Bread starters are like Tamagotchis, with all of the feeding and caring and keeping them alive. Do you remember Tamagotchis? They were these little electronic key chains that became popular in the mid-90s. When you got your Tamagotchi, you would pull a little plastic tab, an egg would hatch on the screen and a little creature was born, which you then had to take care of. It was a toy, kind of.
They became popular when I was in the 6th grade. Our entire class was constantly running to their lockers or sneaking glances at their Tamagotchi under their desks to feed it, clean up their electronic "business" and play a game where you had to guess which way it would turn its head (and that's what we called a game back when I was a kid). I remember one of my classmates had five or six of them all on one key chain; sextuplets, if you will. The minute he was done giving medicine to one Tamagotchi another one was ready for bed while a third was crying because it wanted to "play" the game. They finally got so disruptive that a teacher confiscated them and locked them in her desk, which seemed so cruel to us. We imagined them in her drawer, sitting in their own filth, slowly withering away until they died (I'm pretty sure the only thing that happened when they died was they got little electronic X's over their eyes and you just had to hatch a new one, but it seemed devastating).
Anyway, a few weeks ago I bought Chad Robertson's book Tartine Bread. Robertson and his wife, Elisabeth Prueitt, own Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco. This was right after we did a sensory lab in our Experiencing Food Through the Senses class that was all about dough. Part of the lab involved tasting the difference between a pizza dough made without a starter versus one made with a starter. The difference was ridiculous - the one with the starter was approximately a million times better.
So Robertson spent a lot of time figuring out how home cooks could recreate the artisan breads he makes at his bakery. And it all starts with the aptly named ender. Just kidding, it's called a starter. I'll be here all week.
A starter is basically a culture of flour and water in which yeasts and bacteria ferment. Mmmmm. You can then use your starter in place of store-bought yeast to make the most delicious bread ever to come out of your oven. And, as long as you keep feeding it, you can keep your starter alive in perpetuity. (Even if you neglect your starter you can probably bring it back to life - starters are notoriously forgiving, if being forgiving is something you can be notorious for. I think it is. "He was notorious for being understanding and kind.").
So on Saturday I started the Tartine starter. I mixed together 2.5 pounds of King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour and 2.5 pounds of King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour. This is the mixture I'll be using to feed my starter.
I then mixed together 120 grams of water with 120 grams of the flour mixture with my hands - mixing with your hands is important to get some of those yeast creatures from your hands into the dough. Sounding more delicious all the time. And now it has to sit to ferment and get stinky for two or three days (which is about today).
This whole starting the starter process takes about two weeks of feeding and caring for my Tamagotchi before it can be used to make some bread. I'll keep you updated on how it goes. Here is Tamagotchi on Day 1: