Friday 1 March 2024

My Sourdough Starter Misadventure

 It started with what would have been my mother's 99th birthday, Valentine's Day. Or maybe I should go back a little farther. My second oldest sister passed away this past October. She was the one that stepped into the matriarchal role once my mother passed away in 1998. Now, I'm not only missing my sister, but it's made me miss my mother more. So, as her birthday approached, I determined to make foods that reminded me of her on that day. Pancakes for breakfast,

lazy cabbage rolls (I don't believe my mother ever made lazy cabbage rolls, but I was too lazy to make rolled ones)
and Waldorf salad for dinner, and a Western sandwich for supper (using this recipe for the omelette).
I would have liked to have had pumpernickel bread to go with dinner. Mom never made it from scratch, that I can recall, but she did like to eat it. And so do I. But, even though she never made it, I want to. And I've tried several recipes over the years, without the success I'd like. I want the light, dark-coloured, round loaf, not the dense rectangular loaf as found in my World Encyclopedia of Bread. Occasionally, Mom would buy those as well - I still remember one brand: Dimpflmeier - though that bread is definitely an acquired taste. 
So I googled and found another recipe to try on the King Arthur website.Unfortunately for me, as it turns out, this one called for sourdough starter. I'm not sure why this is the one I found because this website has at least a couple more pumpernickel recipes that don't require the starter. Well, I had been considering trying making my own sourdough starter, so I decided that this was the time, and King Arthur happily obliged with a recipe
I started out with my "blob" in a Gem jar because the recipe called for a jar that was "at least" a quart, and I figured that I would err on the larger size and these jars are 1½ quarts. However, I soon realized that that mouth wasn't big enough to do all the messing around in the jar that I had to do: removing discard, adding flour and water and stirring it in. So, I switched the blob to a 1-quart wide mouth jar. 
One of the first issues was what to do with the discard. According to the instructions, with each feed, I had to discard one cup of the starter and add a further one cup of flour and half a cup of water (I actually used my kitchen scale for accuracy, and weighed in grams). I hate wasting food, but King Arthur kindly obliges with a bunch of recipes for using sourdough starter discard, most of which require the 1 cup that I had to remove each time. 
However, after the first couple of days of "feeding" the starter once daily, I then had to bump it up to twice daily and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by sourdough starter discard, and sent this text to one of my sisters:
And I tried using it in some of the recipes:
Sourdough crackers, which were pretty tasty, 
sourdough pretzels (the recipe doesn't tell you to poach them, but any pretzel recipe I have read does, so I did),
sourdough pancakes, 
and sourdough biscuits, here used with my vegan breakfast sandwiches. But still, I had this mountain of discard, and was now adding 2 cups to it daily. And I was getting tired and frustrated with trying to figure out what to do with it.
My mountain of discard
I was also beginning to wonder if my starter had "gone south" when it smelled something like bad beer. But the next time, it smelled like nail polish remover! According to my online research, that acetone odour just meant that my starter needed to be fed. Seriously?!? I was already feeding it twice daily and struggling with the amount of discard. There was no way that I wanted to add a third feeding. So, instead, I tried switching up the "feed": according to the instructions, I had mostly just been feeding it unbleached all purpose flour. But now, I added spelt, rye, whole wheat. By this time, the starter was over a week old and still was nowhere near active enough to actually be used to make bread. And the next time I fed it, it smelled like acetone again. 
When I shared my vegan breakfast sandwiches to a vegan group on Facebook, one commenter asked me about the sourdough. This is my reply: 
And guess what? Even after feeding it my precious organic, whole grain flour, it still smelled like acetone the next time I was supposed to feed it. But there wasn't any feeding that time. I just dumped it in with the rest of the discard. 
Meanwhile, I had determined to try to use up a whole lot of discard at once, and I tried making bread. After all, the discard was just flour and water, so I should be able to just add some actual yeast, and maybe some more flour and water. Unfortunately, I ended up with more of a batter, rather than a dough and I wasn't sure if I even wanted to bother putting it into the oven. After more than an hour's baking time, I did end up with some reasonable looking loaves. 
But the crust was really thick and tough and the inside was gummy. 
The taste was definitely sour and rye, reatlly not too bad. I put two of the three loaves into the freezer and ate a good part of the third loaf before deciding that it likely wasn't healthy bread, being so dense and gummy, and tossed the remainder into the compost. I'm not sure what I'll do with the ones in the freezer. Or with the rest of the discard, which is still sitting in my fridge. As I mentioned, I hate wasting food. But likely, instead of feeding the starter, I will be feeding the compost.

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