I've been working on establishing a sourdough starter, a mother starter, for over a month now. I've been following the instructions from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, and I wanted to share my starter experience with you.
I have been teetering on a point of joining the sourdough obsessed (and I know you're out there), and running away entirely, feeling like this is just not for me.
My first attempt, I used filtered water and a coarsely-ground, local whole wheat flour. It was a nasty smelling result, and I tossed it out after a couple days.
My second attempt, I used filtered water again and unbleached bread flour. This produced a pleasant-smelling sourness, but the mixture never became bubbly and frothy like it was supposed to, so being unsure of the importance of this activity, I tossed this in the trash, too.
Mind you, this mother starter process has four phases, each lasting two to four days. My second attempt, I took to phase three, at least a week, stirring several times a day.
By the third attempt, I had been at this for maybe nine days, and was starting to get annoyed. In this third and what was to be my final attempt, I used pineapple juice and unbleached bread flour.
Aaaah, bubbles appeared, the mixture thickened and there was froth! There was, however, no pleasant, sour smell, just a lovely sweetness, likely a result of the pineapple juice. I held my ground this time, and proceeded all the way through the final Phase Four seed culture (the mother starter). I put in in the fridge, ready in a few days to try applying it to a Levain and San Francisco Sourdough Starter.
I went the "purist" route (no added yeast) for both starters. They both worked, and I refrigerated them until I was ready to make the final doughs.
Both breads were beautiful and absolutely flavorless. All that effort for flavorless bread!
I refreshed my mother starter after five days, but this time I let it sit beyond the 6-8 hours, trying to get a bit of sourness. After about 21 hours, I felt like I achieved this. My second round of baking these two same breads resulted in loaves that had a little more flavor.
I still wasn't fully satisfied. I felt like this was a lot of work for something that was just alright.
My third round of refreshing the mother starter, I let it sit the same 21 hours, but tested it with PH papers, which we just happened to have. It was the required level 4. This batch of bread was much more flavorful.
I'm ready now to try some other recipes and learn a little more. I'm still vacillating over whether all this tending-to seems worth it to me, yet at the same time, I'm fascinated, hooked--almost.