Happy Birthday, Herman!

Herman the sourdough starter

My sourdough starter, affectionately named Herman by my mother, turned one year old today! Happy birthday, little guy!

Tonight I am feeding him in preparation of baking two loaves of bread this weekend. Yep — two! I’m rather excited as I typically limit myself to only one loaf per weekend. It’s really not a lot of work, but it can definitely feel like it since the process is spread out over a few days.

Also, I have two new bread accessories to try out, which seems appropriate for a sourdough starter’s birthday celebration. One is a nice long loaf pan I got at a thrift store in Spokane for 99 cents (perfect for sandwich loaves) and the other is a cane proofing basket (banneton, brotform, or whatever you choose to call it) for artisan bread that I also scored secondhand for $2!

I also picked up this nifty bottle capper for $2 — we’re about to take our home brew to the next level!

I kept telling myself one day I would find one at the thrift store, and it finally happened. I’ll be honest, it looked pretty gross — all covered in flour and dried dough and stuffed in an old plastic produce bag — and the guy at the register was probably thinking, “Who in the hell would buy this nasty thing??” But I knew with a little scrubbing it would be good as new!

I promptly cleaned it with warm water, baking soda, orange-vinegar cleaner, and a little elbow grease, and it looks good as new, all ready to bulk ferment some tasty sourdough.

Three cheers for Herman — I can’t believe I kept him alive for a year.  O_O

A Home for Herman Jr.

Herman Jr. is off to a good home!

Today I gifted some of my sourdough starter (affectionately named “Herman” by my mother) to a friend at work—this is the third coworker I’ve had the opportunity of sharing my starter with, which is pretty cool! I love the community and DIY spirit that fermenting foods creates.

I also shared with her a recipe for sourdough pizza crust, which I used to make these incredible heart-shaped pizzas for Jordan and myself on Valentine’s day. I will definitely be making more of this dough and freezing it for future pizza Fridays around our house.

The one on the right is pesto-quinoa, tomato, salami, leek, and parmesan. It was incredible.

You might be wondering about good ol’ Herman. I created my starter the old-fashioned way: leaving flour and water on the counter for a few weeks, feeding periodically until it would bubble and double in size overnight. I use all-purpose flour, which I know is a no-no, but it’s been working for me and will continue to work for me until I can buy whole-wheat flour in bulk. And, hey, my starter is 9 months old now! I must be doing something half right!

Sunset’s “Breads: Step-By-Step Techniques” is a treasure trove of recipes.

I’m also itching to make another starter. I got this book on bread baking for 50 cents at the library, and it has some instructions for creating a sourdough starter that I’d never heard of before: heating yogurt and milk on the stove, leaving it on the counter, then adding flour once it starts to bubble after a few days. The idea of incorporating dairy is so strange to me; I feel like I need to try it and report back with my results.

But as much as I want to make another starter, I’m also hesitant about collecting too many starters… I would rather not wake up one morning to discover I’ve somehow managed to cram 10 different sourdough starters into our refrigerator. Fermentation is a slippery slope. (As we speak, I’m in the process of growing a kombucha SCOBY on our kitchen counter and planning a batch of blackberry mead.)

Last night my husband told me he’s glad I have inexpensive hobbies like “putting things in jars on the counter and looking that them.” I should probably take that as my cue to just make another starter already, huh?  ¯\_()_/¯ 

Bottling Our First Homebrew

My husband and I are big craft beer people, and we’ve been itching to try our hand at homebrew for quite some time. Now that we have our own house, a bigger kitchen, and more space to store everything, we figured it would be a good time to get serious about all our talk.

Last month during one of my frequent lunch-break trips to the thrift store, I happened upon a brew-your-own-IPA kit for $5. Everything was new and sealed in the box, so I snatched it up knowing a complete kit was a steal and would give us the push to finally get started brewing.

The process itself was pretty simple, and we had everything we needed in our kitchen already. Most of the afternoon was spent over the stove in the kitchen making sure the mash stayed at the right temperature. I was able to share some of my fermentation knowledge gleaned from maintaining my sourdough starter, which my husband found interesting, I think. (He might have been humoring me…)

After two weeks of fermenting, it was finally time to bottle!

As most people in my life are aware, I hate buying anything new. I try as much as possible to find what I need secondhand, and bottles for our homebrew were no different. I was able to find swing-top bottles fairly cheap at a few different thrift stores, ranging from 75 cents to 1.99. They’re larger than a standard beer bottle, probably around 22 oz., but we like to drink the “big boys” so it’s not a big deal.

When it came time to fill the bottles, we let gravity do most of the work. The instructional video on the web page for our kit made it look pretty easy, but this worked much better for us. Now we wait two more weeks… again.

And hopefully it won’t be flat — we realized we left too much headspace in the bottles. You’d think someone who regularly cans would realize this, but, hey, it was our first time and some mistakes were bound to happen.

It sure looks pretty, though, doesn’t it? I just had to sneak it out of the “fermentation cupboard” (aka the seldom-used laundry room cupboard) for a picture.

Some things I would do differently next time include:

  • Leave a little less headspace
  • Use cheesecloth inside the strainer to catch any super-fine sediment
  • Use a bleach-water solution to sanitize everything instead of frantically searching everywhere for a powdered sanitizer

In the meantime, I’m flipping through these two brewing books I got for Christmas, trying to decide what to make next. I’m thinking a blackberry mead, maybe. Have any favorite recipes? I’d love to hear!