Sis told me yesterday she began the starter for Amish friendship bread, which apparently involves mixing flour, sugar, and yeast and letting it sit on the counter. After it develops for several days, you can make sourdough bread from part of the starter, keep the rest of it going, and continue making bread.
I’ve always been a bit meh on the whole sourdough concept. It’s been a rare occasion when I’ve really dug a sourdough bread, but on the times I have, I’ve really, really dug it. The King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook has a whole chapter devoted to whole grain sourdoughs. I’d avoided it because the whole process seemed so wasteful (I’ll explain why shortly). However, a few months back I bought a different brand of whole wheat flour that was such a coarse grind that I found it incredibly difficult to bake with. I stuck it in the freezer, labeled it “coarse ww flour,” and forgot about it, figuring some use would arise for it sometime.
That time is now. Seems sourdough starters work by capturing wild yeast (yeast floating around in the air) using a mixture called a levain. Whole flour levains are easier to work with than white flour levains because there is more wild yeast present in the flour itself. At the same time, they’re more difficult to work with because the flour will spoil much more quickly at room temperature, which necessitates twice-a-day feedings once the levain is mature (after a couple days). That’s where the wastefulness. I imagine you’d want to be baking with this levain at least a few times a week to make it worthwhile, because you’re throwing away 8 ounces (2 cups) worth of flour every. Single. Day.
What better use for the 4-odd pounds of coarse-grind flour I have sitting in the freezer?
What you see above is Day 1 of my whole wheat levain, immediately after mixing it up. Not very exciting. But I’ll be documenting its development. After 5 days it should be ready to work with.
Here’s how it begins, if you want to play along. We’ll be baking sourdough bread with this within a week.
whole wheat levain: day 1
Reprinted with permission from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains.
4 ounces (1 to 1⅛ cups) whole wheat flour
4 ounces (½ cup) cool nonchlorinated water
Combine the flour and water in a nonreactive container. Glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic all work fine for this. Cover the container and let the mixture sit at room temperature (65° to 75°F) for 24 hours.