1) IT'S SCIENCE!
Sourdough is the product of a happy interspecies cohabitation between yeast and bacteria. KINKY! And it lives all around you: in the air, even in your body. FREAKY! And like Pokemon, you have to catch it and tame its super-effective ability to go horribly awry.SOURDOUGH, I CHOOSE YOU!
*ahem* All right all right all right. Sourdough is a symbiotic culture of a type of yeast and a type of lactobacillus in a medium of water and flour. Lactobacillus is a li'l creature that eats lactose and ferments yogurt, cheese etc etc. It also makes up part of your gut flora. And you know what yeast is, right? It's a kind of mould or fungus. In very simple terms, it eats sugar and belches carbon dioxide and alcohol. JUST LIKE YOU. It originally grew as a mould on grapes, which is how you know we are beloved of the gods because when you crush grapes and forget about it for too long the juice turns into wine. IT'S A MIRACLE (or at least that's what people thought). Then we we discovered that if you take the gross stuff that settles to the bottom of wine and don't clean your bowl before you don't finish your barley-water mush for breakfast and forget to wash the dishes for too long, it turns into beer! THEN we discovered that if you throw your wine leftovers into a bowl of uneaten flour-water mush, and then that gets whoopsed into a fire, you get bread! (As opposed to if you're a slave fleeing Egypt and don't have time to leaven your bread and therefore discover matzoh.)
Aaaaaaaaaanyway, yeast and lactobacillus hang around and hook up. TOGETHER THEY FIGHT CRIME. Um, I mean, together they make a symbiosis because yeast is lactose-intolerant and lactobacillus is allergic to carbs. JUST LIKE YOU.
2) IT'S ALIVE! In case you haven't noticed, this stuff is alive. When you make sourdough, you're making a pet. You have to feed it and take care of it. AND THEN YOU THROW IT IN A HOT OVEN AND KILL IT. WHEE! But that comes later.
3) IT'S EASY! You need a clean glass or crockery jar. I use glass so I can see what's going on. In any case, NEVER EVER PLASTIC OR METAL. You also need a piece of cheesecloth or butter muslin (google it, I don't have time). That's about it. Oh, if you're a geek it's really best if you also have a kitchen scale that works in ounces and/or grams, but if not, you can work around it.
Here's what you do. You take half an ounce of flour, an ounce of water, throw it in a jar, stir it, cover it with cheesecloth with a rubberband or piece of string tied around the neck of the jar, and put it somewhere at room temperature where it won't get knocked over. DO NOT REFRIGERATE IT. Then WALK AWAY. REALLY. BACK THE FUCK OFF. Later that day, if you are walking by and remember, stir it a bit more and put the cloth back on. THEN WALK AWAY. You can do that a couple of times a day if you remember, but try to do it at least once. I use a scale because a fluid ounce of water does not weigh the same as a dry ounce of flour, and geek!Arachnid wants to maintain a precise ratio to use in baking. But seriously, don't worry about it; just make sure you make a wet slurry like thin pancake batter, not a paste.
Note: a lot of sourdough recipes start with large amounts of flour-water -- like a cup or more each! Then they tell you to dump out half every day before you feed it another cup. What is the point of that? It's a waste.
The next day, it probably won't look like anything has happened. There may be a bubble or two, but if not, don't sweat it. Don't add any more flour; just stir it again, cover and walk away. Again, if you remember later in the day, stir it a bit more.
Day 3: When you look at it, you might see a lot more bubbles, or it might just look like cake batter. Don't worry about it. When you smell it, it might smell absolutely awful. That's a good sign! Anyway, you have to feed your pet again. One ounce each of flour and water. Stir, cover and leave it. Again, try to stir it once or twice more that day.
Day 4: With any luck, your pet is bubbling and smells like cheesy feet. That means the lactobacillus is nomming away happily. One ounce flour, half an ounce of water. That makes the flour/water ratio 1:1, which makes it easier to measure when you bake. Stir, cover, blah blah.
Days 5, 6 and 7: One ounce flour, one ounce of water, stir, cover, blah blah. At this point it should bubble and stink to high heaven. Yours might take more time, especially if you've put it in a place that's too cold, so move it to someplace warmer. And don't forget to let it breathe, which is why you cover it with something that lets the air through so the wild beasties can find the food and start nomming.
Note: At some point during this process, the cheesy feet smell should be turning into more of an alcohol smell, which means the yeast is overtaking the lactobacillus. That's exactly what you want to happen. You might also be getting a slight layer of liquid at the top. That's cool too; just stir it in.
By the end of a week or ten days, it should be frothing up between feedings. If it's kept in a warm place it might even be climbing out of the jar
P.S. I know I've made this sound really easy. Like I said, in principle it is, but it may take a few false starts before you get one going. No prob. You can short cut that by NOT WASHING THE JAR after you dump it out and start again with another half ounce of flour and ounce of water. Trust me, there are enough beasties in there that are alive even if they look dead and they will help jump-start your new pet.
P.S.S. There are also variations on this recipe, but that's Intermediate level. We might get into that at some later date.
TO BE CONTINUED!