How To Make Your Own Sourdough Starter

Many home bakers  , even  the  experienced  ones ,   find  the idea  of  making  sourdough  bread  a  little  intimidating .   It is  rather   simple  though ,  mix  water ,  flour  within  certain proportions and  give  it  time  for  the  magic  to happen .  Starters  can be  made in a  variety of  ways  and  not  just  from  flour .  Any medium that  allows  wild  yeast  to  thrive   can  be  used to  make  your  starter  fruits ,  flowers , peels  etc.. This  post   is about   the  basic  sourdough  starter .

Making  one’s own  starter  is  all about   harnessing  the   wild yeast  and  making  it  work   for  you . Why   would  you   do that   when  commercial  yeast is  available  and  does a   good  job , you  ask ?  Well   for one    wild  yeast  makes bread more flavorful and  for  another   it is   makes  more  micro nutrients  available   and  is better  for  the  digestive  system .  Sourdough  bread  does  not  cause   blood  sugar to  spike  as  its  commercial yeast  counterpart  .  I can  go on  about   the  goodness  of  the   sourdough ,  but  let me  save  that  for  another  time  .

Here is a  very basic  , all purpose  sourdough  stater   recipe .  Here  are the   things  you need –

  • A non reactive  container (glass,  ceramic or plastic ) with   lid or plastic  wrap / cheese  cloth
  • Flour (unbleached)
  • Water (pure , non chlorinated)
  • Non  reactive  spoon/ladle (wood/plastic )
  • Kitchen Scale (preferably) /  measuring  cups

Harnessing   wild yeast  is   simple ,  but  as  everything  in nature  it  takes   a secret ingredient –  time .  Usually the  starter  will be ready to go in  5  days  , but it  might  take  up to 10 or  12  days   in  some  cases . As  long  as  there are signs of  activity  and  no mold  , and no foul odor  it  will do fine . Just  be patient .
Lets get  started .

Day 1 
Make  sure  that  your  container  and  spoons  are  clean and  dry  .
Measure  50 gms  of   flour  into  the   container .
Add  50  gms  of  water .
Mix  well .
Scrape  the  sides ,  cover  and  set  aside  for 24  hours  .
Day 2 before feeding
Day 2
Chances  are  on  day 2   there  will be  no activity .  The  mix  might  look a little  runnier than when   you  mixed it .Add 50 gms of  water  and  flour  , mix  well .
Scrape  the   sides  and  set  aside  for 24 hrs .
Day 3 before feeding
Day 3 before feeding
Day 3 
The  picture  shows  how  the   starter  looked  on day 3  before  feeding .
You might  notice a  few  bubbles   and  slight  acidic smell .  Don’t  worry  if  it   does not  some  starters  take  longer  to   take  hold .  Follow  the   same  procedure as  day 2 .Add  50 gms of  flour .
Add  50 gms  of  water .
Mix  well , scrape  the  sides .
Cover   and  set a side  for  24  hours .
Day 4 before Feeding
Day 4
This is  how  the  s tarter  looked  before  feeding  on  Day 4 . There  should  be  some  definite  signs  of  activity by now .  At  this  point   discard  and  start  over  if  there is a  foul  smell . Other wise  continue   with the   feeding  .Add  50 gms of  flour .
Add  50 gms  of  water .
Mix  well , scrape  the  sides .
Cover   and  set a side  .If   there are   signs  of  intense   activity  watch the  starter  and   move  it  to the  fridge t o  slow  down .


Day 5  and  beyond 
At   this  point  chances are  the  starter is be  fully  active .  It  should  have  doubled   in  volume .   But  sometimes  you may have  to feed  it   for  another  couple  of   days .   If that  is  the  case   reduce  the   amount  of   feedings ,   but  keep the  flour   and  water   ratio  the  same  , i.e.  if  you  feed 25 gms    flour  add  25  gms  of  water .
  1. How  to  maintain  the  starter 
    Now  that   the  starter  is  active  and   ready to be  played   with  how  do you  keep it  alive ?    Many , if  not  most,   books  recommend  discarding  half  the  starter  and  replenishing  it  with  equal  amounts  of   flour  and  yeast .  If  you  are  not  baking   with the   starter  everyday  that  is  wasteful .   Transfer to  refrigerator  and  feed  it  once a  week ,   and  plan  on baking   with  the  discard .  You can  also keep  feeding  it   equal  amounts  of  water  and  flour  , but  in lesser   quantities  and  keep it   growing in the  fridge  longer .    For  example  in this case  reduce  feedings to 25 gms  of  flour  and  25 gms of water  each .
  2. What  to I do if  I am not  using  it   right  away 
    The  starter  will be  perfectly happy to hang out in the   fridge  for  about  a  week ,  sometimes  longer . If not  being  used   take  it  out   at least once  every week  ,  and    feed .   This  is   critical  to maintain   a  healthy   yeast   environment .  Missed  feedings  could  cause   the  starter  to   turn  highly acidic   causing  the  yeast  to   die  .
  3. What if  I don’t  need  so  much starter 
    50 gms  is  not a  magical  number ,   you  can  use 10gms (about 1  tbsp)  flour  and  water , if  that  is  what   you need .     You  could  try   making  your  starter   thicker  or  thinner (change  amount  of   water ) .
  4. My starter  seems  to have  gone  flat 
    This   happens   when  the   yeast  activity  slows  down .   The  starter  can  stay in the  fridge  at  this  stage  for a  few  days . But if  in  doubt   take  out   set in the  kitchen  counter  for   about  30 minutes  or  so  and   you should  see  some  activity.  Feed  the  starter  and  let  it  come back   alive  and   return  to  fridge  if  not  using .
  5. How  often does  it  need  to be  fed 
    A  starter at  room  temperature   could  double   in  a  few  hours depending  on the  room temperature . To keep it  healthy  it  has  to be  fed  before it is  deflated  completely ,  which might   mean once  or  twice  a  day .  If  you  are like  me ,  bakes  once  or   twice  a  week ,  keep the  starter  in the   fridge  and   weekly feedings  will keep it  healthy.
  6. I do not have a  kitchen  scale
    While I recommend weighing  ingredients ,  it is  not a  must . An  easy  equivalent is 1/4 C of  all purpose flour  ( 30 gms )  and 2 tablespoons of  water (30 gms ).  Use  any multiples of  these  to  get  the   same  effect.
  7. What is  magical  about  the  1:1  ratio
    It  does  not  have  to be  1:1  ratio. You can  make  the  starter  thicker or  thinner .  1:1 ratio  is  just  convenient  in  calculating  the  amount  of  flour  and  water in the  starter .
  8. What if I am  taking  a  break  from baking
    I have left  my starter  in the  fridge for  up to  3  weeks  without  killing  it.  It  turns  more  acidic, but  chances  are  you  will be  able  to  revive  it by  starting  the regular  feeding  regimen.   If  planning  longer breaks , spread the   active  and  bubbly starter  on a  baking  sheet, as  thinly as  possible  and  let  it  dry in  room temperature. Once  dried  break it  off into  pieces  and  store in an  airtight  container.  When  ready to   revive, add  the dried  starter along  with  the  flour  and  mix  with  water.

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