2018-10-06 A tale of forgetfulness, carelessness, death, and in the end redemption.
Death is not always forever!
I was going to send another story based on my experiences at the Mockmill "Grain to Bread" class, But I'm on the road, and the notes for those emails are on my computer at home. And, really, this is a good story. I'll send the emails about lessons learned at Central Milling in weeks to come.
When I was at the recent "Grain to Bread" class the instructor, Guy Frenkel, gave us some of his latest and greatest starter which he calls the Hooligan. It has a story behind which has been shared repeatedly on Facebook and several previous Mike's (more or less) Weekly newsletters, so I won't repeat it here.
Two of the things that the instructors in the class really drilled into us were "work clean" and "clean as you go". If you do that, you don't have a nightmare facing you at the end of the bake. I have tried to do these things, but this time, for this bake, I made a special effort to do it. When I finished with a bowl, it went into the sink of soapy water so I could clean it when I was done with the mixing and stuff wouldn't dry on and stick to the bowl.
The day's bake was 5 batches of two loaves of bread. We're retesting our recipes to make sure they work at sea level, and to photograph the breads for our upcoming "Flavored Breads" and "Breads From Mike's Bread" cookbooks. The breads were mixed, the counters were amazingly clean, and as soon as I fed the starter, I'd clean the bowls in the sink. Only, where was the bowl with the starter in it?
Oh. No! Oh. Crud! Oh! Great! Green! Blobs! Of! Creeping! Crud!
Yeah, the bowl with the last of the starter was in the sink! The sink filled with soapy water!
My past life as an IT guy came in handy here. First, don't panic. Take a deep breath, remember to breathe. Panic can cause you do do things that will make your losses permanent. In IT, we say your backup plan is only as good as your last restore, so what are your options?
First, I still had some of Guy's dried starter in the fridge, so that was an option. Next, the bread hadn't been baked, so I could pinch off some dough and reactivate the starter. But wait, there's another option. Beth, my long suffering wife, had recently switched us to some hippie dippie organic and natural dish soap. And looking at the mixing bowls, I see there is still starter on some of them. So, I pulled the bowls out of the dish water and looked at them. A bit of inspection turned up two pieces of starter each about the size of a pea. I transferred them to a 1 liter Cambro container, added 10 grams each of flour and water and stirred.
Because I'm a coward, I also pinched off some of the bread dough and fed it also!
I used unbleached white flour. If I'd had bleached flour, I'd have used that. While I don't bake with bleached flour, I wanted a flour with as few microorganisms on it as possible because I wanted to reactivate the starter not start a fresh one. Bleached flour has fewer microorganisms in it than unbleached flour. After feeding the two peas sized blobs, I crossed my fingers and completed cleaning the kitchen and the bake. At the end of that day, I looked at the starters I attempted to resuscitate. Both were light and puffy!
I fed them again and went to bed. In the morning, they were bubbly! Life was good again! At that point, I fed them again, and left them in the refrigerator for the weekend. We'll see if they are still in good shape when I get back from class. Class? Yeah, I seem to be going to more classes. This one was at Barton Springs Mill in Dripping Springs, Texas. Dripping Springs is very near Austin, and we're having a great time in the area. The class, taught by local baker Sandeep Gyawali of Miche Breads. It was a great class! We especially liked trying breads made from the different heirloom and landrace wheats they mill into flour.
Back to our tale of woe - the moral here is that sourdough is more resilient than you might think, but that you should still plan ahead to be ready for disaster! Some bakers have had good luck just rinsing their starter container with water, adding flour and culturing that. There is often enough starter clinging to the walls of the container to revive the starter.
Having extra in the fridge of freezer is also a good idea - just plan ahead!
Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter what sort of crazy stuff you did to your starter!