If you are looking for a thoughtful gift to give a friend who is fond of baking, you may want to consider preparing a culture of sourdough. Sourdough, or wild yeast, has been used for thousands of years to leaven bread (long before packages of commercial yeast were readily available in supermarkets), and can take anywhere from one to three weeks to prepare.
You can use a sourdough starter to make all sorts of breads. In fact, anything that can be leavened with commercial yeast will also have the ability rise with sourdough starter. And the best thing about breads made with wild yeast is the unique flavor and long-lasting life span of a well-maintained starter.
There are several methods for growing a sourdough culture; the most basic requiring only a mixture of flour and water. There are other methods that involve jump-starting your culture with commercial yeast, but the method I prefer begins with a mixture of unsweetened pineapple juice and whole wheat (or rye) flour. I like this method because the pineapple juice lowers the pH of the mixture enough that the conditions are right for the necessary microorganisms to flourish. This helps increase your chances of growing an active, healthy culture.
Mix 2 tablespoons whole wheat or rye flour with 2 tablespoons unsweetened pineapple juice in any container not made of metal. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Add 2 tablespoons whole wheat or rye flour, and 2 tablespoons pineapple juice to the mixture. Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. At this point, you may start to see small bubbles form in the mixture.
Repeat the process for day two.
Stir the mixture. Measure out 1/4 cup of the mixture and place in a clean container (not metal), discarding the rest. To the 1/4 cup, add…
• 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup filtered water
Day Five – Seven:
Repeat the process for day four once daily. Do this until the mixture starts to expand and smell of yeast. If the mixture stops producing bubbles at any point during this process, add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar with your daily feeding. This will help lower the pH of the mixture, re-enabling the yeast to activate and expand.
After Day Seven:
If your mixture is consistently active (bubbly) and smelling of yeast, you can continue forward. It’s a good idea to keep your starter out at room temperature for the first couple of weeks so that it has a chance to develop its flavor. Give your starter daily feedings, repeating the process for day four every 12-24 hours.
After feeding it consistently for two weeks, your starter should be active (bubbly and sour), and flavorful enough to use. At this point you can either store your starter in the refrigerator, discarding half and feeding once per week, or you can use your sourdough starter in a recipe.
A few points to keep in mind:
• When using your starter in a recipe, always remove it from the refrigerator 3-4 hours in advance, feeding it equal parts water and flour.
• Always feed your sourdough starter enough water and flour so that you’ll have excess starter to refrigerate and feed for the next time you want to use it. This is how you will maintain your culture.
• Never use metal containers or utensils. They will inhibit the growth of your starter.
• Once you start refrigerating your starter, it’s best to feed it at least once per week, even if you don’t plan to use it for a recipe. However, your starter may survive a month or two in your refrigerator without dying. If this occurs, you may see a liquid form on the top of your starter. This liquid (or hooch) is harmless, and can either be stirred back into your starter or discarded. To reactivate your starter, repeat the process for day four for a few days until your sourdough is active enough to use in a recipe.
Recipe Source: The Fresh Loaf
To gift your sourdough starter to your friends and family, split the culture into separate jars, feeding them equal parts water and flour, and storing them in the refrigerator until they’re ready to be given away. Add labels and tags, making sure to include a label with instructions on the back so your recipient knows how to feed and maintain their gift. I used personalized tags and labels in the style of Classic Oldstyle for my friends and family. I also baked a loaf of rustic sourdough bread to give along with my sourdough starter so that my friend could taste the results herself!