Sourdough Bread Using the Sullivan Street Method

Making sourdough starter is easy. It’s like having a plant that needs watering.

After two years, I’ve got it down. I can make sourdough bread. There are many variables like the ambient temperature and the amount of ambient yeast in your cook space to figure out. I tried measuring. I got a scale. I used all different kinds of flour.

But I settled on doing it by feel. And each loaf takes over night to make.

But here what it boils down to: Each time I take one out of the oven it’s like its own person. Though they all taste delicious, they all look different, like they have their own personalities. Like they’re my children. (Maybe that’s too far, but I do like to show them off.)
As for the starter, think of it as a plant that needs watering and tending.
Here’s my method.
To make your own starter:
Use King Arthur Organic Bread flour and filtered water. Chlorine can kill the ambient yeast, which you are hoping to capture.
Find a consistently warm space in your kitchen. Just hot enough, you’ll get speedy fermentation. At colder temps, it will take longer. Too hot or too cold will kill any yeast. I keep mine on top of the refrigerator which is also under a flood light; seems to work. In the summer, the counter will do.
Mix equal amounts flour and water in a glass container then a little more water so you can stir it. (Glass makes it easier to see how much it’s risen.) Cover loosely to  collect the yeast. Then about every four hours scoop out half of the mixture and add back equal amounts flour and water with a little extra water. I’m usually working with 1/4 cup at a time. You do not have to get up in the middle of the night to feed it like a baby. Just resume in the morning.
The starter is ready when it triples in volume a couple hours after a feeding. And, of course, this all depends on the amount of ambient yeast in your cook space and the temperature. I’ve always wanted to start a starter in a winery during fermentation when the yeast is running wild.
Keep feeding the starter and leaving it on the counter or in a warm space.  To save the starter if you’re not going to use it, feed it, loosely cover it and stick it in the back of the ‘fridge. It will still ferment, just much more slowly. Also, the longer it ferments the more sour it is.
If you don’t wish to start your own starter, it’s possible to buy some; it’ll arrive either frozen or dried, and you’ll have to reactivate it. Or you could call me, and I’ll send you some of mine, thus fulfilling my dream of being a sourdough Johnny Appleseed.
Next installment: Making the bread.

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Eileen M. Duffy

Eileen M. Duffy DWS holds a diploma in wines and spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Her book on Long Island wine Behind the Bottle came out in 2015. Visit her website, eileenmduffy.com, to find out what else she's working on.