“Those hot griddlecakes the forty-niners forked from the frying pan
before setting out to dig for gold were, no doubt, sourdough
pancakes. The hot biscuits so treasured by cowboys riding the dusty
trail were most likely sourdough biscuits. The life sustaining bread
baked by pioneer women in crude stone ovens was probably sourdough
bread. After the California gold rush, when the Klondike prospectors
sailed from San Francisco to Alaska, they carried precious sourdough
starter with them – and ever since sourdough bread has been
assiciated with San Francisco. And in Alaska, a prospector with a pot
of sourdough strapped to his back was quickly nicknamed a “sourdough”.
“As the population swelled westward during the last century, the
practice of keeping a small amopunt of yesterday’s dough alive to
“start” tomorrow’s bread was carried from one coast to the next, just
as it had been carried from the Old World to the New. Archaeologists
claim that leavened bread was first developed around 4,000 B.C., when
using starters must have been the only way to accomplish leavening.
Surely ancient bakers guarded their supplies zealously, just as
thousands of years later propectors would tuck the sourdough pot into
their bedroll at night to keep it warm and safe.
“To this day, the distinctive flavor of so many European and Russian
breads, as well as the famous San Francisco version of sourdough
bread, is derived from the use of a sourdough starter. A starter is
simply a self-perpetuating yeast mixture. Traditionally it was made
by mixing flour and water with a cooked potato or fruit such as wine
grapes or ripe bananas. Organisms in the flour and the germenting
fruit attracted the wild yeast spores ubiquitous in an unpollouted
environment, and a starter was easy to begin. Today, this method is
not always reliable owing to variables such as chlorinated water and
pesticide treated flour, fruits and vegetables.
“We’ve developed an easy sourdough starter by combining unbleached
all-purpose flour, bakers active dry yeast, and water. With minimal
care, the starter can be maintained for years and stored in the
refrigerator (see box). Since yeast is a single-cell fungus, its
metabolic activity causes fermentation. As the yeast cells multiply
and feed on the carbohydrates in the flour – which in turn give off
carbon dioxide, alcohol and other compounds – the ongoing activity
gives the sourdough starter its sour aroma and tart flavor.
“Keeping a pot of sourdough going in your refrigerator opens up all
sorts of possibilities. Breads have an assertive tang and keep
longer than other home-baked breads. Biscuits share the same
distinctive flavor and are moist and fluffy. Sourdough pancakes have
a delicate texture and a subtle flavor that your family will clamor
for on Sunday mornings. We’re sure that once you begin baking with
sourdough, you will become a convert for life.
“SOURDOUGH STARTER MAINTENANCE
“o Using and maintaining a sourdough starter is a cyclical process;
you must always replace what you remove from the crock. If well
maintained, a sourdough culture will last a lifetime. Each time you
take a portion of the starter for a recipe, replace that amount with
equal quantities of water and flour. For example, if you remove 1 cup
of starter to make Sourdough Country Bread, you must replace it with
1 cup of lukewarm water (100F) and 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose
flour. Whisk these ingredients into the starter until blended but not
completely smooth. Any remaining lumps will dissolve as the mixture
ferments. Cover and leave the starter at room temperature for at
least 12 hours or overnight. The starter is now ready to be used
again, or can be refrigerated.
“o Use a 2-quart non-metal crock or bowl to store the starter. This
wat, the replenishing starter ingredients can be mixed directly in
the storage container.
“o Maintain the starter by stirring it at least once a week. This
invigorates the yeast and expels some of the alcohol. If you do not
use the starter every two weeks or so, refresh it by removing 1 cup
of the starter (give it to a friend or discard it), and adding 1 cup
of unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup of lukewarm (100F) water.
Whisk until blended. Cover and leave at room temperature 12 hours or
overnight before returning it to the refrigerator.
“o If you plan to be away or know you will not use the starter
frequently, freeze it in a sterilized, air-tight freeezer container.
Thaw the starter two days before you plan on baking with it,
transferring it to a 2 quart non-metal storage container. Refresh
the starter withg 1 cup each of water and flour. Cover and leave at
room temperature for 12 hours or overnight before using. It’s a good
idea to freeze the starter in two containers; you can keep the second
one frozen indefinitely to serve as a backup should anything happen
to the thawed starter.”