For those who want to capture and grow your own yeast to make bread for the BLT From Scratch Challenge, or for anyone who simply wants to make delicious bread at home (bread far more flavorful than that made from commercial yeast), here's how to do get a starter going and do it fast.
A while back, Carri Thurman, of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska, left a comment on my blog about using purple cabbage as the source of abundant wild yeast. Last week I decided to give it a shot. Worked so easily (I had a bubbling starter in 48 hours), I didn't trust it and did it again. Worked great.
I've long been a huge fan of Nancy Silverton's Breads of La Brea Bakery, a book devoted to breads leavened with sourdough starters. It's a great bread book, but her method for achieving a starter takes fifteen days and gives highly specific flour and water amounts for feeding the thing, all of which is clearly unnecessarily difficult by about 12 days and pounds of wasted flour. I know she was trying to make it fool proof, so that even a beginner would be successful, and when I did her version years ago, it did indeed work.
But so did Carri's and it's so easy. In a quart measuring cup or other container, put in equal weights of flour and water, about 8 or 10 ounces of each. Stir it and and put a leaf or two of organic red cabbage. Carri covers it, I leave mine open hoping to lure more unsuspecting gas producing microflora.
Let it sit overnight, then add another addition of flour and water, same amounts as before. You should have an active starter after another night. Carri recommends 12 hours between feedings. Also, if conditions are too hot or too cold, this may affect your starter. If you don't have a bubbly starter after 48 hours, give it another day.
Here's a picture of Carri's really healthy starter. This has been well developed and well used; it takes a little more feeding and use to get it this healthy. The starter pictured above had been fed about an hour before the photo was taken, so the yeast is just starting to get going. The more you work with your starter, the more you'll get a sense of its activity level and so you'll know when they'll make the best bread (make bread when they're very hungry!).
Carri's ratio for bread is right on the money, too. 1 part starter : 1 part water : 2 parts flour. Add salt, about 2% of the total weight. So for a good sized country loaf, use 10 ounces starter (and thus .8 ounces salt). If you're metric, use 300 grams starter, 24 grams salt.
Carrie says it doesn't have to be cabbage but anything that attracts "that white film...grapes, even cumin," she says. Funniest part of the story is that Carri got it via Martha, a fact she seems slightly embarrassed by:
"My version came from a very old Martha Stewart episode where she was visiting a bakery in NYC and the guy there did it. It was at least 10 years ago, I was home from work with a sick child and saw the program and immediately wanted to try it, though I had no oganically grown red cabbage to use. Oddly enough the next day a good friend stopped by with some red cabbage from his garden and the rest is history! Martha was my only way of getting information at that point in my life!"
Cheers to you both! People who grow their own cabbage, to make their own starter, for the BLT Challenge get extra points!