Thursday, August 16, 2012


I'm going to do a little bit of an interlude today and talk about something that I have been working on lately.  While I was taking my Hospitality and Tourism ABQ with Murray Zehr, he was talking about how you can create a starter from nothing but flour and water.  This is based on the fact that there is a lot of free floating wild yeast in the air that will cause fermentation on its own.  Intrigued, I decided to give it a shot.

Looking through my book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I found exactly what I was looking for, and a good explanation for what's going on.  What I was about to embark on, was to create a Sour Dough seed culture.  The difference between our regular bread starters and the sour dough starter is all in the type of yeast that is being raised and the local bacteria.  The commercially grown yeast is a species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  It is grown under strict hygienic conditions and is therefore safe to use in our baking goods. We are interested in capturing wild yeast by the name of Saccharomyces exiguus.  Local bacteria are present when we capture this yeast.  As the yeast ferments and breaks down the carbohydrates in the flour, the bacteria create lactic acid and acetic acid.  It is the presence of these acids that is responsible for the sour taste that we love!

So, why do we need to use S. exiguus instead of S. cerevisiae? Well, S. exiguus is able to thrive under the acidic conditions created by the bacteria, whereas S. cerevisiae will actually die, and create an unpleasant flavor.

Another thing I feel the need to explain is the original ingredients.  The first day of the starter uses rye flour and pineapple juice.  I am going to need to double check this point, however, I do recall reading that rye flour contains more nutrients and protein than ordinary wheat flour, and tends to make a better starter.  Pineapple juice is used to restrain the growth of a strain of bacteria that is also in the air that tends to hinder the wild yeast, but creates a lot of Carbon Dioxide making it seem as though the starter is working, even though it is not.  Anywho, on to the recipe!

Day 1: 

1 cup of Rye Flour, Bread Flour or Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Pineapple Juice (at room temperature)

Mix the ingredients together, making sure all of the flour is hydrated.  It will make a fairly solid mass.  Push the dough into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2:

1/2 cup Bread Flour
1/4 cup Pineapple Juice (at room temperature)

Your dough from yesterday will not really look any different than when you left it.  Simply add the ingredients to what you already have, and transfer it into a glass measuring bowl or beaker.  The dough should be a bit softer and wetter now than it was on day 1.  Again, cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 3:

1 cup Bread Flour
1/2 cup (plus or minus) water*

You may see some rise in your dough, or perhaps not.  At most it will have risen by about 25-50%.  I personally didn't see much of a difference.  Although I did enjoy the fact that I used a glass container since it allowed me to see that there was in fact little air pockets forming within the dough.  Take half of your mixture and throw it out.  Using the other half, mix in the day 3 ingredients and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow it to sit for 24 hours.
*okay, so I'm saying plus or minus at this point since my dough was a little bit too wet, since the humidity was extremely high at the time.  This prevented the dough from rising very much.

As you are adjusting the water or flour levels, you should end up with something a lot like this:

Day 4:

1 cup Bread Flour (plus or minus)
1/2 cup water

By this point you definitely should see at least a 50% rise in your dough. Again, throw out half of your dough (or give it to a friend), then mix in the day 4 ingredients to the remaining half.  I say plus or minus on the flour since again, my dough was too wet.  I think I ended up adding about 1/4 extra flour to get it to a good consistency. Leave the dough for 4-24 hours until it doubles in volume.  At this point, it is ready to become a Barm.

It should look something like this:

Now I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is, all of your hard work is about to pay off! The bad news is, you only need 1 cup of your seed culture...

3 1/2 cups Bread Flour
2 cups water (at room temperature)
1 cup seed culture.

This one is very straight forward, mix everything together making sure all of the flour is hydrated.  Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit out at room temperature for about 6 hours.  After 6 hours, the barm should be extremely bubbly.  Open the lid to release the gas (but don't breath it in since it stinks).  Replace the lid and put it into the fridge.

You now have a Barm! Your best bet is to make this the day before you intend to use it.  Barm will be potent enough for immediate use for approximately 3 days in the fridge.  After we hit the 4-7 day mark, all of those lovely acids and enzymes released by our microorganisms begins to break down the gluten strands. and we end up with soup.  Because of this, we need to 'refresh' the barm by adding flour and water.

Here's the good news, if you don't make a lot of bread, you can actually keep your Barm in the Fridge for up to 2 months, and in the freezer for up to 6 months.  I personally don't recommend the freezer approach since the refreshing process is more of a pain than the fridge method.

Refreshing within the 3 day window.

The idea here is to double it.  The easiest way is to just weigh it, if you have a scale.  So lets say you have 1 pound of Barm you want refreshed.  You want to end up with 2 pounds, so you need 1 pound of more or less equal parts flour and water.  So in this case, about 1 3/4 cups flour and 1 cup water.  If you don't have a scale, just eyeball it.  Always cover it when you're done and store it in the fridge.

Refreshing after the 3 day window

Throw out all but 1 cup of the Barm.  Add 4 cups of flour and about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water and mix everything together until all the flour is hydrated.  Cover it up and put it back in the fridge.

Since I know you're all going to be gung-ho to try this out, I will post a couple of recipes within the next few days that will utilize the Barm.  I think on Saturday I will try out the Potato, Cheddar and Chive Torpedoes.  I wanted to do this so bad while I was up North, but I just didn't have any Bread Flour!

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