On my first attempt at using The Times recipe with my
sourdough starter, the bread tasted lovely, but was as a flat as a
pancake. I carefully read the instructions for "Natural Sourdough Starter" in Joy of Cooking and
tried to be more precise about the care and feeding of my starter jar.
Also, Joy suggested a much higher proportion of starter to flour than I'd been using. This round of breadmaking was even worse–a flat rubbery loaf, albeit
one with a terrific crust.
On my next attempt, I cheated by adding a quarter
teaspoon of commercial yeast along with the starter. The texture was perfect! The flavor, not sour enough.
decided to try again. My refrigerated sourdough starter, unfed for a
few days as some group of instructions or other assured me was okay, started smelling
like–it took me a second to figure out what–nail polish remover.
A blog called My Sister's Kitchen suggested adding a spoonful of yogurt to counteract the acetone. I did. I also checked out a blog called Wild Yeast to see if I was doing things correctly. As soon as I was scolded for not having a kitchen scale, I was out of that place.
I let the starter rev up for a few days and tried again, again with just a bit of commercial yeast.
perfect. Flavor: pretty great, but not quite enough salt. Some people will tell you sourdough bread needs more salt than a typical homemade bread. Others won't. The starter still smells
faintly like acetone, but no one seems clear whether this is cause for
I press on.
My Sister's Kitchen had one
other excellent pointer: don't use heavily chlorinated water in
sourdough starter. It will kill the yeast. Duh! I live in a city,
with horrible-tasting, heavily treated water. I've been making my
bread with tap water, which may explain everything about my lack of success so far.
My husband suggests that I go get entirely
untreated water from one of the many mineral springs in Saratoga
Springs. The mineral springs that are the reason people started coming
to this landlocked corner of the world in the first place, and there are bunch
dribbling right downtown in Congress Park capped by various Greekish follies. Nobody really drinks this stuff any more, since it tastes like salty rust.
It does sound perfect for my bread,
however. I'll let you know how the yeast feel about it, but I'm sure that won't mean much wherever you are trying to raise your own wild yeast
crop. I don't think Mother Nature likes how-tos any more than I do. I
think she works very hard to turn how-to writers into asses.