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The Starter Stopped

Ah, those were the days. My sourdough starter, in happier times. (Jane Touzalin -- The Washington Post)

I should have known it wouldn’t last. My sourdough starter – created so optimistically, nursed along so solicitously – has given up the ghost. Drat.

It led a pampered life. And, I used to think, a healthy one. Faithful readers may recall my blog reporting its birth. I was testing a recipe for sourdough pancakes, and the first step was making the starter, the culture of living yeast cells that gives sourdough its tang. It was a simple matter of combining flour, water and yeast, then leaving it out on the counter so the yeast would eat and thrive. My first attempt was a failure, but the second worked perfectly: Within a couple of days, it was bubbling and foaming and ready for action.

I made the pancakes, and they were great. By that time the starter had reached the stage where it could be kept in the refrigerator and “fed” every few weeks with flour and water. I made pancakes again. Then pizza dough, which inspired me to buy a baking stone. With my starter and my new baking stone, I was going to rule the world. Or at least make wonderful sourdough bread.

But the last time I took the starter from the refrigerator shelf, it had a listless look. An emergency feeding inspired only a weak reaction. Just a few bubbles. And then, nothing. There’s no explaining it. That’s what happens sometimes when you’re dealing with a fickle living organism.

So now I have a choice. I can start again using the same method. I can do what the purists do, which is just mix flour and water and see if it attracts enough natural yeasts from the air to give it life. Or I can buy a ready-made sourdough starter that comes from a tried-and-true sourdough strain.

A fourth alternative – to forget the whole exercise entirely – is not an option. If you could’ve tasted that pizza dough, you’d understand.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  July 6, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
 | Tags: Jane Touzalin, sourdough  
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It might be that your local wild yeasts have finally done in the cultivated yeast you started with but damaged themselves in the process. So either keep feeding for a few more days or start again just using stoneground organic wholewheat flour and water - all the yeasts you need are already present on the bran.

Posted by: backblow | July 6, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for that! I will do the latter. I felt bad about using the cultivated yeast in the first place, so this will assuage my guilt. I'm assuming that once it gets going, I can slowly switch over to organic white flour. -- Jane Touzalin

Posted by: Jane Touzalin | July 7, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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