For years I've considered experimenting with sourdough. Recipes for the starter and baking with it looked a little precise and complicated, and I'm usually not that type of baker. I didn't really set out to tackle sourdough because I was looking for a challenge. But I ended up teaching the cooking portion of a summer camp with a pioneer/settler/gold rush theme and wanted to be authentic as possible. Sourdough was, especially for the gold rush/cowboy sort, a prized possession. So the students and I experimented with making two types of gluten free sourdough (one with mostly a brown rice base and the other with mostly a sorghum base). I used yeast because I wanted assurance that this would work (we'd be cooking with it for three weeks) but if I had my druthers I'd have tried wild yeast (using red cabbage leaves like this).
Well in no time at all I had two happy sourdough starters bubbling away in the classroom. It was very interesting to note that the brown rice starter started fermenting faster, and started smelling more sour, than the sorghum starter. Also, baking with the brown rice starter produced lighter end results (both in taste and in texture). After baking our hearts out in class, I gave away most of the sorghum starter and kept some of the brown rice starter to bring home. With some trepidation I threw my starter into the freezer because we'd be gone for a month and I couldn't feed it. To my delight, the starter thawed and started bubbling away after a feeding. I'm not one for wasting so I'm going to keep my starter, although maybe someday I'll try making a new batch with wild yeast.
(Sourdough starter after first rise, day two)
I didn't feel like being overrun with starter I couldn't use and I didn't want to throw away the excess, so I threw out all the admonitions that you should feed your starter obsessively very often with a cup of flour and water at a time. I scaled way back and fed my starter with 1/4 cup of flour (brown rice and sometimes millet) and 1/4 cup water every day until it had been established, and it was perfectly happy. I let it sit on the counter for a week before putting it in the refrigerator and then I started feeding it once per week using 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. When I thawed it, I also fed it 1 tbsp. of sugar to make sure it came back. All of this has worked very well. I'm pretty sure you can do whatever you like and as long as it's getting steadily fed, it will keep going and going and going.
(Sourdough starter after 4 days)
So far I've made sourdough biscuits, pancakes and cornbread. Today I'm going to try sourdough bread. Wish me luck! I'll post recipes for those soon, but for now, here is the very simple sourdough starter recipe I used with great success.
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
Measure the warm water into a large glass or ceramic bowl (not metal, and not a small bowl as the starter will rise). Whisk in the yeast. Let it proof for 5 minutes or until it starts to get foamy. Whisk together the brown rice flour and tapioca. Stir the flour mixture into the yeast mixture with a wooden spoon (do not use metal). Let this sit uncovered on your counter for 12 hours, then stir in equal amounts of brown rice flour and water (I used 1/4 cup each). Keep doing this every 12 hours for two or three days. You will see that the mixture will start to bubble. Then once every 24 hours feed it equal amounts of brown rice flour and water (again I used 1/4 cup) for another two or three days. It should start smelling sour.
When your starter smells sour and has been established (bubbling, rising and falling in cycles after a feeding), store it uncovered (or it will explode) in your refrigerator. At this point you can feed it every few days to once per week, equal amounts of brown rice flour and water (1 cup or 1/2 cup each, depending on how often you'll use it). Sometimes I'll throw in some millet or tapioca flour instead of brown rice flour. I avoid using the heavier flours for my starter (sorghum, teff, amaranth).
Feed your starter before you use it in a recipe (1 cup each brown rice flour and water). It should keep indefinitely as long as you feed it and care for it!
(Happy sourdough starter, frozen, thawed and fed)