Here's my story. I decided to get into the magical world of wild yeast a couple days ago. I looked up a few pages on starting a sourdough starter, and the choices seemed to be pretty much endless in terms of what to put into your starting starter, from plain flour & water on up - eventually, I settled on using 1.5c milk, .5c water, 2c flour and about a tablespoon of honey just to give the wild yeasts something to eat right off the bat.
I left that overnight on top of the fridge at the back, where it's nice and warm, and the next day the results were quite gratifying - lots of bubbles in there, like a pancake batter. when feeding time came, I took out half, but instead of discarding it, I decided to just feed both halves in separate containers - one with the same recipe minus the honey, and the other with just water/flour - and left them till tonight.
Tonight I came back, and the results were very interesting. LOTS of bubbles in both blobs (at this point, it's more of a... hmm... rubbery blob than a batter), but the one that I fed with water and flour has a pretty thick layer of hooch on top. I fought the urge to take a sip and, since it was so thick, stirred it back in before draining half and feeding it again. I fed the other one on the same milk/water/flour recipe again. The directions I read said to watch for a "bubbly froth" on top, which I don't see yet, but there's definitely something in there happily belching gas. :>
Of the two, the milk-based starter seems to be coming along better - it smells more like what I think of when I think sourdough. What I'm wondering is whether that big pool of hooch is something to be concerned about - the page that I read said hooch is not a big deal, you pour it off if your starter is thin enough, or stir it back in if it needs the moisture. But this was a lot, I'd say close to 1/3c or so. At least, that seems like a lot, but maybe it isn't.
Anyways, anyone who's done this before, I'm keen to hear what you think. I can post pictures of the two batches tomorrow if anyone's interested. I need to get some decent containers for them as well...
Without knowing the exact method you actually used, it's difficult to make good recommendations. However, the liquid you're seeing is alcohol and water. I've never run into a wild yeast starter recipe that used milk. The fermentation is very fast, seems to me. It should take at least several days to get any action at all. You are correct that there are many, many methods; some straightforward, some verging on lengthy alchemy. The three methods I've used come from Peter Reinhart (Bread Baker's Apprentice), Nancy Silverton (Breads from the La Brea Bakery) and Dan Lepard (Handmade Loaf). The last two are very lengthy indeed. Reinhart's is the easiest and most foolproof, and I'd recommend you try it. The starter I made using his method is almost a year old, and it's just now coming into it's own for sourness and flavour. Yep, it really seems to take that long to mature. When it's ready to use, it should be bubbly and stringy, not like pancake batter. Reinhart's feeding schedule is every three days. Always at least double your starter by weight the day before you want to bake. Be careful with temps; you never want your barm to actually get warm, because this will invite nasty bacteria, not the good guys you want.
If you're looking for overnight results, try making a poolish or a biga.
Well, there must be a ton of yeast in the air around here, cause it's three days now and these things are bubbling like crazy. Beginner's luck, perhaps...
I'm actually kneading my first loaf attempt - I'll let you know. :>
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