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Flour and water are the only two necessary ingredients to grow the yeast.
• To make a basic starter that requires catching yeast from the air, combine in a glass bowl, 1½ cups warm water (80-85°F, distilled and non-chlorinated water) and 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Use no sugars and especially, use NO commercial yeasts! Mix well with a wooden or plastic spoon, being sure to incorporate a lot of air into the mixture.
• Pour into a non-metal container, preferably glass, stoneware or plastic and large enough to allow for expansion of the starter to twice its original size. Leave uncovered so the natural microorganisms can settle on the surface in a warm 85°F draft-free area.
• Let the mixture proof for 24 hours. Stir the mixture well once or twice during the first 24 hour proof to mix in the microorganisms.
• At the end of the first 24 hours, examine for bubbles and stir the mixture again.
• Repeat the 24 hour proof as described above, including a brisk stirring.
• The starter has now proofed for a total time of 48 hours. Once again examine for bubbles and stir. If after 72 to 96 hours have passed and there are no signs of bubbles, you might need to start over. The bubbles indicate the beginning of the fermentation process.
• Once it does start to bubble, it can remain at room temperature or covered with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. It will survive in the refrigerator for about two weeks before needing to be “fed”.
• To make a starter using commercial yeast, combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm (105°-115°) water, 1 package of dry yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
• Cover the container with a towel, cheesecloth, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Or, poke a small hole in the top of the lid to allow gas to escape and the yeast to breathe; otherwise, the accumulated gases may crack or shatter the container.
• Let the starter sit for two to 10 days, depending on the amount of sourness desired, in a warm (85°F) area. Remember to stir the starter, at least two or three times daily to incorporate the yeast and sugar.
• Three kinds of commercial starters are available in stores: dehydrated starters, freeze-dried starters and specially packaged starter ingredients. All three require only the addition of water.
• Once a good, tart starter is achieved, take care of it. The foamy, bubbling container of yeast is a living, selfperpetuating organism—it must be fed and cared for like a living plant.
• To ensure a warm (80°-85°F), draft-free place for the starter, place it on a sunny window, a high shelf or a warm corner. Do not allow the starter to be subjected to direct heat sources or temperatures exceeding 95°F.
• Starter that has been sitting for a time will have a thin alcoholic layer of clean grayish liquid settle at the top of the batter. Old-timers referred to this alcohol as “hooch.” Just mix it back into the starter. If this layer is green, blue, pink or orange, discard the starter and begin anew.
• If the starter smells particularly sour or is too tart, add 1 cup of warm liquid and 1 cup of flour to 1 cup of starter and mix thoroughly. Pour off all but 1 cup of this batter. This is known as freshening, or sweetening, the starter.
• Replenish or “feed” the starter each time it is used. To “feed” your starter, you will need to remove 1 cup of starter and replace it with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour. Whisk these ingredients into the starter until blended but not completely smooth. Any remaining lumps will dissolve as the mixture ferments. Cover and let sit in a warm place for six to 24 hours before using. Never let the starter get below 1 cup of reserve. It is advisable to have several cups of starter on hand in your crock.
• Use and replenish the starter at least once every two weeks (if kept in the refrigerator) and it will live indefinitely, gaining flavor and tang as it grows older. If not used within 10 days, add 1 teaspoon of sugar to feed the yeast.
When not in use, date and refrigerate the freshened or replenished starter in a sealed container. Fermentation is slowed during refrigeration, so the starter may not need to be used or freshened for a couple of weeks. Always bring it to room temperature and make sure it is bubbling before using (the process will take about 8 to 12 hours).
Source: Wheat Foods Council www.wheatfoods.org
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