My husband Chris loves sourdough bread. I, on the other hand… was not a fan. To me, it smelt and tasted like bad bread. However, since I love to bake and always wanted to try baking bread; I thought, “why not”. So, Three years ago, I made my first sourdough starter, baked sourdough bread, and kept feeding the starter on a weekly basis. I will have to admit, everything that I disliked before Chris, I now tolerated. Sourdough bread has become one of those items I baked on a weekly basis. Well, that is until I got pregnant, went on bed rest, then hospital rest, gave birth to twins, and then became a full-time mother of twins.
I’m slowly getting myself back into the kitchen and bake again. The first thing I really miss was baking breads. I reached into the back of the fridge and grabbed my 3 year old jar of sourdough starter. With excitement, I opened the lid, took a whiff, and wanted to puke! Wholly Guacamole!!! The jar smelled like something had died ten times over! Unfortunately, I have not maintained nor fed the sourdough starter in a long. long, long time. It’s extremely hard to get sourdough starter to spoil and I was able to do just that. Ugh! I finally got the bread to have that nice distinctive sour taste. I almost cried when I tossed the sourdough starter in the trash bin! Over 150 weeks of babying the sourdough starter, GONE! Just like that, I have to start over.
Sourdough Starter – The Basics
You can search on the internet to find recipes and instructions on “how to make sourdough starter”. You will find many sites that call for ingredients like sugar water and some kind of citrus juice. Please do not be intimidated by the starter! A good sourdough starter is very easy to make and all you need are 3 ingredients: Flour, Water, and TIME!
Before we start, lets get to the basics.
FLOUR – Any grain based flour will work. I’ve tried good o’l all-purpose flour, bread flour, and even wheat flour. I found that using all-purpose flour takes a long time for the fermentation to take place. Bread flour and wheat flour works great and rises really well. However, for my sourdough starter, I prefer using King Arthur Bread Flour because it’s cheaper than wheat flour.
WATER – I do not like the taste of tap water, nor do I trust using it without boiling the water first. Another personal preference, but I use filtered or bottled water. Don’t get me wrong… tap water works fine, but for my sanity, I use filtered or bottled water. Warm water between 100-11o degrees F is best. Why? I am glad you asked… If the water is too hot, it will kill the natural yeast to make the starter. If the water is too cool, the yeast will take a longer to form.
TIME – This is very important! I can not express enough how important it is to have the time to make the sourdough starter and to keep the starter going for generations. If you DO NOT have at least 1 day a week to tend to your starter, stop here and do not attempt to bake your own bread. You are better off buying it at the store.
Day 1 – The beginning of greatness
Combine 1 cup bread flour + 1 cup warm water (100-110 degrees F) in a storage container or 4 cup measuring cup. At the time, I did not have any large or glass containers available. Temporarily, I’m using Glad tupperware.
Whisk everything together until there are no dry flour left. The sourdough starter should be the consistency of pancake batter.
Cover the container with paper towel and secure with rubber band. Do not cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. The starter will need to breath. During the 24 hour period, the starter will start to develop with microorganisms in the environment and create wild yeast.
Let the starter mixture sit in a warm place for 24 hours. Ideally, 72 – 75 degrees works best. The cooler the environment, the slower the bacteria will grow. You will need to whisk the starter at least 2 times within the 24 hour period. Doing so will prevent the starter from spoiling.
Day 2 – Feeding the Starter
Oooooh! Look at those bubbles. Isn’t wild yeast beautiful! Now that the first 24 hours have passed, you may have little to no growth or bubbling. That is okay. Sourdough starter may take anywhere from day 4 to day 7 to establish. Moving forward, the starter will need to be fed on a daily basis.
To feed the starter, you must discard half. Now, whisk in 1/2 cup of bread flour + 1/2 cup of warm water. Whisk till there are no dry flour. Cover the container with paper towel and secure with rubber band. Let mixture rest for 24 hours and repeat. Again, within the 24 hours, whisk the starter to prevent spoilage.
Why discard half the starter every time it needs to feed? I know, it just seems so wasteful especially when the starter has been established and maintained for years. I remember hating to discard half the starter. I can hear the bacteria screaming at me each time I throw half its family away. So, after baking several loaves of sourdough bread, I decided that I would not discard the starter the next time I baked. Boy! Did I learn my lesson.
Discarding half the starter is necessary after all. Here’s why:
1) You must feed the starter prior to baking every time. Each time you feed, the starter will double in volume. Therefore, discarding half will allow you to make room for more water and flour.
2) Keeping the starter the same will help with its pH balance creating a healthier starter.
3) The starter is wild yeast. There are microorganisms that needs feeding in order to cultivate and do its job. The more starter you have, the more microorganisms that needs feeding and there’s not enough food. Discarding half will provide enough food and you will have happy healthy bubbles.
Day 3 – It’s ALIVE
OK! by now, your starter should have signs of fermentation. Lots of bubbles, frothy look, and an extremely sour smell. Gross, I know. But that’s how it works. If you can’t stand the smell, just breathe through your mouth.
Another 24 hours is up, so repeat the process. WDFR – Whisk, Discard, Feed, Repeat. Looks like one more day, then the starter will be ready.
Day 4 – It’s Ready!
Great news! My starter is ready to use for baking. Bad news… I’m not ready. Being mother of twins, I no longer have a full day to knead, proof, and then bake bread. Since the starter is ready but I am not… I need to slow down the fermentation by keeping it in the fridge. Till then… be patient my sourdough lovers!
And how do I know that my starter is ready? The starter should look frothy, bubbly, and has a sour fermented smell. If the starter smells like it’s rotten, then it is. Unfortunately, you will have to toss it out and start over.
Poke a hole in the lid prior to covering the starter. Doing this will allow the gas to escape.
Label the lid. This is just to prevent anyone from cleaning the fridge and throwing the starter away. Trust me, it does happen. Chris was cleaning out the fridge and thought my starter was spoiled sauce. So he threw it away!
Store the starter in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. Don’t worry, if your starter still isn’t ready after 7 days, don’t lose hope and feed on. As I mentioned before, making a starter takes time and patience.
Storage and Maintenance
Moving forward, the starter will need to be fed on a weekly basis, whether you use it to bake or not.
Choose a container about 3 times larger than the amount of the starter. Because the starter is wild yeast, it will expand and rise twice it’s volume once it has been established. Clean and sterilize the container before use. Doing so, will avoid contaminating the sourdough starter with unwanted organisms. The starter is finicky and vulnerable before it is established. Lastly, the storage container should not be kept airtight. Wild yeast thrives on circulating air. Fermentation releases carbon dioxide which will build up if the container is kept tight.
If you bake a lot of breads, you may want to keep your starter on the counter at room temperature. However, you must be consistent and feed your starter 1 -2 times a day in order to keep the starter happy and ready when you are. Continue the feeding like you have been. WDFR – Whisk, Discard, Feed, Repeat…
If you are like myself and bake bread once in a while, maintaining the starter at room temperature is impractical. Store the starter in the fridge and feeding it just once a week. Sundays are my starter feeding days.
This is the starter after one week in the fridge. You will notice a thin layer of liquid on top. The liquid is alcohol from the fermenting yeast. You can either pour out the liquid or whisk it in. Continue feeding as usual. After a couple of feedings, your starter will be happy, healthy, and ready to bake again!
Creating your own starter does require time and patience. However, there’s great joy and satisfaction when you’re baking your own sourdough bread. Bread will never taste the same!
A good sourdough that’s maintained and loved will last for years, even decades! Enjoy and happy baking!