Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Anne Frank & the Polish Brick Starter

One of the things I've decided to do differently in Volume #2 of L.A.B. is to include some recipes and formulas.

The first one that I am going to submit to you is not only a staple, but its the backbone of Klecko's career - OLD WORLD BRICK STARTER.

The first thing I have to do when addressing sourdough is to go into your minds and erase all the untrue concepts that you've been exposed to by ignorant teachers who value vanity over practicality.

I hope most of you feel as if you know me well enough to know that this isn't a diss, it's factual. All people cannot be specialist on all topics, so often times it's just easier to subscribe to public opinion.

On December 25th each year many of us shower one another with gifts to celebrate the birthday of Jesus...LOL, just ask a dime store theologian and they'll insist that the Messiah was really born in late September.

The same thing is true with sourdough, for whatever reason people like to believe that it is supposed to be this tangy-acidic bread that contains a flavor which is capable of biting back.

Nadda-Nadda Enchilada. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure there are coastal varieties that pick up sharpness from sea salt like the San Francisco version, but these versions don't necessarily represent the standard sourdough palate .

The true definition of sourdough is density, always has been, always will be.

Sourdough was invented by the Egyptians. They would make their bread, pull back the sand, cover their loaves and then their family had food for up to a week.

As the Hebrews made their exodus westward into eastern Europe, they brought this technology with them. Not everybody who made this trip lasted from Point "A" to point "B", so the people who fell off the wagon train taught these new bread skills to numerous outposts.

As much as I love French baguettes,their disadvantage is its hard to get more than a days shelf life from them.

Sourdough can give you a good week, and its easily the most versatile of all doughs. The baker can manipulate the color, flavor or texture with little effort.

I'll be up front with you right now, many sourdough bakers are freaks. I've been to a million club meetings, read all the books, and the one thing many of them have in common is that they try to bully and intimidate the novice baker.

They'll ramble on as to how difficult and precise this technology is, or they will insist that you have to feed your starter 3 times a day. If you don't, be prepared because they will call the authorities and report you as an abusive sourdough parent.

In the world of sourdough starters.....you will find 2 types, #1 is the liquid starter. This is what 95% of sourdough bakers use today.

Klecko thinks they are insane. Sure, he may not be as scientific, or as bright as many of his peers, but how many peeps can say that they have spun sourdoughs every day for 30 years?

But the main reason liquid starters became in vogue was because baking company's didn't want to ship the bricks, they weighed to much.

Money...its the answer to everything right?

The main reason I didn't give you guys my greatest secrets in volume #1 of L.A.B. was you wouldn't have understood them.

Understanding can never be fully achieved until there is trust, and by this point I think most of you know that I have nothing to gain by offering you my opinions.

Had I just kicked in the door and started screaming like a lout.....

"OK class, today is sourdough, and all of you will succeed!"

Many of you would have let your own self doubts get in the way.

But, now that you've become comfortable with Klecko, who's kidding who? You know you can do this.

Even baking professionals are freaked out by sourdough. Often times they seem defeated before they've even looked at the formula. Do you want to know why?

Because the is an additional step, that's it.

Old World Brick Starters are great because it's hard to mess them up. Seriously....think of some old woman baking in Istanbul in the 1700's.

She didn't have Food Network or designer cookbooks, but she could throw down stellar loaves.

Americans, as your country was being explored and settlers traveled westward... they used brick starters because of there durability and resilience.

Before I share my recipe, let Klecko share one last Brick Starter story with you.

My original brick was started by a couple other bakers over a 1/4 of a century ago at Custom Breads, when the bakery was sold and became Custom Bakery, the transfer in ownership took place with no down time, therefore the Brick Starter stayed in rotation.

But then came that fated day (about 7-10 days before the marriage of Klecko & Sue McGleno) where the IRS came and literately shut the bakery down. I still remember it was a Sunday morning, and the bakery doorway was taped shut like they do to the apartments where people get killed on television shows.

One of the reasons the shut down has to take place quickly is because otherwise...shifty concept owners would unload what assets were left out the back door.

I didn't have any invested interest in the equipment that was left behind, but Klecko was concerned about that sourdough brick starter.

Each sourdough starter has a name assigned to it, much like ships have personal names to identify them.

My sourdough starter was/is named Annalisa, and I began to realize that if I didn't take matters into my own hands, she was certain to perish.

All that time, observation, love...all tossed out the window. I was sick in the heart.

The following story you are about to read involves a crime, so therefore I will not say this is non fiction, I will simply describe this as a dream, and you can piece together the reality in whatever way you see fit.

OK, once there was a baker who was worried about his starter being held hostage by Uncle Sam in a tin building in Saint Paul.

