Simple Sourdough Starter

Creating a sourdough starter from scratch is so easy you will hardly believe it and probably wonder why you didn't do it sooner.  It can also be the most intimidating activity when it comes to making sourdough bread because it is many times misunderstood.

Below are step-by-step instructions for making your own starter and then later look for the many breads you can make using this same starter.

There are a few different ways to make starters, and to get that fermentation going.  In my experience, the easiest way is with two simple ingredients: flour and water.  Once combined, these two ingredients make a culture that begins to ferment eventually developing the wild yeasts and bacteria needed to make your bread rise.

When creating this starter it is important to begin with whole grain flour to jump-start the fermentation process.  Whole wheat, rye and spelt are great options for this purpose.  I typically use whole wheat and occasionally spelt.

Temperature and location also play a part so for best results find a warm spot for your starter to thrive.  I have a warm spot above my oven that works well for this purpose and keeps it out of my way, yet not out of my sight so I remember it throughout the week.

The whole process will take about seven days from beginning to end.  Be ready to be flexible as this can be shorter or longer depending on many things, but generally in a week it will be ready to use.  You know it is ready when it as doubled in size and has produced plenty of bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture.

DAY 1: Using a large or medium mason jar, add approx. 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup of water.  Mix with a fork until you have a really sticky, thick dough.  It is more important to look for that hard-to-stir texture than the exact amounts of flour and water.  You won't want it to be too runny.

Cover loosely with a cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest for 24 hours.

Day 2: Check to see if there are any bubbles.  Bubbles indicate that the fermentation process is starting.  Don't worry if you don't see any yet!  Let it rest another 24 hours.

Day 3:  Whether bubbles are visible or not (they should be by now), it is time to feed your starter.  To feed it, remove and discard about half of the starter from the jar.  The texture will be very stretchy.  Add about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4-1/2 cup of water and stir well.  It should resemble a very thick batter so add just a bit more water if needed.  Remember, these measurements aren't specific.  I look for a very sticky dough, but not watery as my guide. Cover loosely and let it rest for another 24 hours.

Day 4 - 6: Repeat Day 3 steps above each of these days.  As the yeast begins to develop your starter will rise and bubbles will form more and more.  When the starter falls, that means it is time to feed it again.

Day 7:  By now you should see a lot of bubbles both large and small.  The texture will be spongy and puffy.  It should smell pleasant.. sort of tart/sour yet pleasant.  If this is the case then your starter is active and ready to use.  If it isn't ready at this point, just continue the feeding process for a few more days up to another week or so until it smells more pleasant.

When it is finished, transfer it to a clean jar and keep handy as you begin to use it in your favorit recipe.  You can keep this starter going and continue to feed it with more flour and water until you are ready to use some again.

Day 7 and beyond:  If you will be using your starter often, discard half of it and keep feeding it with the same amount of flour and water daily.  But if it will be a while before you use the starter again, cover your container tightly and place it in the fridge.  Take it out of the fridge and feed it at least once a week to keep it going.

This is my starter at day 2.  I used a rather small jar and I'll need to move it to a larger jar in the next day or so. 

Can you see all the bubbles forming?  This means the right things are happening!

If the jar is too small, it will bubble over by day 3, 4 or 5!

HOOCH - what is that?  "Hooch" is a liquid that you might see on top of your starter if you are not feeding it regularly.  

Hooch is alcohol, the remnants of the feeding cycle (excrement if you will) of the wild yeast in your starter.  It builds up first along the side of your starter and will eventually cover it if you don't monitor often.

Some people say stir it back in and go on, I say pour it off and get back to your normal feeding!

TIPS:

Starters love warm environments.  Of course that is hard in the winter.  If you don't want to wait patiently for the growth, you can try these things:

  • Store it in a cozy cabinet that is warm and draft free.  Experiment with a cabinet that is near your stove if you have one.

  • Wrap the starter jar in a heating pad, I've heard of people using this technique with good success!

Stick to bottle water or filtered water for your starter to avoid chlorine or other chemicals which would impact your success rate.

Keep using the same flour to feed your starter that you used to begin with.  This way if you have any trouble, you'll be able to rule that out.  Changing flour at each feeding will impact your results.  Your rise time will be more consistent this way as well.

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