Sourdough Bread: A Starter (Part Three)

I probably scared a few of you off last week. It's okay. I get it; food that smells bad and is known to harbor a host of bacteria can be slightly off-putting. The weak-stomached or hypochondria-prone among you will be glad to know that my starter no longer smells. Well, that's not entirely accurate, but it certainly doesn't smell bad.

After a couple weeks of (semi) diligent feeding, my starter seems to be healthy and thriving. I'd been worried for a few days, when the starter seemed to stall, no longer cycling actively through periods of rise and deflation with the same vigor as it had previously done. I'm not sure, but I think it may be the fault of the whole wheat flour I was forced to use for a few days, when I stupidly ran out of AP.

It's not that you can't make a perfectly lovely starter out of whole wheat flour. In fact, some people recommend starting with either rye or whole wheat, as the decreased processing usually results in more active yeast populations inhabiting the flour from the outset. My theory runs much along the same lines. Just as my starter had to find its colonial equilibrium, with good bugs battling for dominance over the less desirable elements, the introduction of additional yeast strains from the whole wheat created some temporary turmoil in my microscopic kingdom. Once the yeasts got things sorted out, the cooperative effort of eating sugar, belching carbon dioxide, and multiplying like Catholic rabbits resumed full force.

Once I was satisfied that things were back on track, and after my starter had shed its odoriferous skin, I decided it was time to put the discarded starter to use. Previously, whenever I fed the starter, I'd been dumping a large amount of it straight down the drain. Now that it was clearly healthy, with a lovely, yeasty and mildly tart aroma, I wasn't about to waste it. This past weekend, I made whole wheat sourdough waffles.

Ideally, I should have started the night before, allowing the starter to work its magic on the waffle batter, resulting in incredibly light, tangy waffles the next morning. Like I said when I started on this little project, though, I am a man obsessed with instant baked-good gratification. I decided that morning that I wanted waffles, and wasn't about to wait. I simply combined about a cup and a half of starter (then fed the bitch) and the same amount of flour, along with a bit of brown sugar, some milk, an egg, and just a pinch of baking powder to give it a push.

The waffles turned out a bit denser than I'd have liked, having only a few minutes to rise, but were good nonetheless. Really, they were much lighter than the average whole wheat waffle, thanks to the leavening power of the sourdough, mostly manifesting a more robust chew than they would have, had I used AP. The whole wheat also contributed a lovely nuttiness, which went well with the more rounded flavor of brown sugar, and just the faintest hint of lactic tang. Paired with freshly mixed honey butter (for me) and maple syrup (for the kids), it was a satisfying breakfast, not only in taste, but in the knowledge that I was finally putting my starter to use.

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