I have typically kept a sourdough starter going here at Five O’Clock Somewhere. Up until this year, I’ve usually been able to get up here often enough to work the starter and keep it alive.
But this year, from January through May, I was seldom here, and so my sourdough died.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, sourdough starter is a culture of yeast, single-celled organisms that process starches and sugars. When they have oxygen, they create carbon dioxide bubbles that make bread rise. When they’re short on oxygen, they make alcohol as well as the foamy head for beer. With sourdough starter, one takes some of the yeast colony to leaven bread or other goods, such as pancakes, and then one replenishes the starter by adding water and flour (sometimes sugar, too) and then placing the starter in a warm place for a while to grow. In order to stay alive, the colony has to be activated every so often – it can be dormant a week or two in the refrigerator, but not longer.
So today I decided to start a new sourdough culture. The recipe I used specified a four-cup container, but I know that at high altitude, things often rise more, so I used a six-cup jar. I mixed together the yeast, water, flour, and sugar as specified, then covered the jar loosely with plastic wrap. For the next five days, as the yeast grows and develops its characteristic sour taste, I’m to keep it warm and stir it three times a day.
Two hours after the initial mixing, I returned to the kitchen and found that even the six-cup jar wasn’t big enough. There were at least eight cups of gooey starter bubbling out of the jar and over the counter – the whole thing bore a strong resemblance to Kilauea. I got out my largest glass mixing bowl (sourdough starter should be stored in glass or plastic, and stirred with wooden or plastic utensils, never metal) and scraped as much of the goop in as I could.
Even with the large bowl, in an hour the starter was threatening to overflow. I decided it was time for one of the thrice-daily stirrings, which released a lot of gas so the volume of the goop went down.
The next four and a half days may be interesting. I may find myself defending my kitchen, and maybe even the house itself, from being devoured by this monster I have created.
But in the end, I’ll have a whole lot of starter, so I can do sourdough bread, pancakes, pretzels, pizza crust, and my favorite, sourdough chocolate cupcakes.