Don't Buy Your Bread, Grow It!

Adriana Velez

pet sourdoughSome people have black thumbs -- me, I can grow plants without too much trouble. It's keeping pets alive that's my special challenge.

Two hamsters died on me this summer. I boiled a fish alive once by accidentally leaving the bowl over a radiator. And our current beta fish has mysteriously shrunk in size since coming home to our family.

Undaunted, I've moved on to a new kind of pet: rye bread sourdough starter. It's alive!

While most home-baked breads we know of are made with commercial yeast, old-world traditional breads are made with a sourdough starter, or "sponge," or "mother." Whatever you call it, it's alive -- and you usually have to feed it.

In other words, you're adding more flour or other ingredients every few days. I've had two "mothers" die on me of neglect. Here's the other problem: the more you feed it, the bigger it gets, and if you're too busy to get around to baking, it kind of takes over.

But I've found the ultimate pet sourdough. It's small, low-maintenance, and it's delicious.

rex dinosaur toy storyEven better, I've found a sourdough recipe for Danish rye bread by Trina Hahnemann that doesn't require kneading. (Thanks to these little arms I have a kneading disorder.)


sourdough starter

Here is my pet sourdough when it was just a baby! I started by mixing rye flour with buttermilk and coarse sea salt. I covered the dough with aluminium foil and let it sit at room temperature for two days. That's my kind of low-maintenance pet.

rye dough

Here is my pet sourdough mixed with more rye flour, salt, wheat flour, and water to make bread dough. It's gotten bigger, but it's still easy to care for -- I just cover it with a tea towel and let it sit overnight another 12 hours. I don't even have to find room for it in the refrigerator.

rye dough in pan

Almost there! After forgetting about my pet for 12 hours (or so, it doesn't have to be exact) I add still more salt and water, plus some cracked wheat and oatmeal, pour it into a bread pan, cover with a tea towel, and then walk away. I do this before leaving for a meeting in the city. By the time I return four hours later it's ready to bake.

rye bread loaf

Here is my loaf of tart, nutty, chewy Danish rye bread.

sourdough starter 2

And here's my new pet sourdough! Isn't she teeny? Before baking, I took just three tablespoons of the dough, combined it with a bit of salt, and stowed it away in this jam jar. I don't have to feed her, and she'll keep for up to eight weeks in my refrigerator. I'll use her next time I make another loaf, and I'll get another 3-tablespoon blob of starter again for the next loaf after that. I love it -- easier than caring for a fish, and makes heavenly, healthy bread, too!

Check out Trina Hahnemann's The Scandinavian Cookbook for this and other Scandinavian recipes.

Image of Rex Dinosaur via ToysRUs; all other images via Adriana Velez

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