There’s a living thing growing in my refrigerator…and I’m loving it!
This weekend I tried my hand at cultivating a sourdough starter, the yeasty, bacteria-laden joy of bread bakers around the world. For bread baking enthusiasts, sourdough starter is serious business. Given my newbie status to the Sourdough Club, I decided to wade into the shallow end of the pool rather than dive in head first. I didn’t make bread; I made pancakes. How could I run into trouble with pancakes?
Growing a starter indulges all of my nerdy impulses. In college I majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. (Why didn’t I just tattoo “NERD” on my forehead, right?) I spent hours in the lab, toiling with bacteria and the occasional radioactive isotope. I didn’t mind lab work — in fact, sometimes I found it relaxing — but in the end, lab work wasn’t for me. Too solitary, not my style.
But given my interest in science, the idea of growing a colony of something that I could ultimately eat thrilled me. I already make my own yogurt on a regular basis (a nerdy but hugely satisfying process, and one that I highly recommend), so why not give a sourdough starter a try?
Now, minor disclaimer: I don’t think the starter I created is “authentic” as far as starters go. Traditional sourdough starters are basically just a mixture of flour and water that you let sit for an extended period of time, discarding some of the mixture and feeding the remainder with flour and water. Fresh flour contains yeast and bacteria spores, so as you feed the mixture, the water breaks down the flour’s starch into sugars, the yeast feeds on the sugars, and the bacteria feeds on all the stuff the yeast produces in that process. The cycle goes on and on as long as you keep the mixture alive.
The starter I used combines flour, water and a dash of yeast to get it going. Then you let it sit for 12-24 hours, at which point you use most of it but keep a half cup in the refrigerator for future use. And that’s it. No feeding, no multi-day schedule — and you even cheat by adding a little yeast at the beginning. But the recipe came from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, two people who know their bigas from their poolishes. Surely they wouldn’t lead me astray.
They didn’t. The pancakes — enormous, and easily a half-inch thick — charm the tongue with that characteristic sourdough flavor. As someone who likes her pancakes sweet, I was worried they’d be too puckery, but their yeasty, hearty flavor won me over. They soak up warm maple syrup like sponges, but I also imagine they’d be wonderful slathered with warm jam and whipped cream.
So now the question remains: What do I do with the remaining 1/2 cup starter living in my fridge? I could always make another batch of pancakes, but as resident scientist, I was hoping to experiment…
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