The baker loved that Brick Starter so much that he decided that he would find a way into the prison and emancipate this sourdough fuel.

However, it then occurred to him.........

"What if I do rescue Annalisa? I am a baker w/o a job. how will I keep her alive until I find employment again?"

So first things first, the baker went rouge and liberated about 25#'s of Annalisa and brought it to a safe house in the Highlands of Saint Paul. The following night as he sat on his steps smoking cigs, and thinking about his pending marriage, an epiphany came to him.

One of the first bakers who worked with Annalisa was working with a bakery that was a direct competitor to Custom Bakery, so the baker swung by this rival shop and banged on the window to get his former colleagues attention.

When the guy came outside, the baker explained the situation and asked this guy to take Annalisa into his work space, feed her every 4 or 5 days, and as soon as the baker found employment, he'd be back to collect his love sake.

The colleague was pretty cool, but pointed out that if his owner found out, he'd fire him on the spot, when Klecko asked if that meant he didn't want to do it, he just said.....

"No, I'm gonna do it, I wouldn't let Annalisa die, this creep I work for is kinda like a Nazi anyway, so I'll just pretend she is Anne Frank and I'll find a spot to hide her in our cooler. I'm pretty certain I can refresh her late at night. The owners never come down into the shop after 10 p.m."

Klecko was out of work for a total of 20 days, but when he got into his new shop, the colleague stopped by with a healthy-happy Annalisa.

Sometimes the magnitude of events can become magnified in the middle of the night, but a couple days later Klecko just laughed out loud, all by himself, like a mad men.

One guy does a little B&E to secure an ingredient, and another guy risked his position and paycheck, all in the name of keeping a tradition alive.

Sure, another Brick Starter could have been mixed, but we all have to prioritize.

If you are a true baker.....I'm guessing that no further explanation needs to be given.

OK, here is the recipe for the Polish Brick, and in upcoming posts, I'll give you some recipes to incorporate it into.


(Obviously you may not have any recycled starter the first time you use this, but you can mix a batch, let it sit for a week and pull some out of that batch to use for recycled starter in your next mix.)

If you want, you could also split the All Purpose Flour content between All Purpose and a Rye as well....I.E.


Either version works.

In a mixing bowl, blend all the ingredients together.

This is a very stiff mix and you may have to knead by hand. Odds are this will snap the shaft of a Kitchen Aid mixer.

Mix until the water is absorbed, you don't want to over mix this.

Remember, we are not needing to build any gluten here, so just mix until all the ingredients come together.

Your finished "Old World Potato Brick" should be rock solid, but remember...solid does not mean dry.

We want the brick to be somewhat pliable, almost like the consistency of Play - Doh.

When it is finished, you can place it into a Tupperware container.

Some peeps wills grease theirs, I like to dust mine with flour.

Then set the lid on top, but don't seal it, let some air circulate, this will start fermentation a little faster.

In a cold weather climate, you could leave this "Brick" in its open container, out on the counter for 12-15 hours. You may notice it soften, but not too much.

On a hot / humid August afternoon, maybe no more than an hour.

Then we'll tighten the lid and put it in the back of the fridge.

Pull it out as needed to bake, or just leave it be, but I wouldn't go much past 2 weeks.

At this point, let's say you haven't used any of it, no big deal, just pull out the starter needed to refresh the new mix. If you end up tossing the excess in the trash, I know its wasteful, and that sucks, but whatever....

Its a small price to pay for this versatile tool.

In closing, don't buy into the bulls*** that a 20 year starter or 100 year starter is awesome and better than yours.

People who make those boasts are idiots.

After your Brick has a few months on it, it is doing the exact same things that a century Brick is doing.

That's the coolest part of sourdough......the enzymes are effected by your starter. Your Bricks enzymes change with everything they come in contact with, air - soil - different water sources - different varieties of flour, and maybe a billion other things.

In closing, one last thought.

Once you employee this technology, you will bake,blossom and brag, but I'm guessing as you continue looking at other Brick or alternative sourdough starters, you'll find many are fuels with acidic vegetables or yogurt instead of potato.

You can get away with that in hot climates, but if you want to try that in Minnesota of Moscow in December....well its about as problematic as planting palm trees in the Arctic.

Let me know how your Brick turns about....and make sure you give it a bad a** name.


  1. Question, professor .... if a 100-year-old starter batch is no better than what you whomped up last week ... why was it important to rescue Annalisa?

  2. The importance is merely that I helped raise her and took care of her. I know that's weird, and I should be slugged, but i guess its like the day your dog dies and somebody hands you a puppy of the same breed.
    You don't necessarily want "a" dog...you want your dog.

  3. For me, liquid starter is just easier to mix in with the dough. Henry (my starter) is 50/50 flour and water.
    Eric Anderson