I kind of used a combination of information from this site & Laura's blog. I love the concept of catching wild yeast from the air (and suspect there's some great old strains floating around in my old, old house), but I just wasn't confident that it would work in my rather cold house, I might try Laura's method of starting the starter next summer just to see how it turns out . . . but for now, I "cheated" and used yeast to start my starter:
Starting the Starter:
In a half gallon mason jar (or a glass bowl, but don't use metal or plastic!) combine 2 c flour (I used white, partially because I was out of whole wheat at the moment & partially because some stuff I've read in the past (don't remember where) has indicated that it's easier to start starer w/ white flour), 2 t sucanet (or sugar), 2 1/4 t active dry yeast, 2 c warm water. Cover with a dish towel & let sit in a warm, draft-free place. This was where I had a dilemma, we keep our heat set around 64, there's not really any "warm" spot in this house. I finally opted to set the jar on the counter right next to the stove. There's a wall that protects it from drafts when the door is opened & I figured that way at least when we use the stove or oven it'll get a little extra warmth, but I don't know how warm it really got/stayed.
- Stir once per day
- Let sit 2-5 days, it's ready when it has a sour smell & loks bubbly (if it turns pnk/orange, throw it out!) I think mine took the full 5 days, which I was kind of expecting because of the cool temperatures in the house.
- Once it's done, stir, cover loosely w/ platic wrap & refrigerate.
Two nights before I made bread, I took the starter out of the fridge & set it on the counter overnight, the next morning I fed it w/ 1 c flour (whole wheat this time, since that's what was handy), and 1 c water. I then went ahead & let it sit a full 24 hours (next time I use it I plan to try feeding straight from the fridge, then let sit overnight, then proceed as usual (so cut a day out of the process), I hadn't read through Laura's whole recipe until mid day yesterday & by that time starting to make the bread would've likely had it ready to bake about 3am LOL.
Making the bread:
This morning I stirred up my starter, put 1 cup in a clean quart jar, added 1 c flour & 1 c water to that & stirred it, and put it in the fridge for future use. I poured the rest (which was probably between 1 & 2 cups) into a glass bowl, added 2 t salt and 1 1/2 c water & stirred it all up. Then I began adding flour 2 cups at a time until it was the right consistency to knead. I added 6 cups flour & then probably another cup a little at a time once it was dough but still pretty sticky. The amount of flour will depend on how runny (& how much) your starter is, and the humidity in the air & who knows what else. Knead bread for 8-10 minutes (pausing a few times to check on kids playing outside which gives your arms a nice little break). Form dough into a ball. At this point Laura says to cut it w/ a knife into 3 sections BUT she has different bread pans than I do. I have relatively small (pyrex) glass bread pans, she also says that making balls of dough works better than one loaf. So . . . I started out by cutting my big ball of dough into 4 smaller balls, figuring 2 per bread pan. Then I got the pans out, looked at them, considered that the dough is to double in size prior to baking & then presumably will rise more while baking & promptly cut each of those 4 balls in half. So, I ended up w/ enough for 4 loaves of bread, each loaf consisting of 2 small balls of dough. Laura doesn't say to grease her pans, but she uses stoneware, since I was using glass, I greased my pans w/ coconut oil just in case. Put the dough in the pans put the pans in the oven w/ the light on but the oven off (and it hadn't been used this morning so it was cool) covered the loaves w/ a dishtowel & left them to rise. I think it only took 4 hours or so for them to rise, I was expecting longer, but the warmer temp of the oven, even with just the light on, may have sped things up (we also DID use the stove at lunch time which may have added some extra heat to the oven). And now I'm baking for 1 hr at 350, or until they sound hollow when thumped.
And the bread is done! It didn't rise as much as I thought it would while baking, so not the greatest for sandwiches, but the consistency & flavor is good (I just need to start with bigger balls of dough &/or let it rise more in the pans before baking), very mild on the sourdough flavor, but I've found that's generally true of whole wheat sourdough. The girls even ate a slice w/ butter & declared it good (though L has decided, over the last few months while I've been lazy about making bread, that storebought (white) bread is better than homemade). I will probably add abit more salt next time as well.