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Starter

Cresciuta

Makes about 2 1/2 Cups

This is my favorite recipe for a natural starter. It produces a loaf of bread with a crunchy crust, a chewy interior, and just the right amount of tang. Starters using natural yeast can be made in your kitchen from nothing more than flour, water, and something for the sugars in the flour to feed on. This could be a bunch of grapes, a bit of overripe mashed banana, or naturally fermenting cider. Once you make the starter, keep it active by feeding it additional flour and water.

Ingredients

2 cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour

1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature

2 tablespoons natural apple cider

1 generous cup seedless grapes, washed and dried

Directions

In a bowl or tall glass jar, stir together the flour, water, and cider until smooth.

Wrap the grapes in a piece of cheesecloth and tie the cloth into a knot. Press on the cheesecloth with your hand to slightly crush the grapes. Submerge the grapes in the flour mixture and cover the bowl or jar with a piece of damp cheesecloth.

Let this mixture sit in a warm place, preferably in a place where you make bread - this is where the air in your kitchen is filled with wild yeast spores, and keeping the starter there increases the likelihood that wild yeast spores will be "captured" by the starter. Keep the cheesecloth covering the starter damp; after a day, remove the cheesecloth and cover the bowl or jar loosely with plastic wrap.

The starter is ready to use when you see many bubbles on the surface and it begins to smell very sour. It will take about 2 days to develop. Discard the grapes in cheesecloth, pour the starter into a glass jar with a lid, and refrigerate it.

To make Pane Rustico with the starter, you will need 1 cup of starter. Put it in a bowl and let it come to room temperature. Stir 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup room-temperature water into the starter remaining in the jar. Cove the jar and refrigerate. Replenishing the starter will keep it active and strong; each time the starter is used, be sure to add equal amounts of flour and water to it.

This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc. in 1995.

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