Sunday, June 13, 2010

Of Hazy Apples and Starter

My recent mention on the Diane Rehm show that I built my sourdough starter (levain) using a couple of hazy apples (the haze being wild yeast), and the posting of my levain recipe on her website has caused some consternation among listeners who don't have local apples (and who does, this time of year?).

Here are a couple of solutions: Firstly, you can use an apple from a store - but get an unwaxed one. There will still be plenty on yeast on the skin. If you can get an organic apple, so much the better. Or, if you have something else growing that's sweet and local (e.g., someone mentioned they had strawberries; another person had grapes) you can toss that in instead. But you can even skip the local fruit. There's plenty of yeast right in flour. But the other thing the fruit provides (aside from some "local color") is sugar to help get the yeast going. Baking instructor and writer Peter Reinhart adds canned pineapple juice to make his starter (the pineapple possibly having some other beneficial properties, in addition to sugar).

So, don't sweat it -- there are lots of ways to get your starter started, and the website The Fresh Loaf has a number of them. Have fun with it, and if it doesn't work out the first time, throw it out and start over!

Full instruction are included in 52 Loaves, and the recipe can be found on my website


  1. Boys Life had a bread recipe in it when I was a kid that recommended making starter by making a watery dough, putting it in a bowl with cheesecloth over it, and setting it outside for a day or so. Then, letting it ferment for a few days, then storing it in the fridge until ready for use. It said to make new starter every time you made bread by saving a little of the dough, adding some more flour and water, and putting it in the refrigerator.

    Will that work?

  2. Boys Life -- now that's a flash from the past. I used to love that magazine. Anyway, the answer (will it work) is more or less because of the yeast in flour -- in fact, what they describe is basically a simplified version of the starter recipe found in a lot of bread books, w/o the feeding/discarding/refreshing parts, but the addition of something like an apple not only adds more wild yeast, but the sugar help give things a kick. Using some leftover dough for your next loaf is a time-honored technique btw.

    I think you'd really enjoy the chapters on making my levain and the history of yeast in 52 LOAVES, if you haven't read it yet.

  3. I am toying with the idea of using a wild Belgian yeast that is available at my home brewing store (Reno Homebrewer). It is a Brettanomyces culture. I have heard that beer yeast varieties don't work well for bread but wild yeast is wild yeast, right? Anyway, I will let you know how it works out.

  4. your wife is a saint. I loved both of your books. If the tomato cost $64., how much did the loaf of bread cost? Now I must get a digital scale & try your recipe. Also, have you considered some St.Wandrille background music here. Thanks again. You are an inspiration.



blogger templates |