Sourdough Starter #1
This is the most basic recipe for creating your own sourdough starter. It relies on natural fermentation to produce the rising action needed to make bread, instead of using commercial yeast. Some people think that sourdough is easier on your stomach than commercial yeast, and even claim that people who are sensitive to gluten can eat sourdough bread without the troublesome symptoms they get when eating commercial bread or bread made with commercial yeast. Sourdough is also a good way to produce a rise in breads using gluten-free flours, and so is experiencing a rise in popularity in home bakers who are gluten sensitive.
Sourdough bread baking has become a whole culture (pun intended :)), with online and facebook groups providing support and recipes. You can even mail-order freeze-dried sourdough starter from Amazon if you don’t want to make your own. But if you do want to make your own, it’s simple. There are all kinds of opinions out there, and all kinds of recipes. The one I provide here is the most basic, using just flour and water, and it works well. It just takes time and patience. There are natural yeasts in flour that will grow and multiply when the right conditions are provided. Remember that your starter is a living thing, so it requires regular care and feedings. The older your starter gets, the better it will taste.
(If you are in a hurry, you can try my Quick Sourdough Starter. It relies on apple cider vinegar to provide the sour taste, and will be ready to bake with in just 6 days.)
It will take 2 weeks for this starter to be ready to use for bread for the first time. After that, you will still need to feed it regularly, but how often will depend on how often you plan to use it. You may feed it daily, keeping it on your counter, or weekly, keeping it in the fridge, So have patience, and know that it is always a work in progress.
- 1 glass Jar
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup distilled or bottled water (no chlorine)
More all purpose flour and water for more feedings
After 2 weeks, use these measures for feedings:
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup distilled or bottled water (no chlorine)
- In your jar, mix together equal amounts of all purpose flour and water.
- Cover with a breathable cover (cheesecloth, tea towel, paper coffee filter) and place in warm part of home.
- Every 12 hours, feed starter by adding equal amounts of flour and water. The amount you use will increase as the amount of starter you have in your jar increases. For the first 2 or 3 days, stick with 1/4 cup each flour and water. Then increase to 1/2 cup each flour and water for the next couple of days.
- By day 5 or 6, your jar will be about 3/4 full, and you will have to discard some of the starter in order to have enough room in the jar to keep feeding it. Remove about 50% of the starter and replace with 1/4 cup each water and flour, then in another day, 1/2 cup each flour and water. The amount you use is not critical, but should be close to the amount that you have in the jar. For example, if you have about 1 cup of starter, feed 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, for a total feeding of 1 cup. Keep feeding in this manner every 12 hours for 2 weeks, removing starter when necessary to provide room in the jar. If you have a big enough jar and intend to do large batches of bread, you can even go up to 1 cup each flour and water.
- After about a week, you will start to notice that the starter bubbles up as soon as you feed it. This is a good indication that the starter is alive, active, and getting ready to use.
- You can keep a second jar in your fridge for the starter that you discard instead of throwing it out. It is really good to use in pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and probably lots of other uses I haven’t thought of. Once you get into regular baking, though, you will be using your starter regularly, so you won’t have to worry about having any discard.
- You will want to keep a large enough jar of starter so that you have the amount specified in your favorite recipes, ready to bake with as often as you want to bake. For me, that is 1 1/2 to 2 cups of starter. I want to be able to remove 2 cups of starter for my bread, and still have enough left to feed and bring back up to 2 cups within a week for my next baking.
- If you plan to bake every day, or every other day, keep your starter on your counter (or other warm place in your kitchen), and feed it once every day. If you plan to bake only once a week or so, you may keep your starter in the fridge, which will retard its growth, and you will only need to feed it once a week. When you are ready to bake again, take it out of the fridge the day before, to allow it to warm up and activate. Remove some of the starter (up to about 50%), and feed it in the morning when you first take it out of the fridge, then again the night before using it. It may be a bit sluggish when first removed from the fridge, but by the evening feeding it should be bubbly and active after feeding, and will be ready the next morning to use in your recipe.
There are many recipes and opinions on the best way to use sourdough starter. Some recipes call for removing a certain amount of starter the night before, to which flour is added to create a “sponge” or “levain”, which is then left to rise in a warm place overnight. This develops both the rising action and the flavour of the sponge. The next morning you add the rest of the ingredients and continue with the bread recipe from there. My San Fransisco Sourdough Bread #1 recipe uses this method, but also uses commercial yeast . I know it’s sort of cheating, but it’s a good recipe to use if your sourdough is a little sluggish and doesn’t produce a good rise on its own. It also results in a nicer texture; less coarse than recipes that use only sourdough to give the rise, and it has a mild taste. It’s a great recipe to start with.
If your starter is nice and active though, you won’t need to use any commercial yeast. I have a good, Basic Sourdough Bread recipe that uses 2 cups of starter, and makes 2 loaves in the same day. It takes a little longer to rise than traditional bread, but is still a same-day recipe that is pretty simple and easy. The texture is a little denser, and the taste is a little more tangy than my San Fransisco Sourdough, but is certainly not overwhelming. This recipe is usually my “go-to” when I want a simple loaf of sourdough bread.
Do you love hearty whole wheat breads with lots of seeds and grains? Try my multigrain sourdough recipe. We love it so much that it has become our everyday bread. Of course it’s heavier than store bought. But the taste makes it worth while.
One last word on sourdough actually has to do with yogurt making. Do you make your own yogurt? If you do, and if you strain it to produce the thicker Greek-style yogurt, you will always be looking for ways to use the whey that drains off of the yogurt. I like to use whey in my sourdough starter in place of half of the water in a feeding. Lactobacilli are one of the things naturally produced by sourdough, and are also one of the beneficial bacteria naturally present in yogurt. So you are giving your sourdough a welcome boost when you give it whey from your yogurt making. I usually use half and half water and whey. No reason – it just works for me. And I think it helps it to develop that prized sourdough flavour too. How can you go wrong?