A Basic Sourdough Starter

About a year and a half ago, I became interested in bread making. My first attempt was a basic bread recipe, using packets of yeast. All I noticed was the taste of the yeast, and I was a bit put off by it. I began to look into sourdough bread making, which involves using a starter instead of packets of yeast. I had always enjoyed sourdough flavor, but was fascinated when I began to read about the process of creating a sourdough starter.  I found that it was a lot easier than I thought to create my own starter, and I was able to begin baking bread that I could be proud of.

So delicious...

The original recipe for the basic sourdough starter can be found here.  I found a few modifications needed to be made to make it a “true” sourdough starter.  Below is my method for creating a basic sourdough starter.

Ingredients

Organic, Unbleached All Purpose Flour

Filtered/Mineral/Spring Water

Glass container with non-reactive lid

Method

Day One

Combine 1/2 c. Flour with 1/2 c. Warm Water until well mixed.  Scrape the sides of the container and cover.  I recommend covering with plastic wrap and poking a few small holes in the top to allow gas to escape, and to allow any natural yeast in the environment to be incorporated.  You may also loosely cover it with a towel.  Place in a warm place (the top of the refrigerator, in the oven with the oven light on…I kept mine in the laundry room, as it was always warm in there).  Let sit for 24 hours.

Day Two

You may start to see small bubbles on the surface of the starter.  This means things are moving along!  Add another 1/2 c. Flour and 1/2 c. Warm Water and mix well.  Scrape the sides, cover, and let sit for another 24 hours.

Day Three

Now you should be seeing more bubbles, and the starter will begin to rise.  It’s okay to get excited…I was amazed that the starter was rising without any help from commercial yeast!  Add 1/2 c. Flour and 1/2 c. Warm Water and mix well.  Cover and let sit for another 24 hours.

Day Four

Same as Day Three.

Days Five through Seven

Between days five and seven, you will notice your starter is beginning to look like a risen, wet dough.  You will see a matrix of bubbles throughout, and will start to notice that wonderful sourdough smell (I would describe it as a sweet, “beery” smell).  It is now ready and “active” to be used in any sourdough bread recipe.

Never use all of the starter in a recipe.  Make sure you save a small amount, and replenish it with 1 c. Flour and 1 c. Warm Water.  If you are not ready to use it yet, you can loosely cover your container with the lid and keep it refrigerated.  To feed it, discard 1 c. of the starter, add back 1/2 c. Flour and 1/2 c. Warm Water, and mix well.  It is recommended to feed your starter every one to two weeks, but I must admit I am a forgetful person.  I usually feed it every two to four weeks, and it is still going strong!  You can keep your starter refrigerated indefinitely as long as you feed it well (mine is going on two years)!

Note:  As the starter sits, you will notice a clear to gray colored liquid on the top.  This is perfectly normal.  It will have a lovely “beery” smell to it.  I usually mix it back in, and add a little less water when feeding it so that my starter isn’t too “soupy.”  

If you start to notice a “cheesy” smell, or a pinkish hue to the starter, that means that bacteria have taken over (the yeast have lost the battle).  You will need to throw it out and start over.

I did not include a recipe for sourdough bread since I use my starter to feed other whole grain starters that I make.  I am not a big white bread eater, so prefer to use whole grain flours in cooking.  I plan to post recipes for these whole grain sourdoughs at a future date, but it is not too late to go ahead and get started, er, with your starter (hardy har har)!

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3 thoughts on “A Basic Sourdough Starter

    1. That is an interesting post you have there (and a wonderful title as well). What type of flour did you use? It looks like white flour in the photos, but then you mention feeding it with rye flour. I have made a pure rye sourdough starter before (I’ll eventually do a post about that), but was still able to get some rise out of it. Rye flour has a lot less gluten than white flour, so it has a slower rise.
      The quality of the water is also important, especially if you have “city water.” I have noticed problems with rise in breads I’ve used tap water in.
      The final thing it could possibly be is the sugar you added at the beginning. I normally don’t add sugar until I’m mixing the starter in a dough for baking. It could be that the sugar was causing more “action” with the yeast, making the starter have more rise, and when the “fuel”, i.e. sugar, ran out, it didn’t seem as active.
      My starter in the refrigerator has very few bubbles, as it is not “active.” The cool temperature causes the yeast to grow at a very slow rate. To refresh it, I give it a fresh feed of flour and water, and let it sit overnight in the oven with the oven light on (this makes the perfect temp to let it get active). The next morning there are a lot of bubbles, but not too much rise.
      My pure white flour starter is very runny, so on it’s own, there is barely any rise. I have made starters with other whole grain flours that are much more dense. The thickness doesn’t really matter at this point. You just need to adjust your flour in your baking recipe so that you get the right consistency when kneading.
      To check the liveliness of my starter, I mostly go by smell. I look for that lovely, sweet, beery smell. I really don’t know if it is active until I have it in my bread recipe, and then can see the rise.
      I hope these tips will be of use to you. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  1. I used APF to start it on Monday. Threw in the rye flour on Thursday because I finally found it on the grocery shelf and I have heard that rye will give you the tangy flavor. I think I will try again tomorrow, and make sure to use bottled water. Thanks for the reply!

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