Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Yeast of Life is Sour

Sourdough starter showing off it's action.
Ignore the tomatoes muscling in for a picture.

It's summer and a lousy time to be baking. But I have a creative compulsion and a fear of poverty that motivates me to make things. Don't ask me how that's supposed to help since I don't sell these things. And many of the "things" I make, aren't edible or wearable - even the things that are supposed to be edible or at least decorative.

But in the midst of our September heat wave, it seemed a good thing to make some sourdough starter. After paying for breads in the store and not really being satisfied with it, I wanted to give it a go myself.

Sourdough starter is a living thing. My youngest daughter now 30 years old played some kind of a game where the kids checked some sort of technology to feed or tend to their imaginary characters? What those kids needed was some sourdough starter. There is stirring and feeding it. Then making something with it. You can share it with others. The game of Starter as a Living Being (lots of living beings) in a bowl or jar that is growing when on the counter or put to sleep in the coolness of the refrigerator, is way more real than the techno game. And, there is more sensory involvement.

The first thing I learned was that the rottener it smells, the better the tang. As an old farm girl, this had echoes of silage. I think silage was described as sweet. Okay, this was sweet in a rotten kind of way. Who eats rotten?  Well, the dog for one. Maybe there is something primeval about this living blob that demands curiosity. Who eats funk? I remember how my kids love rotten cheeses. Okay, there sometimes is a good funkiness to edibles, I guess.

Don't let the funky smell in the kitchen scare you, I think, as I walked into the kitchen recently. Of course, I had to be sure and checked to see if the compost container (a used quart yogurt tub) was overripe or something was foul in the kitchen garbage. But no, it was the starter being busy.

I also learned that some people have definite ideas about whether to use bought yeast, a "natural" yeast or someone else's starter. I'm too soon into the process to have an opinion about this yet.

I am also thinking there are lots of people who won't eat yeast for their health. Good self-care is my idea of personalize medicine. I respect dietary limitations.

I have learned that for some reason, the rye flour makes a tangier and bubblier starter than when I made it initially with the unbleached bread flour.

The first sourdough bread was made with flat beer. I think I was the only person in the house to willingly eat it. Partner tried it to be polite, but isn't eating it on his own volition. Housemate encourages anything that is homemade as opposed to bought/factory made, but hasn't really helped herself to it. Honestly, the bread didn't have that tang I was looking for, either. But it did have something.

Partner's said it was a passive bread. I think he meant passive-aggressive bread. He described the taste as bland until swallowed, and then, there was a pungency to the flavor on the backside. 

I didn't experience the bread like that, but that is what makes food so interesting. 

We don't always think that visually things are experienced in inherently different ways from person- to-person and assume that people see what we see, unless we know we have a profound visual impairment. But taste? We know growing up in families and in community know how different taste can be perceived, because someone may love a particular food (you could fill in any food) and someone else will seem repulsed or neutral about it. We wonder how that could be, but it is so pervasive these differences that we instinctively know people experience taste very personally.

Round two on making something with the starter meant that I decided to "feed" it with warmed then cooled milk and rye flour in equal parts and let it sit on the counter for at least 24 hours. I let it go 36 hours. Some experts suggest really letting it go for several more days to really give it tang.

The second attempt to use this rotten, living yeast colony feeding on flour, milk and yeast was with a cinnamon sourdough bun recipe. Two weeks ago Partner, in passing, mentioned a hankering for cinnamon rolls before I even thought of sourdough starter. So this time, maybe I could find a way of using the yeast in a way that would, hopefully, be more pleasing. And, this time the funkiness was way more active and exciting.

Good news. Bad news. 

The good news is that Partner liked them. Housemate liked them. I texted a picture of the rising buns on a pan, and one of the kids managed to find their way home to visit on a Saturday night. I sent an extra one home with her. I liked them, too. But, goodness they were sweet!

Bad news. I love how forgiving food is in my world. I rarely can follow a recipe. This time, nothing fatal. I rolled the widest part of the 9" x 15" (except it was longer than that)of the dough and cut 1" circles from the log of cinnamon rolls. So, there should have been 9 larger, with more spirals in them, rolls from the log of dough. I cut back on the baking time in hopes that this wouldn't over bake them.

So, the bad news was... there was no bad news really. Just worry about my inability to follow directions. I tell people I can't hear directions given aloud. But I don't seem to be able to follow written directions, either. 

And, the sourdough starter was given another cup of rye flour and water to replace the amount taken for the recipe. So, the starter has been given another chance at making something new.

I just have to remember to stir it every few days in the fridge... And what's the worst that can happen? I have to make new starter, which means allowing a bowl of yeasty life to grow on my kitchen counter. That is about as much responsibility as I want for life right now.

Yeasty edgy cinnamon goodness