Friday, March 28, 2008

Meet Norton

At my house, we have a tendency to name appliances or other inanimate objects as if they were pets. For instance, my little teal green Geo Metro is named Minnow. Lots of people name their cars, but Kent has also named our Kitchen Aid mixer, Trixie. So when, I "birthed" a sourdough starter, the spawn of organic flour, water, and wild Idaho yeasts, it was really no surprise that Kent would want to name it. Our happy, healthy sourdough starter was christened "Norton," after Joshua Norton, emperor of the United States. Joshua Norton lived in San Francisco (also known for its incredible sourdough) and was a bit, shall we say eccentric. His title was entirely self-proclaimed in 1859. The guy even printed his own currency and local store owners loved him enough to honor it. It is exactly this fortuitous sense of entrepreneurship that I want my little blob of flour, water, and micro-organisms to have.

If you want to read more about the original Norton, check out this neat little article:

Our Norton was born in November, and he's still going strong. This may be the last sourdough I'll ever need. Sourdoughs only get better with age. Their flavor become more intense and complex with the longer the yeast is allowed to develop. Legend has it pioneer women traveled the Oregon Trial with their jars of sourdough around their neck. Imagine how lusciously deep and tangy sourdough bread made with a hundred old sourdough culture could be!

Norton lives in an old Miracle Whip Jar with air holes punched in the lid. The French call sourdough starters Le Chef. Chef's can generate so much gas from fermentation that they need to breathe. A metal container would kill Norton. He enjoys spending most of his time in the refrigerator, this way he only needs to eat about once a week. To feed a sourdough culture, you add flour and water to it. Presumably after you've used at least half of the start to bake some delicious bread, like I did yesterday.

It was baguette Nirvana yesterday afternoon and all because of Norton. After Kent's first bite of crisp crusted, light, opened crumbed baguette he said, "You bought this." No sir-ee! I'm afraid I'll never want to make another kind of bread again. But, first things first:

How to Conceive Your Very Own Sourdough Baby
Making a sourdough starter is brain-dead easy. Get a jar with air-holes punched in the lid and add a cup of flour (organic is best) and water (spring water is best because overly chlorinated water can kill wild yeast).

Stir together and let it sit in a warm place (the top of the refrigerator works well) capture yeast. Every day you'll want to dump about half of the starter out and add another 1/2 cup of flour and a 1/2 cup of water. In about three or four or six days, you'll start getting bubbles throughout the mixture. As soon as the mixture becomes frothy, it's done. At this point you can begin baking with it, and you can now keep it in the fridge. If it's refrigerated it only needs to be fed once a week. Don't worry if you start to get a brownish-liquidy sludge on the top, just stir it back in to the starter. However, if the liquid turns rosy-pinkish it means that it's went rancid, and you'll have to start all over.

Some sourdough schools of thought tell you to avoid whole wheat flours as they cause rancidity, but I haven't found this to be the case. However, I've never feed Norton anything over 20% whole wheat flour, and he seems to be happy with that.

*Baguettes were made using Daniel Leader's "Baguette Au Levain" recipe in Bread Alone (1993), which is a must have for any serious bread baker.

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