We've arrived! The start of our journey. My grandfather calls various items that he owns "old friend" because they have lasted a good deal of time without major problems. Today's process is also called by this name, and has little to do with that description.
What you are making is not a "starter" (we'll do that later). It is a kind of one-time deal that might be called a "biga" or "poolish" or "sponge" (usually delineated by level of moisture - call yours "old friend" and no one will bother you). We'll add it to a nice loaf dough tomorrow.
Three ingredients + time = tasty bread.
Today's process is to be undertaken one day (24 hours) prior to your baking a bread. Baking bread takes a bit of time with rising and all, so why not put it off by one day, and end up with a more wonderful result?
- 500g (a light 4.25 cups / 1lb.) of White flour*
- 300ml (about 10 oz. / 1.25 cups) of 26º C (78º F) Water
- 2g (about 2 Tbsp.) of Baker's yeast
Start out with your water. I put the temperature there because it is important. I found that having both faucets on full resulted in about the right temperature water. Lots of folks kill half of their yeast because they approximate "warm" water at about 100º. Too hot! Yeast murder! Use a thermometer if you have one (it is not a bad investment).
Add your yeast to the water by sprinkling it on top. Baker's yeast usually comes in larger packages at natural food stores, and is much happier (and less expensive) yeast than the type you get in the little packets. You can use those too if you want though. Now let the yeast sit for 2 minutes without stirring, then mix it all up, and let it sit for a few more minutes. This wakes your yeast up - it is kind of sleepy if you've been keeping it in the fridge (which you should!).
Put your flour in a bowl, make a well in it, and dump in your yeasty water. Stir a bit with a spoon, and then give a few nice grabs with your hands to make sure everything is incorporated. It should be a rough, slightly dense mass that a spoon can be jabbed into and stay in place (like the sword in the stone). You might wash out your bowl at this point, oil it a tad, and put your Old Friend back in. Let the flour and warmed yeast mingle blissfully for 24 hours in the fridge.
*NB: Baking by weight is easier. The metric system is easier. You'll need a scale to do this.
Polder 2109 Gourmet Add'N'Weigh Scale, 5-Pound
Red Star Baking Yeast, Vacuum Packed, 2 Pounds (32 ounces - 908 g)
Taylor Classic Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer