Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starter

I thought there were only two choices for sourdough starter: buy some or make some. Turns out there are multiple ways of making your own. I definitely wanted to try that rather than buying, just for the fun of it. My kitchen is toasty warm all year long, so yeast breads tend to do very well.

The basic premise is combining a small amount of water and flour, then leaving it at room temperature. It picks up yeast and bacteria (the good kind) both from the flour and the air. You add more flour and water on a regular basis to keep the microbiome active. When you’re ready to bake, you harvest some of your starter to use in the bread and save the rest to build up for next time.

For my first go, I started where I usually begin with baking: King Arthur Flour. Great products, great service, great recipes. But while my favorite sourdough recipe is from KAF, I decided I liked a different method of forming the starter. Not because theirs didn’t work. It did, and quite well. But I got very tired of “discards.” With the KAF method, you always discard half of your starter before adding the next feeding of flour and water. The feedings start out twice daily and consist of 4 ounces (113 g) each of flour and water. If you kept it all, you’d need a bigger kitchen and a lot more jars. After a week of twice daily, you’d have more than 14 cups (3 kg) of starter! Even more, if your starter took over a week to become established. There are lots of recipes out there for things to make with the discards, but that’s a lot of baking just to avoid throwing excess starter away.

After I baked some bread with my starter just to prove to myself that I could, I started a new one. This time I used a method from Serious Eats. With this method, you start with a much smaller amount and add smaller feedings, so there’s no need to discard every day. You still might have to discard some, depending on how long it takes your starter to get strong enough to use, but at least it isn’t a daily thing.

Once my new starter was well established, I fell into a routine. Feed, harvest enough to make two loaves, pop the remaining 2 to 3 ounces (56 to 84 g) in the fridge. Since my favorite 2-loaf recipe calls for 1 cup (240 g) of starter, it takes 4 to 5 feedings to build up enough to harvest. About six days before I think I’ll need bread again, I bring it back out to room temperature. This schedule might work for you, or it might not. Heck, it might not work for me in the summer even though it was perfect in the winter. The thing with sourdough is that it’s wonderfully individual. These are living organisms that are significantly affected by ambient conditions, and they’ll grow the way they grow. Isn’t it fascinating? I’ve been baking every week, so the starter rarely spends more than a few days in the fridge. The shorter the fridge time, the faster the starter recovers. If you’re not baking very often, just bring it out once a week or so, feed it once, give it a couple hours to digest, and pop it back in the fridge. Plenty of folks have let theirs starve longer than a week, it just takes longer for it to recover that way.

If you’d like to start your own sourdough starter, here’s the method I used:

Ingredients:

Day 1 a ss

Flour (I used white whole wheat for the very first mixture, then all-purpose or plain for the feedings.)

Water (Ideally without chlorine)

A jar or crock to keep the starter in. I tried several;  this Weck jar was the best for me.

Directions:

1.) Day One: Initial Mix

Combine ½ ounce (14 g) whole wheat flour with 1 ounce (28 g) of water. Mix well, cover, and leave at room temperature.

 

2.) Day Two: First Feeding

Here’s what it looked like when I got up in the morning, then after stirring in 1 ounce (28 g) each of all-purpose (plain) flour and water:

3.) Days Three & on:

Continue to feed 1 ounce (28 g) each of flour and water every day, until either your jar gets too full or your starter is active enough to bake with. You’ll know it’s ready when it has little bubbles all the way through.

 

4.) If it gets too full before it’s ready, just remove some and use it in a “discard” recipe or simply throw away the excess. There’s no one answer for how much to remove. If you (or your starter) are not in a hurry, you can remove all but about 2 ounces (56 g) and let the volume build back up over the next week. If it’s close to being active enough and you want to bake bread as soon as possible, just remove a bit. If you take too much, the worst that will happen is that it will take a few days to build back up. If you don’t take enough, the worst that will happen is that you have to discard some more in a few days. Don’t let the jar get more than half full after a feeding, or it might overflow as the starter ripens.

Once it’s ready, you can either harvest, refrigerate, or both. Most sourdough bread recipes call for “fed” starter. I find that a rather confusing term. It means your starter is at its most active, which in my kitchen is usually about 3 to 4 hours after a feeding. I like the term “ripe” better, as it describes the condition of the starter. After all, the instant you feed it, it’s “fed,” but it isn’t actually ready to bake with at that point.

A mature starter can also be quickly increased in volume simply by giving it a bigger feeding, keeping the weight of the added flour equal to the weight of the added flour.

What if you’re not getting as much bubbling as in the picture, and you’ve done everything right for more than a week? It might be that you just need to give it a bigger feeding, or more time, or more warmth.

If your kitchen is cool, you can leave the jar in a cold oven with the light left on. Just be sure to remove the starter before preheating your oven.

Sourdough Starter

Ingredients

Flour (I used white whole wheat for the very first mixture, then all-purpose or plain for the feedings.)

Water (Ideally without chlorine)

A jar or crock to keep the starter in.

Directions

1.) Day One: Initial Mix

Combine ½ ounce (14 g) whole wheat flour with 1 ounce (28 g) of water. Mix well, cover, and leave at room temperature.

2.) Day Two: First Feeding

Stir in 1 ounce (28 g) each of all-purpose (plain) flour and water. Cover, and return to the counter.

3.) Days Three & on:

Continue to feed 1 ounce (28 g) each of flour and water every day, until either your jar gets too full or your starter is active enough to bake with.

4.) If it gets too full before it’s ready, just remove some and use it in a “discard” recipe or simply throw away the excess. There’s no one answer for how much to remove. If you (or your starter) are not in a hurry, you can remove all but about 2 ounces (56 g) and let the volume build back up over the next week. If it’s close to being active enough and you want to bake bread as soon as possible, just remove a bit. If you take too much, the worst that will happen is that it will take a few days to build back up. If you don’t take enough, the worst that will happen is that you have to discard some more in a few days.

Once it’s ready, you can either harvest, refrigerate, or both. Most sourdough bread recipes call for “fed” starter. I find that a rather confusing term. It means your starter is at its most active, which in my kitchen is usually about 3 to 4 hours after a feeding. I like the term “ripe” better, as it describes the condition of the starter. After all, the instant you feed it, it’s “fed,” but it isn’t actually ready to bake with at that point.

A mature starter can also be quickly increased in volume simply by giving it a bigger feeding, keeping the weight of the added flour equal to the weight of the added flour.

What if you’re not getting as much bubbling as in the picture, and you’ve done everything right for more than a week? It might be that you just need to give it a bigger feeding, or more time, or more warmth.

If your kitchen is cool, you can leave the jar in a cold oven with the light left on. Just be sure to remove the starter before preheating your oven.

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mmmm. Sourdough. I had one named Ooblek in the fridge for years. He died when we went on a two week road trip. You’ve inspired me to get one going again. That fragrance, right?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. julie says:

      Heavenly! How’d you come up with the name “Ooblek?” Sounds cool! For future reference, I’ve heard of folks successfully resuscitating starter after a two month absence, just took them a little longer. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Julie! It looked, felt, and grew like the Oobleck in the Dr. Seuss book. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. julie says:

        Love it!

        Liked by 1 person

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