Love sourdough breads? Wondering how to make your own sourdough starter? It’s easy. While the internet is full of sourdough starter recipes that call for odd ingredients like pineapple juice, orange juice, potato flakes or sugar water, to make a truly good sourdough starter you need just three things: flour, water and time. It’s easy, but there’s a few things you should keep in mind first.
water for your sourdough starter
With so few ingredients used in sourdough starter, it’s essential that the ingredients that are used be of the highest quality. If you live in an area where water quality is compromised (most of us do, by the way … ahem), take care to feed your starter with filtered water. Most municipalities treat water with chlorine to opportunistic microorganisms lurking in the water supply before they pipe it into your home. The chlorine not only kills opportunistic and pathogenic microorganisms in the water supply, but it also kills other microorganisms as well – the bacteria and yeasts you need to keep a lively starter. We filter our water with a Berkey filter (find them online) which removes chlorine as well as heavy metals that can also damage the beneficial bacteria and wild yeasts present in a sourdough starter.
flour for your sourdough starter
Any flour, provided it’s a grain-based flour, will work for making a sourdough starter. Rice flour, rye flour, spelt flour, whole wheat flour, barley flour, sprouted flour, einkorn flour, bread flour - they all work. In my home, where we typically only consume whole grains – properly prepared according to traditional principles, I typically use unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour in preparing my sourdough starter. In a pinch, I’ll stir in well-sifted whole grain flour; however, sourdough starters maintained on whole grain flours can develop off flavors, becoming skunky over time. In my experience, sourdough starters fed on unbleached, all-purpose flour or bread flours are remarkably resilient, rise exceptionally well and offer a pleasant and mildly sour flavor.
why you should use an established starter
All you need to prepare a sourdough starter at home is flour, water and time. This wild fermentation of flour and water will yield beautiful results; however, getting a boost in beneficial bacteria and yeasts from an established starter is always helpful – particularly for first-time sourdough bakers whose technique and knowledge are limited by inexperience. These established sourdough starters – usually sold fresh or dried and powdered – are rich in established bacteria and yeasts, and they give your sourdough starter a much-needed boost, acting as a sort of insurance policy to make sure your starter starts bubbling away reliably. And it’s that level of insurance and reliability that is so helpful to newcomers of sourdough baking.
where to find an established starter
You can find a sourdough starter to give your own starter a boost through bakeries, sourdough-baking friends or through specialty shops online. If you’ve found, purchased or been given an established fresh starter, use one-quarter cup to help your starter take off. Personally, I’ve found the most success using the Parisian-style sourdough starter which is available online (see sources). In working on Nourished Kitchen over the years, I’ve tried many different starters (including a completely wild starter that made everything I baked taste like goldfish crackers), and the Parisian starter is my favorite: it’s milder in flavor than most sourdoughs and yields a beautiful rise.
your sourdough jar
Your jar should not be kept airtight as sourdough thrives on circulating air; further, the process of fermentation releases carbon dioxide which can build up in a tightly lidded jar; instead, simply set a lid loosely on top of the jar, or cover the lip of the jar with a cheesecloth to keep out debris. Remember: your starter will expand and rise to twice its volume after a feeding once it’s well-established so the jar you choose should have double the capacity of an un-fed starter. I like to use wide-mouthed glass canisters (like this) to keep my sourdough. A wide-mouthed canister as opposed to a mason jar will make it easier for you to feed your sourdough starter, properly aerate your starter and keep the sides of the jar clean (thus preventing potential mold or cross-contamination with other microorganisms).
A wooden spoon works fine to mix together water and flour for sourdough starter; however, I prefer a Danish-style dough whisk which helps to aerate the starter more thoroughly. Aeration of the starter is essential to ensure that the bacteria are well-distributed throughout the starter and can, thus, begin to ferment the new flour and water mixture added to the starter at each feeding. Proper aeration of the sourdough also helps to ensure that the production of hooch – a thin liquid that sometimes rises to the top of sourdough starter – is minimized.
- established sourdough starter (available here), optional
- filtered water
- Starting the sourdough: Whisk 1/4 cup flour with sourdough starter (if using) and 3 tablespsoons filtered water in a small bowl. Pour this into a jar, and let it sit for twelve hours. Twelve hours later, whisk in 1/2 cup flour with 1/3 cup filtered water and continue adding 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water every twelve hours for one week until your starter is brisk and bubbling. As you feed your starter, take care to whisk in the flour and water thoroughly into the established starter â€“ aerating the starter will help to yield the best and most reliable results.
- To accomodate for expansion of the sourdough when itâ€™s fed, make sure that your jar is only half full after each feeding. If youâ€™ve made too much sourdough starter for the capacity of your jar, pour some off and use it in sourdough biscuits, sourdough pancakes or sourdough crackers
- Maintaining the sourdough: After a week, your sourdough should be sturdy enough to withstand storage. If you bake infrequently (that is: if you bake less than once a week), you can store your sourdough in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature and feed it well about twelve hours before you plan to bake. If you bake more frequently â€“ every day or a few times a week â€“ you can store your sourdough at room temperature and feed it with 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup filtered water once a day.
- Special considerations: If a brown liquid appears floating on top of your sourdough starter, simply pour it off. Sourdough bakers call this liquid â€œhooch,â€ and it is harmless; however, it often signifies that youâ€™ve fed your starter too much water in relation to flour or have let your starter go too long between feedings. Sourdough starters are relatively resilient, and bounce back quickly once you resume proper care of them.