A Stanley Tale Of The Sourdough Starter

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Some of us are finding ourselves with more free time these days. And with more time, many people are challenging themselves master skills once found intimidating with a newfound adventurous spirit. Enter: the sourdough starter.

Michelle Fleming, Stanley Marketing Manager and resident culinary expert, tells her story of the tackling the fabled sourdough starter using the Stay Hot Camp Crock.

7 Days To Sourdough
By Michelle Fleming, Stanley Tzar Of Food

I’ve been baking bread nearly my whole life. Focaccia, French baguettes, Classic White Bread, Filipino Pandesol, and they all have one thing in common: A packet of Active Dry Yeast. But sourdough bread is a whole other time consuming process.

First, we have to create the Levain, or the Starter. This is the process where you are creating a living, breathing fungus called Wild Yeast. It grows by feeding on sugar in flour over time.

If this process was going to work, I needed consistent temperature and a way to safely release the carbon dioxide gas that the process creates. I decided to use the Stanley Adventure 3 quart Crock. It’s an unsung hero and a workhorse in the Stanley family of vacuum insulated food jars. It keeps things hot or cold for 12 hours and for this purpose, will keep things room temp for up to 24. It has a tab at the top that you lift up to release the pressure from built up heat, or in this case, the carbon dioxide gas.

DAY 1:

It is important to note that starters are typically made in glass or plastic – not metal. It’s said that the acid reacts to metal and can make a funky taste. For my first starter, I wasn’t going to mess with that logic.

Before making the starter, I pre-heated the crock with warm water, about 100 F degrees, and put the lid on a locked it down.

Prepare The Starter:

Sourdough StarterIn a bowl, mix ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons of flour with warm water. Stir the water with the flour until it’s fully combined and makes a sticky paste.

A digital thermometer is important to get the right water temperature. If it’s too hot, it will kill off the good bacteria. My water was always around 80 F degrees.

Next, scoop the paste out of the bowl and place it in a large plastic zip top bag. Empty and dry your preheated crock and place the starter in its plastic bag into the crock.

I made sure to keep the bag slightly open and folded over before I put the lid on and locked it down. I got the lid on, made sure that the tab was closed, left it on the kitchen counter, walked away and hoped for the best.

DAY 2:

I lifted the tab at the top to let out the gas before opening the crock up. This was going to be the first sign that something is working. Sure enough, it made a poof sound as I pulled the tab open. I carefully unlocked the lid and lifted it to the sweet smell of yeast working on the sugars of the flour. I looked into the plastic bag and it was no longer a paste, but creamy looking and bubbly.

Remove the bag with the starter and fill the crock with 100 F degree water, seal the lid, and set aside.

Now It’s Time To Feed The Yeast:

Add ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons of flour and ½ cup of warm (80 F degrees) water. Stir the mixture inside the bag and set aside. Empty and dry the crock, and place the starter bag back inside, lock that lid down for the rest of the day. This step will be repeated daily until the starter is ready to use.

Time To Feed The Yeast

DAY 3:

When I lifted the tab it made a louder poof and a bit of squeal – a happy one! I looked in the bag and it was bubbling up! I was very excited, the process was working and my house was so cold that day. I was pleased with my decision to use the crock to maintain a consistent temperature.

Again, Feed The Yeast:

Remove the bag, fill the crock with hot water. Add another ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons of flour and ½ cup of warm water to the starter dough. Mix it until combined. Empty and dry the crock, place the bag inside, and seal it up.

DAY 4:

Another day, another feeding. There was a little less off-gas today, but when I opened up the lid I could start to smell the sour along with the sweet. It looked like it was going to plan. I checked for gray or pink streaks throughout, and there were not. Gray or pink streaks indicate that the starter has bad bacteria in there and you have to start the process all over.

Since mine was still in good shape, I went about my process.

Feeding Time:

Fill the crock with hot water. Add ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons of flour and ½ cup warm water to the bag, thoroughly mixing it to form a paste. Quick note, it wasn’t overly pasty because as the days had gone by the starter was more of a loose, slightly smooth, paste. By this time, it had grown quite a bit. Not to worry though – it’s supposed to be this way.

DAY 5:

This is where I start to take my learning and go my own way. Most references said that the starter should be ready on Day 5. I had opened it up and it seemed like it stabilized, but it wasn’t sour like I was hoping for. It was still bubbling and there were no gray or pink streaks so I repeated the feeding routine to give it one more day for good measure.

I decided that it’s OK if it wasn’t ready. And for all I know, it might have been ready – but I wanted it to smell SOUR so it would really come through in the flavoring of the bread.

DAY 6:

It was disappointing to open it up and not seeing it bubbling up enough, but the smell was coming around. It was still sweet but really starting to pick up that sour smell, like a nice sweet, fermenting wine!

Time To Test If It’s Ready:

Fill a small glass bowl with cool water and add 2 tablespoons of the starter mix to the water. If it floats it’s ready, if it doesn’t, it’s not.

The 2 tablespoons sank to the bottom. Boo! Not to worry. I took another ½ cup of the starter and threw it out. I could see that it was bubbling, so I knew it was still alive.

I fed it again, but I decreased it to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of flour and a 1/3 cup of water. Stirred it up in the bag and sealed it back up in the crock.

DAY 7:

Sourdough Starter

Much improvement. I’ve read that you’re supposed to take ½ of the starter out and discard it, maybe I needed to do that on Day 5. Day 7 was much better. I pulled the tab up and it let off a happy poof and I could smell the wild yeast immediately. I opened up the lid and it was nice big bubbles, like little mounds rising on the surface. It had to be ready!

I took 2 tablespoons out and added it to my bowl of cool water and sure enough, it floats!

I scraped out half of the starter and put in a glass bowl and the other half I put in glass Mason jar and placed it in the refrigerator to give to my friend at a later date.

Now to bake some bread!