If you missed my sourdough webinar tonight streaming on YouTube, you can watch it below. I have to warn you that this no-budget video, unlike the information contained within, is not of the highest quality. Below the video, I’ve added my class notes if you were either in the class and want to refer to them or you would just like to skip the video and get the gist of what I covered.
History of Sourdough
A starter is a natural leaven that makes bread and other baked goods rise. Before the development of commercial yeast about 200 years ago, people baked with the wild yeast in fermented sourdough starters.
All real bread is sourdough bread. People had made bread this way for about 6000 years until the introduction of commercial yeast approximately 200 years ago. Commercial yeast speeds up production and results in consistent loaves but results in less nutritious—and I would say, less delicious—loaves.
How to make a sourdough starter in 3 steps
I’ve narrowed down making a starter from scratch to three steps:
- Combine flour and water
- Stir daily whenever you think of it
- Once you see bubbling, feed the starter daily
Optional step 4: name your starter. I named my Eleanor after Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two medieval kings and mother of three.
Ingredients and Equipment
I use filtered water for my ferments but tap water should be fine. However, chlorine kills microbes—bad and good. If you can smell chlorine in your water, fill a vessel the day before you make sourdough, let the container sit exposed to the air and the chlorine with dissipate.
I buy my flour in bulk in glass jars or cloth bags to reduce packaging waste. For the starter, I use 50 percent white flour and 50 percent whole wheat. You can use all white flour. That will probably result in a airier starter but whole wheat contains more nutrients than white.
Use a glass or ceramic vessel for your starter. Ferments, which are acidic, will react with plastic or metal. I prefer to use a vessel with a wide mouth, which makes measuring out the perfect amount of starter easy. You don’t have to sterilized the container or your equipment. Just make sure you clean everything well.
I highly recommend using a kitchen scale. Flour by volume varies in weight. One hundred grams could measure out to 2/3 a cup or closer to 1/2 cup. Use a scale for accuracy.
Step 1: Combine flour and water
Warm up some water
You want it warm, not hot, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I am philosophically opposed to microwaves and everything they stand for—quick, easy, convenient food of no quality. Besides, I have no room for one. So, I heat up a bit of water in my kettle and add room temperature water to cool it to about 110. I drink lots of tea, so I usually make or feed my starter while I’m heating water for tea. Measure out 100 grams (equivalent to 100 ml).
You’ll need 100 grams of flour. Ideally, I mix a giant container of whole wheat and white flours together in equal parts to make feeding easier—when you feel starter daily, this little step speeds up the process. I then measure out my 100 grams of flour. My starter likes rye so I often feed her that in place of the whole wheat.
Stir flour and water with a fork, scrape down the sides of the container and place a plate or cloth over top. You want some air circulation so don’t use plastic wrap (I banned if from my kitchen years ago and life has continued). Your starter with have the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Step 2: Stir daily whenever you think of it
Keep your starter in a warm but not hot spot. Over the next few days, stir it a few times a day or any time you think of it. This will help aerate it and also spread the microbes around and encourage their growth.
Step 3: Once you see bubbling, feed the starter daily
In a few to several days, if all goes well, you will see bubbling. Those bubbles mean that the dormant microbes in your flour have revived in order to transform your mixture into a living culture, filled with good bacteria and yeasts.
As with other ferments, like kombucha, yogurt, kefir and so on, to keep the culture alive, you add a bit from the previous batch to fresh ingredients. This adds some live cultures to the new batch of starter.
To feed the starter, you need to remove about 80 percent of it (but don’t throw it out!). Mix in another 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of warm water into the remaining two or three tablespoons of starter. After about five days to a week of feeding your starter regularly, you can use it in recipes. Be patient. It could take longer!
Some bakers swear that before baking with your mature starter, you must feed it twice daily, at 12-hour intervals. Sandor Katz says every two or three days will suffice. I’ve tried once a day and I’ve tried twice a day. I haven’t noticed much difference either way but I’m not a professional baker (and that is the point of my blog—anyone can do this).
Optional Step 4: name your starter
Someone on Facebook told me she had difficulty bringing her starter into the world so I gave her some tips, one of which was name it 😉
I have never had mold grow on my starter. The starter’s acidic environment keeps out the bad microbes. You may notice gray water—hooch—forming on top if you neglect your starter for a while or feed it too much water. Pour it off and feed your starter. Starters are quite resilient. However, if you find red or pinkish liquid and darkening edges, you may have attracted mold. I hate to toss anything but I would compost your starter and make a new one.
The Sourdough Baker’s Dilemma
Right about now, you are probably thinking, that’s going to add up to a lot of discarded starter if I bake regularly. First, let me say welcome to my world.
Second, here are some solutions:
- Bake with the discarded starter. I make buttermilk waffles for breakfast (and sometimes dinner) made with buttermilk I culture—the worlds’ easiest ferment (truly, two minutes to prepare). We also eat a lot of homemade sourdough crackers which taste cheesy (but contain no cheese) and delicious. I also make a lot of sourdough pancakes. I have been working on a sourdough pizza crust recipe but it has eluded me.
- Unless you bake every day or two, store your starter in the refrigerator. You can reduce feedings to once a week and ensure your starter’s viability. To feed, take it out of the refrigerator, let it warm up, feed it and allow it to ferment for a few hours before returning it to the fridge.
- Find someone to unwittingly unload your starter onto.