Making Sourdough Starter

Sourdough is awesome!

Although it seems like a pain to make your own, it's actually quite easy (although there is daily maintenance involved, at least in the first week and a half). The most important thing is a good starter, and getting into the habit of feeding it EVERY DAY (I feed mine twice a day).  It's like a pet with a super-fast metabolism.  Even if you miss just one day, the starter will get noticeably weaker.  Reviving starters is a possibility, but usually it's quite difficult and takes lots of experimentation.

Here's the recipe for sourdough starter (from Cuisine At Home, a great cooking magazine):

  • 1 pkg active dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp.)
  • 1 cup warm water (110°)
  • 1 tsp. molasses or honey (I use honey)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water in a 1 qt. container; stir in molasses/honey and 1 cup flour; cover with a towel and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.  The starter should become foamy and smell like beer.

Feed your starter on a regular basis after the initial 24 hours (see instructions below).

I keep my starter in a wide-mouth glass jar on the kitchen counter (room temperature).  The lid is on pretty loosely; if you close the lid tightly, the jar can explode!

How to feed your starter:
If you only feed once a day, then dump out all but 1 cup of starter, and mix into it 1 cup warm (110°) water and 1 cup flour.  I would recommend using a container that's larger than a wide-mouth mason jar to do this in; something like a large tupperware would be better.

If you feed twice a day like I do (I think this makes sourdough rise noticeably better, and lots of bakers do it), dump out all but 1/2 cup of starter and mix 1 cup warm water (110°) and 1 cup flour.  Do this morning and evening, preferably 12 hours apart.

By the way, a liquid that smells like beer (the technical term is "hooch") will start separating from the dough-y portion of your starter by day 2 or 3.  Just stir it back in before feeding, bakers say it adds extra flavor.  You can skim if off if your prefer, too.

Your starter should be ready for use by day 7.  I use the portion that I would normally throw out right before a feeding, since mixing flour into it for dough is basically the same thing as feeding it.

Refrigeration isn't recommended, as it tends to slow the yeast microbes way down.  If you want to refrigerate your starter, wait until you've fed it every day for around 10 days, then make sure that you feed it right before putting it into the fridge.  Remember to keep feeding refrigerated starter at least once a week (let the starter reach room temperature before giving it flour & water).

If you don't want to make your own starter, you can buy one from King Arthur Flour Co.  It's descended from an ancient starter that's around 250 years old!  So cool!

Total time put into making/working on sourdough starter so far: around 15 hours!

[ Stay tuned: sourdough roll recipe to come in a future post!  :) ]


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