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Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats


nanetteb
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I've been using slkinsley's technique for maintaining and using a (small) amout of starter with great success. I'm baking some of the breads from Silverton's La Brea bakery cookbook and wanted to know about converting a starter from white to wheat flour. In her cookbook, she has you go through several sequential builds to convert a white starter to a whole-wheat starter. Any reason you can't just use a small amount of white starter to innoculate the necessary amount of whole wheat flour and water rather than use her slow-build whole wheat starter?

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I've been using slkinsley's technique for maintaining and using a (small) amout of starter with great success. I'm baking some of the breads from Silverton's La Brea bakery cookbook and wanted to know about converting a starter from white to wheat flour. In her cookbook, she has you go through several sequential builds to convert a white starter to a whole-wheat starter. Any reason you can't just use a small amount of white starter to innoculate the necessary amount of whole wheat flour and water rather than use her slow-build whole wheat starter?

That's what I did recently, after slkinsey browbeat me into a temporary submission. It worked OK. On second thought, I guess I used a very small amount to get it going and then a few builds, but never really brought it to the volume Nancy recommends for maintenance.

Ditto for the rye starter, which worked well too, albeit much faster. Note: Be careful with the rye starter. It grows fast and high (because it's so sticky, sticky like glue). Be sure to build it in a big container if you're making the volume called for in some of the recipes, or it will spill over.

I'm on the fence about using small amounts of starter. It works, but it's not better, in my opinion. I think it makes good bread, consistently good bread, in fact, but not great bread. When I follow Nancy's voluminous method to the letter, I make great bread. I don't know why. The only assumption I have is that there's more playground for the bacteria and yeastie beasites to make their deliciousness.

I will continue to using both methods.

Edited by fooey (log)

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I've been using slkinsley's technique for maintaining and using a (small) amout of starter with great success. I'm baking some of the breads from Silverton's La Brea bakery cookbook and wanted to know about converting a starter from white to wheat flour. In her cookbook, she has you go through several sequential builds to convert a white starter to a whole-wheat starter. Any reason you can't just use a small amount of white starter to innoculate the necessary amount of whole wheat flour and water rather than use her slow-build whole wheat starter?

No, there is no reason you can't simply inoculate a quantity of "usage starter" with a small amount of active "storage starter" and use it when it becomes fully active. There is really no rationale behind maintaining separate whole wheat and white wheat starters. The only difference is that the whole wheat starter will have a higher ash content, and therefore be able to contain more total acid before the sourdough microorganisms are inhibited, but this won't change the composition or properties of the starter culture. Fundamentally, it's still just wheat. Of course, the whole wheat starter also contains oils from the bran that can go rancid.

Rye is a slightly different story. Unlike whole compared to white wheat flour, rye really is "different food" and creates a different environment for the sourdough microorganisms. Most starter cultures maintained in white wheat seem to do very well in rye breads, but some do not. There are also some rye cultures that only seem to do well in rye and do not work in wheat flour.

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Can someone explain to me what the rationale is for the slow-build technique that is called for in so many published sourdough bread recipes? For example, if a recipe calls for 400g of starter, you see directions for starting with 100g of starter, building it to 200g over 8-12 hours, then doubling it again to 400g, to be used another 8-12 hours later. Are there really any microbiologic or flavor differences between this and just "innoculating" 380g of a proper flour/water mix with 20g of starter?

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Theoretically this is done to build up the strength and activity of the culture microorganisms so that you get a fast, strong rise. Building by doubling is not a good way to do this (much better to build by quintupling at least), but that's another discussion. Another potential effect is that if you start with 100g of starter, rise that for 10 hours, then double to 200g, rise that for 10 hours, then double that to 400g, rise that for another 10 hours... well, now you have some dough that is 30 hours old, some dough that is 20 hours old, and some dough that is 10 hours old. The oldness of the 30 hour dough, for example, could potentially have an effect on final dough quality.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am a relatively novice bread maker. I've only been really serious about it for a couple of years. I have gotten fairly adept at boules and baguettes, and I made some fluffy, buttery dinner rolls about a month ago that made me twitterpate. Overall, I am very pleased with my progress, and I think I'm well on my way to becoming really good at making yeasted things. One thing, however, I have not attempted is "real" sourdough. There are a couple of obvious reasons, all starting with the starter (arf arf). Mostly it's the quantity involved.

