Saturday, May 30, 2009

Starter started!

Shortly before heading off on my second holiday to Morocco, I saw this post at Asymptotia which introduced me to Amish Friendship Bread. The idea is one starts with a bread "starter" - a live yeast culture - which must be loved and nurtured and fed for a few days, after which you give some to a friend(s), make bread with some and retain the rest to replenish for future use. Being on the wrong side of the pond to even bother asking if I could have some of Clifford's starter, I Googled to find out how to make my own. It's not hard! Just flour, sugar, milk and a bit of yeast, all mixed together and left to ferment. If you want to make sourdough, the process is very similar except that you are not supposed to add any yeast (or a tiny pinch at most) but let the naturally occurring yeasts in the air colonize the mix. There are some cute articles on the science of bread-making (plus recipes) at The Science of Cooking for the uninitiated.

Instructions for making you own starter are below. Think of it as a pet: it has to be taken care of each day. Note the quantities given are the total you will need for the 10 day cycle. On the first day you only need 1/3 of it, so don't let shortage of ingredients stop you. I give US cup measures as this makes the formula simple: equal measures of flour, sugar and milk. Weighing it out obscures this symmetry - a cup of flour is not the same weight as a cup of sugar or milk. If you don't have proper cup measures, just use a measuring jug: 250ml of each.

Another important note is that metallic bowls and implements are best avoided as they can be reactive and kill off the yeast. Use plastic, glass or ceramic bowls and a wooden spoon.

When my batch reaches maturity I will post how I used it to make bread - assuming it is successful! And of course, at the same time I will be giving some away to my friends! In the interim, I'm making rye bread for the first time.

For a 10-day cycle (another cup each of flour, milk and sugar will be required on day 15 and every 5th day thereafter if you want to keep it going):
  • 1 sachet dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm (NOT hot*) water (60ml or 4tbsp)
  • 3 cups flour (or 750ml)
  • 3 cups sugar (or 750ml)
  • 3 cups milk (or 750ml)
  • *if it burns you it'll burn the yeast too - remember, it's alive and you want it to stay that way!

    Mix the yeast with the warm water and let stand until a bit frothy - about 10-15 minutes. Thoroughly mix the flour, sugar and milk to a smooth, thick cream then stir in the yeasty liquid. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to sit. This is day 1.
    Day 2: stir starter
    Day 3: stir starter
    Day 4: stir starter
    Day 5: add another cup each of flour, sugar and milk and stir until smooth
    Day 6: stir starter
    Day 7: stir starter
    Day 8: stir starter
    Day 9: stir starter
    Day 10: Congratulations - your starter is ready! Remove 1 cup of starter to make bread, put 1 cup in a ziplock bag and give to a baker-friend. To the remainder add another cup each of flour, sugar and milk. You are now back to day 1.