Wanna take a walk on the wild side? Then join me in the kitchen today, because I’d like to show you how to make your own sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is simply a paste of flour and water. When exposed to the elements, the paste captures the wild yeasts and friendly bacteria that give sourdough bread its tangy taste and beautiful texture.
Note: Once you’ve made a sourdough starter, you can have it forever. As proof, read what Frederica Huxley had to say on my Facebook page:I’ve only ever made one, but it has traveled the world with me and is now 8 years old and still going strong!
The trick, my friends, is to keep feeding the starter.
There are lots of ways to make a starter. Perhaps my method will work for you:
BUT KEVIN, I’VE HEARD THAT METAL UTENSILS SHOULD NEVER CONTACT SOURDOUGH STARTER!
I and countless other bakers routinely use metal whisks and spoons when making sourdough. And our starters have lived to tell the tale.
Since the flour mixture must be exposed to air, just cover it with something porous, such as a paper towel. Or, use a lid left slightly ajar. Then set the container in a warm(-ish) 74°F – 80°F location. Because I made this starter during a frigid period in early March, I placed my container on a common heating pad. I set the pad to its lowest setting.
If all goes according to plan, in 12-24 hours you’ll notice a bevy of bubbles in your starter. This is the sign that wild yeast has discovered your efforts, and the starter has become active. Reward yourself with a glass of expensive champagne.
Besides bubbles, you might notice some weird liquid in the starter. This is alcohol, or “hootch.” Just stir it back into the mix.
Since yeast is a living organism, it must be fed in order to remain active. And how do we feed yeast? By adding more flour and water. Of course, following the law of physics, if you keep adding ingredients without taking any away, you will soon run out of room.
The solution? Pour off half of the starter. You don’t have to throw away the excess — you can give it to a bread-baking friend. Or, you can use it to produce another sourdough starter that you’ll reserve for pancakes. Sourdough pancakes are divine. Here’s the recipe.
Again, return the starter to a warm location.
Repeat the remove/add/stir routine once a day and every day for 5-7 days, or longer. There are no time limits. I quit using the heating pad after four days, and my starter remained active. And after 7 days, I covered the container loosely with a lid, and popped it into the fridge. Refrigerated starter requires feeding only every other day or so.
When is the starter ready for bread-baking? When it is thick and bubbly, and when it emits the gorgeous perfume of sourdough bread. As a test, you can scoop up a small amount of the mix, and drop it into a glass of water. If the starter floats to the top, it’s ready to use.
I’ll share my recipe for sourdough bread in a couple of weeks (Update: here’s the recipe for my Sourdough Sandwich Loaf, and here’s my recipe for a Crusty Sourdough Boule.) Meantime, I have a question for you:
Think you’ll try this fun sourdough-starter project ? You can let me know by leaving a comment. And if you’re an experienced sourdough bread baker, I hope you’ll add your thoughts. Perhaps you have some tips and tricks the rest of us can use.
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