I'm single, and I don't bake bread every week. Probably, at most, I make it twice a month, and that's in the cooler weather. I don't bake much, if at all, during the heat of the summer, since I don't have A/C, and the thought of turning on the oven when it's 95° in the kitchen makes me crabby. So, realistically, at most, I'd make a loaf of sourdough maybe, MAYBE 6 or 7 times a year, because I would want to switch it out with other styles of bread during the "baking" months.

I've recently found a recipe for a starter that seems less involved than others I've seen, and I'm willing to give it a try. However, it calls for 2.5C flour, 1.5C water 1 Tbsp. sugar and 3/4 ounce yeast to start, fed with 1C flour and 0.5C water every "few" days for a "few" weeks if its refrigerated. Then you can go down to once per week.

I'm envisioning this starter taking over my small house. I'm planning on sharing it with a friend, but even she will not use up all her share before I need to divide and conquer the critter again.

Long story (question) short: Can I cut the starting amounts in half, as well as the "feeding" amounts (but obviously not the frequency) to have a more reasonable size for my needs?

Thanks, I'm looking forward to your collective wisdom.

Edited by heidih
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--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

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That is a rather generous size for a beginning starter.

You can cut the amounts down quite a bit -

This one calls for a cup of each, flour and water. http://www.io.com/~sjohn/sour.htm

The reason some recipes call for larger amounts is to lessen the possibility the mixture will dry out - obviously a larger volume will take longer to dry out. Stir the mixture from time to time so the surface remains moist.

You are in a good area as starters do better in a place with higher ambient humidity.

I don't recommend using yeast for a boost - however I have found that adding a small mashed boiled potato for part of the flour, and using the water in which it has boiled, gives a very reliable result - and a potent starter.

(This is a very old and very reliable "trick" - I learned it more than 50 years ago.)

You don't just keep adding to the starter - you take only half of it each time, discard the rest (don't pour it down the sink!!!)

and add the new flour and water to the half you kept until it is fully active and then you can double it so when you are ready to use it you removed the cup you will need for the recipe - top up the remainder, let it "work" for a few hours and then refrigerate it until you are ready to use it again.

If you want to share it, after it has become fully active, put the extra into a new jar.

You must be sure to sterilize the jars and lids completely so as to avoid unwanted organisms invading your starter.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I refrigerate starters and don't feed them for a lot longer than a week, probably at least a month if not longer. However, when I want to use it, I have to go through a couple of day process of feeding to revive it, so if I want to bake on Sunday, I need to start feeding on Wednesday or Thursday morning, so it requires planning ahead.

This makes keeping a starter manageable. No idea if it affects the leavening power, as I have never maintained a starter any other way to compare.

Edited by rickster (log)
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That is a rather generous size for a beginning starter.

You can cut the amounts down quite a bit -

This one calls for a cup of each, flour and water. http://www.io.com/~sjohn/sour.htm

The reason some recipes call for larger amounts is to lessen the possibility the mixture will dry out - obviously a larger volume will take longer to dry out. Stir the mixture from time to time so the surface remains moist.

You are in a good area as starters do better in a place with higher ambient humidity.

I don't recommend using yeast for a boost - however I have found that adding a small mashed boiled potato for part of the flour, and using the water in which it has boiled, gives a very reliable result - and a potent starter.

(This is a very old and very reliable "trick" - I learned it more than 50 years ago.)

You don't just keep adding to the starter - you take only half of it each time, discard the rest (don't pour it down the sink!!!)

and add the new flour and water to the half you kept until it is fully active and then you can double it so when you are ready to use it you removed the cup you will need for the recipe - top up the remainder, let it "work" for a few hours and then refrigerate it until you are ready to use it again.

If you want to share it, after it has become fully active, put the extra into a new jar.

You must be sure to sterilize the jars and lids completely so as to avoid unwanted organisms invading your starter.

