From starter to yummy

Here is a complete journey from long ignored starter to yummy bread.  There are a few detours – but be patient – the results are worth it.

I start out with starter that has been in the back of the ‘fridge for about 8 weeks.  This is what I refer to as very tired starter.  Notice the thick layer of hootch on top!

I pour the liquid down the drain.  Practically all the starter goes in the compost.  When people ask me how much starter I “keep for next time” I generally say “just the boogers” that stick to the bottom.

Half a cup of flour + half a cup of water + 18 hours later we have “reasonably happy” starter.  It’s bubbling a fair amount.  It’s just waking up!  But it turns out that I’m not going to make bread today – so into the ‘fridge it goes.

The starter has been in the ‘fridge for 3 weeks.  I have done nothing with it.  But because it was just waking up when I put it in, it’s… well, sleepy.  It probably peaked out about a week after it went in, but it’s not yet tired enough that it won’t work.  I take it out and leave it on the counter for a few hours.  Like four.

Again, I use it all.  Turns out that it’s not quite a full cup of starter.  All that’s left is the boogers!

Here is what it looks like with 3 cups of flour, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons of salt.  Pretty dry.  Not coming together.  Maybe because I was a little short of starter.

So I add less than a quarter cup of water.

I mix it and it comes together.

It’s just a little sticky.  It could stand a little more water – maybe two teaspoons would be perfect, but this is close enough.

I just use a plate to cover the bowl for the first rise.  Just enough to keep flying insects out.  Seran wrap would be OK, but a plate works fine.  If it’s hot out I’ll sometimes sprinkle a little water on it to keep it from crusting over the top from dehydration.  But it’s in the upper 70’s during the day and 60’s at night.

I half heartedly mix half a cup of flour and water back in the starter.  The yeast will find it all!

Here is the dough 9 hours later.  It’s not ready.  I know because I know this bowl and the recipe.

Here it is 14 hours later.  It’s not to the top of the bowl, which is the gold standard for happy starter and 12 hours of good rise.  But this should do.  If I were not sure, I’d wait another hour.  Or two.

The dough is pretty dry, so I’m not going to add much flour.  If it were wet, I’d try to work more in.  I lay out just enough to cover the board.

I lay the dough out.

I butter the pan.  It doesn’t take much.  But – to paraphrase my bread instructor – you can never use too much butter.

I’m going to use a bread pan this time.  It is easier to learn with a covered pot, but once you have it down you can move to a bread pan.  I end up baking it cooler (375) and keeping a closer eye on it.

I work the dough a little.  Maybe 5 minutes.  Probably more like 2.  It’s springy.  This is a good sign.  The dough is barely tacky and I’m a little worried it’s too dry – but you can’t really add more water at this point – just flour.  So I make sure not to integrate much.  You can see most of it is still on the board.

Time to go into the pan.

More perspective.

I just cover it with the board I used (rinsed off).  Again, just to keep out flying insects.

Just a few minutes shy of four hours later and it had lifted the board that was covering it.  This is a good sign.

Into a cold oven set at 375 for 60 minutes.

It comes out at 60 minutes (the top is a nice brown).  I let it cool for about 10 minutes and then remove it from the pan.  I leave it out over night so the crust can dry and develop.  On its side because the bottom is where it sometimes holds the most moisture.  Next morning it’s yummy bread for toast!

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