If there is a secret to Diane Andiel‘s gorgeous breads, it is that her wheat starter is extraordinarily vivacious. If it were a person, it would be a soprano! It erupts into singing bubbles any time she walks by, you know that slight “crushing paper”sound a starter makes when it is happy? You have to see it (and hear it) to believe it. I asked her how she maintained it and being a woman of few words (but action galore), she wrote back what follows:
I keep the starter on a twelve- hour schedule for at least three days leading up to a bake. Morning and night it is refreshed so that it will do what I need it to do. When I am not baking for a few days, I will feed it once a day or refrigerate it for three or four days without feeding.
I keep it on my kitchen counter and do not worry about the temperature of the room. In winter at night the kitchen is very cool and in the hot summer I must be more observant because it will move much faster and may require an extra feeding.
The ratio we used in the class to build the levain was
100 % flour
120 % water
20 % liquid starter
This levain had twelve hours to ferment before being added to the final dough.
No pampering, no frills! Tough love rules! I find that very interesting especially if you consider the extent of the tender loving care breadsong bestows on her own starters. And yet, both get wonderful results. From my own experience as a baker, I would say that starters are a bit like kids. They like a routine and they like limits. I once had a starter that I normally fed once a day. Having read somewhere that starters are happier and more energetic when fed twice a day, I put it on a morning and evening schedule and guess what? It was never the same after…
But since the starter I am now using is Diane’s (she gave me some to take home), rest assured I shall stick to the two-meals-a-day schedule: I want it a soprano too!