Thanks so much for the link Andie, I have a starter going now for about 2 hours. I hope it being in about 75 degree temp it might be ready in a 60 hours instead of 72, as I want to make for Sat night....if not, no biggie will just wait.

This is a almost "I will never again _____" story

I decided to blend it really well in a cereal bowl, with a hand held mixer. I did not want to clean a processor or blender.

HAHAHAHAHAHA ON ME, I'm still finding little sticky spots all over the kitchen and they are stuck like GLUE!

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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Another suggestion - use only cold water to wash stuff that has sourdough gunk stuck to it.

Hot water seems to accelerate the glue/cement production. (This is from an experienced baker who had to chisel the cement-like gunk from a stainless bowl that was plunged into very hot water by a prior housekeeper.)

And when I was a child, one of my uncles "fixed" a leaky radiator on an elderly truck by adding some of the cook's sourdough "workins" to the radiator.

As I recall the "repair" lasted for several months.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Andie and Rickster, thanks so much for the input (especially about the sink disposal and the hot water....my poor, 1940's vintage plumbing is also appreciative). I'll keep you all posted as I start this adventure, probably next weekend.

And everyone else, keep the advice coming. :wub:

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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You don't just keep adding to the starter - you take only half of it each time, discard the rest (don't pour it down the sink!!!)

and add the new flour and water to the half you kept until it is fully active and then you can double it so when you are ready to use it you removed the cup you will need for the recipe - top up the remainder, let it "work" for a few hours and then refrigerate it until you are ready to use it again.

Andie, to be sure I'm interpreting this correctly (math was NEVER a strong point....), when I've got it going, and use it, I take what I need for the bread, dump half of the remaining, and then feed it (assuming its at a point that it needs food). Or, if I'm not making bread, then I simply dump half of the quantity, feed it, and keep going until it needs replenishment.

I guess what I'm confused about is what I do when I take some to make bread. Do I feed then, or wait until the next scheduled interval?

Thanks again......

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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If it has been stored in the fridge for more than a couple of days, you take it out the day before you are going to use it.

Add the refresher and let it stand overnight or so.

Then remove the amount you need for the recipe - add an equal amount of flour and water back into the starter and let it "work" for a couple of hours or so, depending on the temperature - leave it out longer if it is cool - then refrigerate it again.

During the winter months I keep my kitchen quite cool - and I often leave the starter on the counter and just add a little flour and water every two or three days. I keep it in a Cambro container with plenty of room for expansion. If I am going to be away, I put some into a quart jar and refrigerate it. I leave the regular container out and if it doesn't look active when I get back, I discard it.

In my experience the stuff has survived for ten days with no attention at temps below 65 degrees F.

Having this batch out and constantly fully active works well for me because I often prepare pancakes, waffles, muffins (English muffins or crumpets), using the starter.

As mentioned on that website, it will often develop a dark - blackish liquid which smells like alcohol.(Hooch) This is normal and should be stirred back into the starter. If you get liquid with a pinkish tinge discard the whole thing. That indicates the desirable organisms have been taken over by one you don't want and which will not leaven dough.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I've recently found a recipe for a starter that seems less involved than others I've seen, and I'm willing to give it a try. However, it calls for 2.5C flour, 1.5C water 1 Tbsp. sugar and 3/4 ounce yeast to start, fed with 1C flour and 0.5C water every "few" days for a "few" weeks if its refrigerated. Then you can go down to once per week.

You're not really going to use any yeast to start a sourdough starter, are you?

As far as neglect goes, I also don't bake over the summer months because of the heat factor. And we've been very busy shuffling back and forth between DC and NYC since Labor Day due to various factors.

Anyway, I had neglected my starter for 2 to 3 months, way in the back of the fridge. Looked lousy. But I poured out 99% of it (a la Kinsey) and started feeding it. Every 12 hours or so I poured out 99% of it and fed it again. It was as good as new within 2 days. And then I baked a couple of nice pan loaves.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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I've recently found a recipe for a starter that seems less involved than others I've seen, and I'm willing to give it a try. However, it calls for 2.5C flour, 1.5C water 1 Tbsp. sugar and 3/4 ounce yeast to start, fed with 1C flour and 0.5C water every "few" days for a "few" weeks if its refrigerated. Then you can go down to once per week.

