Adopting a pet

I’m seriously considering starting a sourdough culture.  (Yes, the Corinna Chapman book got me again.)  Actually, it would be more accurate to say, I’m seriously considering *attempting* to start a sourdough culture, since I gather this is easier said than done.

At the moment, I’m considering logistics.  I know you have to feed your starter regularly, but books (and websites) differ as to how often.  Then, of course, you have to be prepared to bake bread regularly – but how regularly, exactly?  A loaf a week would suit me just fine, but I have a horrible suspicion one needs to bake a bit more than that, otherwise your well-fed starter will grow and grow until it consumes baker and oven and all. And baking more than once a week doesn’t seem practical when you’re talking about something with an 8 hour rising time, though I suppose I could always get up early, start the dough, and then bake it when I got home from work.  Actually, that has a certain attraction to it.

Then, of course, there is the intrinsic appeal of starting your own sourdough culture from scratch, versus the slightly more certain method of buying a starter that actually works.  On the one hand, who wouldn’t like the idea of sitting your bowl of water and flour somewhere and seeing what interesting and delightful yeasts it can pick up from the atmosphere?  On the other hand, we have cats, and our home atmosphere is, shall we say, rich in cat hair (honestly, there are days when they just sit there and waft fur at us without having to move).  I shudder to think what a yeast left partially covered in the kitchen for a week would collect.

I’ve been eyeballing dry starters such as the one at the Sourdough Baker, which sounds as though it would fit my baking frequency needs. Alas, it also sounds more than slightly tricky to get going, especially for someone like me, who has never even seen a sourdough starter before and thus isn’t all that certain what she is aiming for.  I’m also deeply tempted by the Wild Sourdough book, which you can buy with a starter culture.  Except that it  seems like cheating to buy a book that tells you how to make the culture, and then buy the culture too.

On the other hand, maybe cheating is the sensible thing to do here. Only, what happens if I manage to keep the ready-made sourdough flourishing and then want to make one of my own?  I have visions of a Michelin-man-like dough monster taking over my kitchen, and it’s probably a bad idea to invest in a pet that I’m secretly a little bit scared of. I already have  cats trying to run my life; I’m inclined to draw the line at being bossed around by pets who aren’t even members of the animal kingdom (yeast is, apparently, a fungus, which only deepens my suspicions).

Decisions, decisions.  I think I am going to go through with this.  I’ve been hesitating over sourdough cultures for years, but I’m actually a reasonably competent cook these days, so perhaps now is the time after all.  Indeed, I went looking for organic rye flour at the supermarket on the way home from work today, with plans to leap boldly into the world of yeasts and cultures, but was thwarted by a Product Unavailable sign.  Perhaps this is a sign that I should get the Wild Sourdough starter after all?

Whatever my next step may be, odds are you’ll be reading  a lot more about bread on this blog in the near future…

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16 comments for “Adopting a pet

  1. Heath
    June 1, 2011 at 10:25 pm


    • June 2, 2011 at 9:08 am

      I confess… I’ve ordered the book. And the starter. I will make my own starter sometime, but I thought it might be wise to at least start off with something that works…

  2. Iestyn
    June 2, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Some people do the “rise while I’m asleep” thing to get the 8 hours (k)needed.

    On the other hand, I now have a slicer so I can keep Kaiserfleish in the freezer and cut it as needed.

    • June 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Hmm, I’m thinking about that option – though it would still require getting up early enough to bake things. Though, now I think of it, my oven has a timer setting – I wonder if I could set it up to bake my breakfast bread of a morning? Tempting…

      • Iestyn
        June 3, 2011 at 5:31 am

        Worth the attempt. Hot bred in the morning is one of its few delights.

  3. Iestyn
    June 2, 2011 at 2:10 am

    On the cat hair problem, combined with the “too much starter” problem……one can take a slice off the top to get rid of the hair and address the excess problem, and feed the compost bucket too.

  4. NancyB
    June 2, 2011 at 3:06 am

    I’ve kept a starter going for several years now, with a lot less than the usually recommended attention. I did begin with a purchased starter–it’s probably been overtaken by my local microbes at this point due to exposure and my less than optimal care.

    The recommendations I read seem to agree weekly baking (or just feeding) is fine, and mine sometimes goes a few months and gets that ugly dark liquid on top before I revive it and use it again. I also have a handful of recipes for unfed starter so I don’t have to throw away some before feeding. Those mostly came from the King Arthur Flour web site, which also has tips on feeding, reviving, and using sourdough starters. Avoid their crumpet recipe for old starter: the results didn’t look like crumpets at all.

    Oh, and I’ve not yet had to fish cat hair out of the starter after a few hours at room temperature. I don’t think I want to test a week-long exposure, though…

    • June 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Oh, that is all very useful information – thank you!

  5. lensaddiction
    June 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    How about for your first time, buy a culture and use it as your training wheels, then once you have an idea what to expect, start your own.

    I hear you on the cat hair – I have a birman and everything I own is covered in LONG white hairs 🙂

    • June 2, 2011 at 5:59 pm

      It’s like you read my mind! Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

      Our cats are black and white, so they shed selectively: black hair for light surfaces, white hair for the dark ones.

      • lensaddiction
        June 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm

        I once lived with a guy who had a tortoiseshell and his comment was that she was able to shed and show up on ANY colour of clothes 🙂

        Short hair tho, pffft – Sky my bluepoint birman (sadly no longer with me) had 4″ long trouser furs when in his winter coat

  6. Elise
    June 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    I’d try, I also have looked into it myself a couple of times, and would be interested to hear how the brought starter goes.

    • June 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

      It’s arriving next Wednesday!!

      I’m also planning to start a starter of my own, just to see how that works.

  7. LastScorpion
    June 3, 2011 at 7:24 am

    I find that sourdough isn’t nearly as hard as most cookbooks make it out to be. I’ve had one running for six or seven years now. The best sourdough cookbook, in my experience, is Ruth Allman’s “Alaska Sourdough: the Real Stuff by a Real Alaskan”.

    Using it once a week, for bread or for pancakes, is plenty. Using it less often can also work fine, if you keep it in the fridge or just remember to “feed it” once a week. Good luck!

    • June 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

      Thanks for your comment. It may be that sourdough is one of those things that is hard to write about without making it sound insanely complicated…

      I’ve actually ordered a sourdough book and culture from a sourdough baker and teacher who lives in WA and is happy to provide ‘tech support’ to her customers, so I’ll start off with that, but I’m probably going to try making a culture from scratch, too, just for fun (I have a couple of friends who I could give it to, so it won’t get totally out of hand). I’ll definitely look at the Alaskan one once I get going.

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