The Awkward Phase

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What’s that smell? No, it’s not a hunk of provolone you forgot to put back in the fridge. Follow your nose, and it will lead you straight to a small bowl in a corner of the dining room. At this point the starter is, in Robertson’s words,  “very ripe”. Yeah, I’ll say it’s ripe.

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Now that I’ve got a stinky mess of frothy flour on my hands, the next step is to discard 80% and feed the little bugs living in the remaining 20%. Luckily, the organisms are relatively low maintenance, requiring a fresh dose of flour and water only once every 24 hours.

The goal is to cultivate a wild and thriving community of yeasts and bacteria. One that will be strong enough to leaven a loaf to lusty heights, throwing a gorgeous ‘ear’ (yes, that is an actual bread baking term) with impressive oven spring. The wild cultures also add a certain je ne sais quoi that is missing in breads made with commercial yeast. Think of a vanilla bean versus vanilla extract-they both get the job done, but one has the soul of vanilla. The starter is the soul of bread.

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My starter doesn’t rise and fall as predictably as it will, ultimately, need to. But I am keeping the faith. If I nurture it through these awkward adolescent days, then this ugly duckling can become a beautiful swan. Or at least a slightly less stinky duckling.

Stunning art by Heather McCaw Kerley, via the Jealous Curator