Make your own Sourdough starter from scratch

May 27, 2021

 


Sourdough has become very popular due to its ability to be more easily digested then a regular yeasted loaf. It is also very tasty and you can just keep using it again and again rather than going to the store for packaged yeast. 

Personally I prefer sourdough bread. I find store bought yeasted loaves are really sweet and lack flavour. The full body chewy texture of sourdough is hard to go past. 

If you don't have a friend or family member to give you a little of their discard to get you started then it can be a challenge to work out how to make your own starter. 

It doesn't have to be a headache to start one yourself and they are surprisingly hard to kill, I accidently baked mine for a full 10mins and it was still fine (don't ask).

Starters can last for generations if cared for properly. Bakeries hand it down and keep theirs going for 50+ years. Mothers and fathers hand it down to their children and the flavour just keeps developing and getting better. 

I have heard of people who name their starters so they can remember where they got it from or when they started it. I particularly love this article about a woman with a 168yr old mother starter handed down through her family.


CAN I USE ANY FLOUR TO MAKE A SOURDOUGH STARTER

Technically yes but it best to use the freshest flour you can get your hands on. Unbleached will also give you a better, faster result as the culture in the flour is still alive. So don't use that bag of flour you have had sitting at the back of your cupboard for over a year. Some people will say rye is the best to use but I haven't seen a difference in mine so white, or wholemeal are also fine. If you use wholemeal or rye then use a little less water. Its all about trial and error but it should be like a thick pancake batter.


DOES IT NEED TO BE FILTERED WATER

Yes. Unless you use tank water then it does need to be filtered. The reason for this is that our tap water contains chlorine to purify it. Its a very small amount but will kill all the live yeast we are hoping to attract. If you don't have a water filter then leaving a glass of water out for 10-20mins will allow the chlorine to evaporate. Its not ideal but it will still work.


DO I HAVE TO FEED MY STARTER DAILY

While you are getting it started then yes. Once the initial process is done you can store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. The cold means that the yeast consume the flour slower so it doesn't need feeding as often. If you want to use your starter more often then you can leave it on the bench and feed it daily or you can remove it from the fridge at least a day before you intend to use it and feed it twice, once when you first get it out then again 12hrs later, this will allow it to get warm and active before you use it. 

WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE A SOURDOUGH STARTER


  • A 3L jar with a lid, I prefer clip top

  • Unbleached fresh flour

  • Damp teatowel or muslin (pudding) cloth

  • Filtered water

MAKING YOUR STARTER

You want one part flour to one part water. 1 cup works well but its up to you how much you use as long as its equal parts. Mix it well and leave in a warm spot but not in direct sunlight for 24hrs with a cloth over it to stop bugs getting in (not plastic wrap as we want the wild yeast to get in). Next to the stove is a good place.

After 24 hrs discard half and add another cup of each flour and water. Stir well. Replace cloth and leave again. 

Repeat this process for days 3, 4 and 5 of discarding half and feeding with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. After a few days you should see it start to get bubbly. This indicates wild yeast has taken up residence. 




This process could take longer depending on your flour, water and climate. Warmer weather will speed up the process. If you notice your starter is turning a little grey and getting water like liquid on top this means its hungry (usually in warmer weather) and you will need to check how much flour and water you add (it should be equal parts so 100g starter, 100g flour and 100g water). This liquid is called hooch and you want to pour it off not mix it in. 

After a few days you should see it start to bubble up and double as it gets fed. Discarding half prevents your bowl getting too full. As you need equal parts if you don't discard, your amount of flour and water needs to go up too.  So if you want more starter then don't discard but double the amount of flour and water to match the amount of starter you have. You generally do this if you know you will need a lot for a recipe to ensure you have some leftover for next time. 

After 7 days you should have a healthy starter. If you want to keep it in the fridge then after feeding leave it out for 8hrs then place in the fridge for up to a week. 

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

  • Sourdough doesn't like metal. Try and use only wooden, plastic or glass when interacting with the starter.

  • Keep up a ratio of 1:1 with the flour,  water and starter after the initial week. This means if after discarding you have 100g of starter, then add 100g flour and 100g filtered water to feed. You can add a little less water if using rye or wholemeal flour as their water update are different. It should be like a thick pancake batter.

  • A dark grey liquid or acidic smell indicates your starter is hungry and has eaten all the previous feeding. Pour off the hooch (liquid) and feed. Remember to feed more regularly in future.

  • A healthy starter will double over a few hours once fed. Ensure if you seal the jar that you open it to release the pressure at least once in the day after feeding. This is called burping and releases the gasses caused by the fermentation process. 

  • If you forget about your starter and it has a very strong smell of nail polish remover (acetone) this indicates its gone too far and should be discarded and you will need to start again. 

  • Wash the jar with hot water only to remove old starter every few months. This prevents mould. Pour remaining starter into a bowl and add back to the jar once clean.

  • If you forget to feed your starter but think it can still be saved then discard most of it and feed a few times over the next few days to revive it. 

  • Starter can be stored in the freezer for several weeks.  I have heard of it surviving after several months in the freezer. This is a good idea to store half if you are afraid of killing it and want to store some as a back up or if you are going on holiday so won't be home to feed it regularly. 

Most importantly don't give up! Even if you forget to feed it it can usually still be saved. Just keep going and eventually you will have a strong, healthy, bubbly starter. 


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