdough's home with hot water--but no soap, as any left in the container may kill your colony.
Then scrape the replenished starter back into the container, replace the good-but-not-airtight cover, and put back in the warm place for another day.
You may start to see bubbles, and smell smells. Or not, but if you've kept the starter in a warm place, the flour not too old, and the water not too chlorinated, you probably will. Discard half the starter and replenish with flour and water as above.
If the starter is active--that is, if there are bubbles, if the level has risen, and you can smell something tangy, sour, but not obviously evil--congratulations! IT'S ALIVE! Step up your feeding schedule to twice a day (not less than twelve hours apart).
If the starter is not active--that is, if it sits there like a great lump and smells, at best, like wet flour--then keep at the once a day feeding regimen for one more day, or even two. If, however, there are no results by day five, there is definitely something amiss. Scrap your current starter and review your procedure and ingredients.
Days Four Through Six
Your starter will get a little more active each day, doubling, or even quadrupling its volume between feedings. Feed every twelve hours if possibly can, any time after the starter has hit its peak. If you skip a feeding, do not panic, but carry on. Yeast are patient little fungi.
Should you use it yet? Well...maybe. If your starter is reliably quadrupling the dough's volume within twelve hours, it will likely rise your real dough within a reasonable amount of time. However, a sourdough culture's depth and complexity of flavor takes time (and many generations of unicellular minions) to develop.
If your starter has been active for a week, all sources agree that it's OK to bake with--enjoy!
On the water, where our tap water is treated both with chlorine (which will outgas if you boil it or leave it sit) and chloramine (which won't). So, for this, I bent a little about "argh bottled water IT IS PURE ENVIRONMENTAL EEEVIL" and bought a gallon of spring water when it was on sale at a local grocery. For the flour, I have used Arrowhead Mills (a fairly fine grind), whatever was in the bulk bin at Berkeley Bowl (also a fine grind), and Bob's Red Mill Stone Ground Organic--as expected, it was all the same to the unicellular army that I recruited, bred, enslaved, and slew by the billions.
On Other Ingredients in Starter:
Grain already has the right yeast on it. Right there. On its skinny skin skin. There's no need for grapes or potatoes or any of the other diversions featured in other recipes. As for the lactobacilli (and friends) that make your dough tangy as well as making it rise, those come from the air and your hands (!gasp!) and are what gives each region's sourdough starter its distinct flavor.
Oh, you wanted to bake with it? Or how often to feed it, how to maintain it, and other exciting things?
Visit Sourdough Home. They have much advice to give--this foregoing is based on their data, as well as Rose Levy Birnbaum's Bread Bible and my own experience.
My first bread with this was taking RLB's "Sourdough Rye", using my all-rye starter instead of her wheaten one (stiffened as per spec in the book), and taking the ratio of bread flour : rye flour in the bread proper all the way up to 1:1 instead of, er, I seem to recall one part rye to five parts white. It did all things in the right way, resulting in a dense, chewy shotput of a loaf that rose in a way I figured appropriate for a mostly-whole-grain bread.
In a word: gluten.
Of the several cereal grains, wheat can make more gluten than any of the others, and of course if you strip off all the (highly nutritious) outside bits and make white flour, there's even more gluten potential than in the same weight of whole wheat flour. A bread made primarily of white flour can get up to half "some other flour" without ill effect, but after that, it's not going to rise as well.
On the other hand, it'll be better for you, and I rather prefer the taste. Neener.
As for an all-rye sourdough bread, I've just completed a matched pair--see the next post.