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Epic Fail: Sourdough Starter

February 11, 2013

Precursor to the Sourdough Story, and a word about swearing: in Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential,” and in the television show by the same name, there is an incredibly creepy, drugged-out, almost zombie-like character named “Adam-Last-Name-Unknown,” who bakes the most amazing naturally leavened breads, from a starter he fairly misogynistically refers to as “The [Word that starts with B and rhymes with Mitch].”

The character in the book is described in such a funny way that he’s stayed with Matt and I since reading and watching the show, so every time we refer to the starter in our household, it’s in the creepy tone of voice we associate with “Adam-Last-Name-Unknown,” pitched low, and it’s always the same sentence: “Feed the Mitch.” Because we’re trying to stay a family blog here, I’m going to stick with Mitch, so you don’t have to edit it, and so you’ll have a funny image of the red-headed character from Modern Family sitting on top of our fridge for a week. You can edit out the explanation when you read this to you your kids, by firelight, sipping cocoa, as I imagine in my head you all do with every single one of my posts.

Just kidding. But anyways, back to the story.

– Cupcake

Did you ever have one of those flashes of brilliance, where you suddenly think to yourself “You know, I’ve been doing XYZ thing for a while now…I think I know how this works well enough to operate sans instructions…”

In my experience, this usually happens with men, and usually in one of two arenas: automobiles, and electronics.

It never ends well.

So, completely shockingly to me, after last week’s not-quite-terrible but not-quite-awesome experience with the breadmaker, I decided that based my vast knowledge of sourdough starters (I’ve made one in my life) and bread (I’ve baked bread fewer times than you can count on two hands and two feet), I could just “wing it” with my newest idea for sourdough bread, and it would turn out edible.

I had visions, I’ll admit, of being somewhat of a sourdough savant, able to churn crunchy, well-risen and nutty breads to sustain my family and friends out from the mere building blocks of life: flour and water.

Nay nay, Cupcake. Nay nay.

Nay nay, Cupcake. Nay nay.

CATASTROPHIC, EPIC FAIL! I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how awful it was!

First, there was the smell: I’m not positive, but I think somewhere between day 1 and day 5, Matt and I managed to murder the very active yeast culture we generated earlier in the week. Let me explain how this all went down:

Day 1: Mixed flour and water in some of our wedding Pyrex bowls (sidenote: mixing bowls WITH LIDS?! Best wedding gift ever, Lindsey Strubhart). Put lid on.

Day 2: Came home from work, asked husband “Did you feed the Mitch?” found that my darling husband had REMOVED THE LID from said starter, and starter was bubbling furiously away on top of the fridge, looking like the Kitchn’s sourdough starter beginner’s guide on like, Day 5.

Now, as my hormones will tell you, my darling husband is never right about anything. So naturally I flipped my lid on him (no pun intended, hehe), and immediately fed the Mitch and put the lid back on.

Day 3: Came home from work, had dinner with darling husband, he asked “Did you feed the Mitch?” and that’s when I discovered that: THERE WAS ALREADY AT LEAST HALF A CUP OF HOOCH ON TOP. What?! That’s like, day 6 in normal starters! And the whole shebang smelled wonky, not like sourdough at all. Whatever, fed the Mitch, stirred it up, and put the lid back on.

Day 4: Sourdough starter now basically floating in its own juices, which I have since found out, by the way, is a sign the starter is STARVING and eating its own waste (yeah, gross), we persevered, me insisting we keep the starter covered for at least one more day.

Final day, Day 5: I finally yielded to the idea that, quite possibly, I murdered my starter, and left it open for most of the day before using it to make bread.

It. Was. Awful! The taste was horrific, but I didn’t even get a chance to taste it, because it was SO DENSE we almost created a black hole, right in my tiny little galley-style kitchen!

For a bit of scale, the only difference in these two loaves is that loaf 1 was made with commercial yeast, and loaf 1 had 1 additional cup of flour:

Nom nom nom...

Nom nom nom…

I. Cry.

I. Cry.

It was so hard, neither Matt nor I could even break off a chunk to even taste it, rather, we gnawed on bits like teething infants, just to get some of the flavor. The dogs must have thought Matt was holding something akin to rotten meat, because they went NUTS trying to taste it…

And when we finally threw it in the trashcan, as if nailing down the lid on the coffin, there was a soft “chink” that accompanied the “THWACK” of the bread hitting the bottom of the can, as a lone piece of crust pinged away from the mothership, and made a bid for over-baked freedom.

And now we have no bread, and yeast is #1 on my shopping list this week.

I may try sourdoughing again, but this time actually listening to the husband that’s never right, and trusting that perhaps I should allow my starter some time to collect good yeastie-beasties from the extremely fecund Deep East Texas air (this area is lusher than the Amazon – it rains a ton, there’s green everywhere, even in winter, and mildew is a constant problem for homeowners) before I cut off its air supply and starve the crap out of it. I may also feed it more regularly. Like twice, or three times a day. Depending.


Or, I may just give up. Who knows. 🙂

One Comment leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    February 16, 2013 1:48 am

    I think I might try sourdough again if I ever have a family, or a bunch of friends who like sourdough bread. As I recall, I jump-started my starter with yeast, so it wasn’t too hard to keep it going. The problem was I had so much that I could only have sourdough bread, never anything else, and even then I had trouble using it up fast enough.

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