Starting with the best picture first but in the wrong order -- today was the day of reckoning for my sourdough experiment.
The verdict? That sponge is alive!
I think it will take another week or two (or longer) for the sponge to get a bit more potent and "sour" but as for its ability to make a dough rise, this one has it. I'll keep feeding it over the next month before putting it in the fridge for long term use and storage (with weekly feedings, only).
But back to the process. Yesterday was my 7th day feeding the young critters and except for the very first 12 hours when it wasn't particularly active, it has risen like a champ after every feeding, doubling in size and gassing its way to the top, literally.
Following the directions very closely for the first 5 days, I fed the sponge 3/8 C whole wheat flour and 1/4 C water every 12 hours. On days 6 & 7, I eyeballed the moisture content, as I was getting a little more familiar with the consistency that it likes best in our humidity -- which meant the same amount of flour but slightly less than the proscribed 1/4 C water. Also, a few times I didn't bother removing half the starter, but instead just fed it and let the volume increase. I was using a larger bowl than a mason jar, and could spare the room.
So, cut to yesterday. The website author stated, "I would never use a starter that was less than a week old." Mine was a week old. Go time. I pulled the trigger.
The recipe for San Francisco Sourdough I used required a 12-16 hour rise time so I needed to do its thing overnight. I set up the dough with 1/4 C of starter, 2 tsp Salt, 2 1/2 C water, 6 1/2 C Flour. Mixed, kneaded (20 minutes), let it rest (30 minutes), shaped and covered for its overnight work.
This morning, my nice little boulle and batard, had flowed to cover the entire pan! It was an I Love Lucy moment, to be sure. I wish I'd taken a picture of this, I was just so surprised! So, I used my scraper to fold it back on itself and approximate a boulle and a batard. I started the oven (375) and placed a pan of water in the bottom of the oven, per the instructions (cooking in a humid oven helps keep the bread moist and "San Francisco-y").
Fist the boulle. Very crusty, nicely chewy inside. We used it for sandwiches this a.m. and while the texture was superb, I think I overcooked it by about 5 minutes. So for the second loaf -- the batard, I took it out a few minutes earlier. It retains the same crusty top, but it's not quite as "hard" if you get my meaning. You can thump it and while it feels and sounds cooked inside, it's also not a rock on the outside.
Next steps -- continue feeding the starter, letting it cure and sour. I'll migrate it to a large mason jar and start using that for my sponge home. Also, I'm going to switch to feeding it with organic unbleached white bread flour now. I ran out of WW Flour and while I'll certainly buy more, it's more expensive and I think the white flour will be OK now. I'm also going to look into what makes the sourdough bread have that nice "sour" flavor and learn to accentuate and minimize that when I need to. And mom sent a nice sourdough chocolate cake recipe that I think I really must try. (Thanks Gigi!)
Rating: I'd give myself a 4 out of 5 on the attmept. Room for improvement, but not bad for a first starter.