You're not really going to use any yeast to start a sourdough starter, are you?

I dunno..... :unsure:. I'm not? This is all new territory for me, and dangerously close to scary territory like science and math.

I'll confess I haven't read this whole thread, start to finish, in some time, and that is probably where I should begin.

No yeast, huh? I can see I have much to learn.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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If you use commercial yeast in the starter it will leaven the bread too quickly for it to develop flavour, even if there are also bacteria in the culture.

Some people say that the commercial yeast used to get the culture going is eventually replaced by wild yeast after repeated refreshings. I don't know if this is true and I don't see any obvious reason why it should be - but fortunately it's easy enough to make a starter without commercial yeast. Give that a try, it's very satisfying when you see the first indisputable bubbles!

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I've recently found a recipe for a starter that seems less involved than others I've seen, and I'm willing to give it a try. However, it calls for 2.5C flour, 1.5C water 1 Tbsp. sugar and 3/4 ounce yeast to start, fed with 1C flour and 0.5C water every "few" days for a "few" weeks if its refrigerated. Then you can go down to once per week.

You might be interested to read this recent article from Peter Reinhart in the NY Times on how to make a starter: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11food-recipe3.html?emc=eta1

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And there are many that include the boiled potato and potato water with flour.

One of the Cornell sourdough cultures was started this way and kept going for many years. I have one of the Cornell publications from the late '50s that describes the process in excruciating detail.

I never use commercial yeast in sourdough - don't see any point to it.

However, I have purchased sourdough cultures from http://sourdo.com/culture.htm and I have Ed Wood's books.

I have been very pleased with all the starters I have tried.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am going on a limb to say this is a sourdough product...This umm "bread product" was yeasted with the dregs of a homebrewed Wheat beer. I have no idea if it was over yeasted, over proofed or over hydrated but when I went to turn it out for shaping it sort of poured out. After 10 seconds of thought I dumped it onto a cormeal dusted cokie sheet and hit it with olive oil and flaked salt. Voila Focaccia. A little on the funky side with all that yeast and malt flavors, but I have decided even my worst homemade bread is better than store bought

tracey

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greetings all,

i have a noob question. ordering sourdough culture online that is supposedly taken from exotic places, after a few generations of feeding, wont that culture become filled with local yeasts and eventually lose its original yeasties?

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greetings all,

i have a noob question. ordering sourdough culture online that is supposedly taken from exotic places, after a few generations of feeding, wont that culture become filled with local yeasts and eventually lose its original yeasties?

It will if you leave the container open to the air for more than a brief period but it still takes a while.

I have maintained four distinctly different starters from sourdo international for quite some time but I take care to keep them completely separate - that is, I allow some time to elapse between using the different ones and I keep the "mother" cultures as isolated from each other as possible.

I use Cambro containers which seal tightly for the larger batches that I use often and use glass quart canning jars for the smaller batches.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

So, I finally decided to get back into bread baking, and as I love sourdough bread (and live just a bit west of San Francisco) I decided to start out with a San Francisco Sourdough culture I obrained from sourdo.com, a site run by Ed Wood, who seems to know a whole lot of things about all things sourdough from all over the world. I have a couple other of his cultures too, as well as some from Germany. I shall play with those at a later time.

I'll also eventually post a more detailed thing about this adventure on my blog, with lots more photos, but that will develop from what I'm going to chronicle here for the next week or two, until my first loaf hopefully comes out utterly fantastic :laugh:

Just as a note, I am not a baker. I bake up to 10 kinds of Christmas cookies once a year, I make the occasional pizza, sometimes from scrap, and I've baked two or 3 breads as well as the Bavarian pretzels that are currently my avatar. So this might turn into a disaster or into some beginners luck, or maybe the instructions in the pamphlet as well as Ed Wood's book "classic sourdoughs" are good enough to carry me through to a fantastic loaf of bread. We'll see. (disclaimer, I don't know nor am I affiliated with Ed Wood and I found the e-mail conversations about my order and it's status a bit off putting - just putting text form the website in BIG FAT BOLD letters in not the most friendly reply I can imagine, but I ain't there to cuddle, just to shop and hopefully create something tasty, so it's all good)

So, as I just signed up for the new round of no shopping for a week or longer I figured I better get this culture reactivated and started, if I want to have some bread in a couple days.

Their cultures are dried and dormant, containing some kind of wild yeast and lacto bacteria from some area of the world. Some of them very esoteric, possibly dating back centuries if not thousands of years, others like the SF one just a bit over 100 or so years old. Certainly a very interesting project Mr Wood started there.

I won't repeat the entire instructions here for copyright reasons and if you are interested and order cultures from them you'll get them anyway, but the first step in awakening the dormant culture is to put the dry culture in a quart mason jar, mix it with flour and warm water and then put that up for about 24 hours at about 90 degree. The book suggests to buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler and install a 25 W lightbulb with dimmer in the bottom, which will become the top. I don't have room for such a contraptions, so I just used my large plastic cooler, put a pot inside and clipped a small lamp with a dimmer on that. My bbq meat thermometer kept track of the temp, which was surprisingly easy to keep at 90 degree.

After 24 hours the mixture had begun to bubble a bit, I turned the lamp off and a while later I added one cup of flour and less than 3/4 of warm water, to maintain the same consistency as before. Of course I forgot to take a photo of the mixture after 24 hours, a friend came by to drop off her little one for playdate with my little one and I got distracted....

The mixture looked like a dough, off white, bubbly. It had separated a bit, there were places that had a layer of brownish liquid in it. At this early stage it is possible that contaminations in the flour create some weird lab experiment and there are instructions on how to "wash" the culture if it should go bad. The main indication for contamination is said to be an "unpleasant odor". Well, one man's stink is an other man's ultra expensive smuggled into the country super ripe French cheese, so I'm just hoping that the not at all unpleasant but pretty sour and yoghurt or buttermilk like smell seemed ok to me. Supposedly the relatively high heat at the beginning helps the lactobacilli grow faster than the yeast, something that then has to be slowed down or they'll just inhibit the yeast from growing.

We'll, that's where I'm at right now, I took a couple of pictures which I'll add soon and hopefully I won't forget to take pictures at crucial steps again. I will have to feed my culture again with a cup of flour and water in about 12 hours (which will be more than 14, poor planning on my side and I'm not gonna get up at 3 am to feed a dough) which will repeat for an other couple days. I'll eventually divide the culture into two glasses, feeding both of them and eventually discarding all but about 1 cup in each glass. This appears to help evening out the yeast/lacto ratio. Once the culture grows by about two inches within 2 or 3 hours of feeding it's ready to be used in baking or you can put it in the fridge, where it can live for a long time. They suggest to feed every two months or so, but supposedly it'll be fine for 6 months too, just requires more work to reactivate it fully. This is actually the first surprising thing I learned, I thought you have to feed such a culture constantly, my dad, who's first profession was a miller since he grew up on a very large mill in Bavaria told me stories of women keeping the sourdough culture close to their bosom in their dress to keep it nice and warm. As I neither have the necessary equipment nor would I have the patience to do so, I never thought I could tackle sourdough bread. The fact that I can have this in the fridge for months and just occasionally - with some pre planning - can make a loaf of bread, that's a big reason for me to go on this adventure. I love great breads, but we don't eat all that much, certainly not a loaf a day, more a loaf a week. I'm hoping that I'll be able to scale things so that I bake a small loaf we'll eat the day it was baked and I can make an other one a couple days down the road if needed.

Feel free to chime in here if you bake sourdough breads, if you have experience with Ed Wood's book and cultures or if you just started your own by mixing flour with water and letting it sit outside for a couple days. (Something I'll be trying too one of these days)

Fun experiment so far, and I did not yet burn the house down with my lamp in a cooler - off to a good start!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

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just a mini update, the culture seems to come along nicely, it's divided into two glasses now and grows into a nice bubbly foamy thing over it's 12 hour time between feedings. I think I'll be baking this week! :biggrin:

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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