I don’t think any farmhouse is complete without a bubbly jar of active wild yeast sitting on the counter AKA sourdough starter. Once you get the hang of how to feed your sourdough starter it is a wonderful way to make bread and baked goods with its tangy soul warming flavor. Anything from bagels and pancakes to artisan breads and chocolate cake, it’s good for anything that requires rising!
When I first tried to make my sourdough starter, I failed.
Though, I don’t think it was the sourdough’s fault. It really is easy.
Only, I’m forgetful.
I’d leave my baby starter on the counter in the corner and come back five days later to find a very pungent smell and it covered in mold. Oy vey!
This was probably due to the lack of structure in my house which I talk about in this post. Once I sorted out things on the homefront I was ready to tackle the sourdough again.
Alas, I succeeded! It really isn’t a difficult thing to do!
What exactly is sourdough?
Sourdough is the original yeast packets so to speak. Yeah, those things you buy at the store weren’t always around.
Sourdough is a live ferment from mixing flour and water together. As it sits in a warm spot, it cultivates its own little microbiome. Contrary to popular belief this does not happen because the starter is capturing yeast from the air. The flour used in the starter has bacteria that it feeds on.
And boy, does it get hungry! That’s why you’ll hear people say they have to feed their starter. Some people even give their starter a name as if it were a pet.
Why is wild yeast better than baked goods made with yeast packets?
Well, to be honest, anything homemade is better than not. I usually tell people to get used to making bread with yeast packets first and then slowly transition to making bread with sourdough.
But there are a few reasons a fine person like yourself should want to make sourdough bread from scratch.
For one, it’s easier to digest than the stuff you find at the supermarket. The wild yeast in a sourdough starter will break down what’s called phytic acid found in foods like grains, legumes, and nuts. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that makes it harder for our bodies to absorb nutrients in these healthful foods.
That’s why it’s also recommended to soak beans, oats, and nuts before consuming.
Another reason to ferment flour is the beneficial gut bacteria it introduces. Starter is a colony of probiotics and is teeming with live enzymes that are good for your body.
What kind of flour should I use to feed my sourdough starter?
The most important thing for your sourdough starter is to use high quality flour. I frequently use the King Arthur Brand or Bob’s Red Mill. When first starting out, it may be best to use an all-purpose flour and transition to a whole wheat as you get the hang of things if that’s what you’re into.
If you’re feeling extra fancy you can mill your own wheat berries. I currently have no experience with this but this lady does and is a trusted source.
How long does it take?
It takes about 7-10 days to establish a starter but it may take longer.
How do you know it’s ready for baking? There are two tests you can do to see if it’s ready for a loaf…
The Floating Test: Place a teaspoon of starter in a glass of water. If it floats its ready! If it sinks it’s not.
Placing a rubber band around your jar to see if it has risen (doubled): Scrape down the edges of your jar so you can get a good reading of how far your starter had risen while you were away
Should I use measuring cups or a scale for flour?
There’s debate about the consistency of using measuring cups or using a kitchen scale to measure out your flour. Technically speaking, using a kitchen scale is the superior method but I’m not that complicated, especially for making the starter. I will do another post soon on troubleshooting sourdough bread fails.
What kind of water do I use?
Filtered water is prefered but not absolutely necessary. Using tap water would be okay if you know it doesn’t have a lot of chemicals or chlorine in it. Chlorine will kill the beneficial bacteria in your sourdough starter.
What you’ll need to get started
- Patience! Haha it is not an overnight process but there are plenty of discard recipes to test the waters while your starter gets established enough for bread
- High quality flour
- Filtered water (or tap water left out on counter overnight *see above)
- Glass jar/bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring cups or scale
Day 1: Make the sourdough starter
Place 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup flour in your jar.
Mix vigorously until well combined. The mixture should be like a thick pancake batter.
Place somewhere warm (70-80 degrees fahrenheit).
Day 2: Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles
On day 2, watch out for bubbles! Your starter is coming alive. You could stir it around and you might see it wiggling and popping bubbles on its own. Very fascinating!
You might find a dark liquid has formed on your starter. Don’t be alarmed! It’s harmless. This liquid is typically referred to as “hooch” which if you’re from around my town can be confusing. Because in the summer we call kayaking or canoeing shooting the “hooch” as in The Chattahoochee River. But those are stories for another day.
Back to sourdough. If you find this on your starter it just means its hungry. I told you it was like a pet! For today just stir it in and let it keep fermenting. We’ll take care of feedings on day 3. Normally, you would drain the liquid and any discolored spots on your starter before adding flour back in.
Day 3: Feed the beast
By now your starter should be bubbly and very hungry.
Discard about half of your current starter. You can either throw it away or use it in a discard recipe like pancakes or pizza.
Then, feed it 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir vigorously and cover.
Place in warm spot.
Day 4-6: Cultivate
Continue feeding your sourdough starter by repeating day 3 steps as outlined:
Discard about half of your current starter. Then, feed it 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir vigorously and cover.
Place in warm spot.
If you see that it’s fallen, feed it again.
Day 7: A sourdough starter has been made
By this day your starter should have doubled in size. It should be filled with bubbles on the surface and throughout the sourdough starter.
Your starter should be spongy and stretchy as you stir and have a pleasant aroma.
Let the baking begin!
What has your sourdough starter experience been like? Tell me in the comments below.
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