Starter-Starting Sunday: Day One, Fermentation Begins

As you may recall, I spent a good amount of time a few weeks ago reading all about bread in my birthday present of a book “Nancy Silverton’s Breads From The La Brea Bakery.” The idea of starting a starter–that strange combination of flour, water, and grapes that is the lifeblood of good bread–seemed a daunting task. And the timing was off: starting a starter takes 14 days, and I was leaving for Spring Break.

Well, now I’m back, and I have 14 days up the wazoo. So I said to myself today: “Adam, you wily young lass, why don’t you start your starter?”

Since I could think of no reason not to, and since last night’s coffee cake left me feeling insecure and shamed, I figured this would be good for my spirits. So I peeled myself away from the computer, into the kitchen, and began the arduous–actually, very easy–process.

STEP ONE: CLEAN EVERYTHING!

Nancy says that later on you can afford to be less cautious, but at this key moment of starter conception everything needs to be pristine (kind of like my conception, I imagine. Except without “How Deep Is Your Love?” playing on the radio). (Don’t ask how I know that). So I scrubbed the counters, I scrubbed the floors, I scrubbed my elbows. I cleaned out my newly purchased 1 gallon tupperware tub (home of my future starter) and cleaned the rubber spatula I would use to mix. All set!

STEP TWO: PLACE 1 LB OF BLACK GRAPES ON TWO LAYERS OF CHEESECLOTH

Cheesecloth is one of those things I didn’t already own. So I ordered it, along with a bread-raising basket and some kind of tarp that’ll come in handy later, from King Arthur Flour’s website. The whole thing was very reasonable. So I took the cheesecloth out of the package and had Lauren help me cut it in half. Then we cut it in half again. I took two segments and laid them on top of each other. Then I took 2 lbs of black grapes and cut them in half. Nancy says not to wash them because their skin contains natural yeasts that’ll benefit the starter. Here is what it looked like pre-bundling:

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STEP THREE: TIE THE CHEESECLOTH TOGETHER

I did this by tying the opposite corners in tight knots. Here’s how my mastery paid off:

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STEP FOUR: PREPARE THE WATER AT 78 DEGREES

Nancy wants 4 cups of lukewarm water that reads 78 degrees on a kitchen instant read thermometer. My thermometer is a candy thermometer and therefore didn’t really measure that low (the first prong is 100 degrees). Regardless, the thermometer seemed to suggest that my water was in the neighborhood of 78 degrees:

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STEP FIVE: ADD WATER TO TUPPERWARE, PREPARE FLOUR

After adding the four cups of in-the-neighborhood-of-78-degrees water to the tupperware, I prepared the flour. I used King Arthur unbleached white bread flour purhcased yesterday from Whole Foods. I measured out 3 and 3/4 cups.

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STEP SIX: MIX TOGETHER

Then, I mixed everything together with a rubber spatula. It was fun.

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STEP SEVEN: SQUEEZE GRAPES OVER MIXTURE, DRAG THROUGH AND PRESS TO THE BOTTOM

Following the directions, I mashed the grapes in their bag over the flour and water. Black/purplish liquid streamed out. Then I dragged it through a few times and pressed it to the bottom. Only thing is, with such a flat container there really wasn’t a bottom. But I think we’ll be ok.

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STEP EIGHT: COVER AND PLACE IN A COOL WARM PLACE

Nancy’s specifics regarding the storage of the starter confused me. Basically, though, she wants it to be stored between 70 and 75 degrees. I felt the best place for this to happen is atop a grill atop my refrigerator. Also, this is the place where it seems least likely that Lauren will say: “What the hell is that?!”

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And that’s it! Days 2 and 3 require no work, just observation. After Day 3, it should be bubbly and alive. How exciting! I’ll take pictures, of course, as we progress. And just think: in two weeks, I’ll have bread! Hope I can survive that long. I’m kind of hungry.

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