If you enjoy baking for your family, you should give sourdough products a try. The starter I have is one based on the directions in How to Cook Everything, 10th anniversary edition and is just your basic flour/water type. I think I used some yeast in it the first time. There are TONS of recipes online for creating your own starter, and you can even buy starter. Why go to the effort of maintaining a starter? Aren't all the products...well... sour?
Actually, our starter is quite mild--the bread we make is a little tangier than regular French bread but no where near as sour as the sourdough bread at places like Panera. The other baked goods have a little more complex flavor than their usual counterparts, but they don't taste "sour."
Other reasons to give sourdough a whirl:
- CHEAP! My ordinary sourdough bread costs me about $0.50 for a HUGE loaf.
- Simple: my ordinary bread can be whipped up in about a minute because the ingredient list is minimal (salt and flour added to some starter...). In addition, the starter acts in place of ingredients you might not always have on hand (like buttermilk for pancakes).
- Dairy free: for those who need dairy free products, sourdough can be a great asset. Most recipes I've encountered use no dairy--the starter acts like dairy in many cases. (I use butter when recipes call for shortening, but if you have to avoid all dairy, you can use shortening.)
- Healthy: Some early studies have shown that sourdough bread has a better effect on blood sugar levels than even whole wheat bread. In addition, there's fewer calories in most sourdough products as compared to the regular product--sourdough products use less dairy and less fat!
- Long-lasting: Sourdough products tend to keep well, much like things made with honey keep better than those made with just sugar. It means you can make a French-style loaf one day and still serve it easily for dinner the next day!
- Tasty: we love our sourdough stuff! It's just so good.