Sourdough Starter: The Basics + Method
March 26, 2020
NO KITCHEN SCALE REQUIRED! WOOHOO!
Here’s all you need to know: start and feed your starter with 2 tablespoons of water for every 3 tablespoons of flour. That’s it. You can stop reading here, and you’ll be set for making your starter!
But, there is a lot more that goes into the process, if you would like to learn.
Mixing flour and water harnesses naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. The lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli in your yeast give your sourdough that characteristically sour, acid flavor. So your starter is living! This means that you need to feed it.
The process that I have developed, with references to a few Youtube videos (particularly one from King’s Roost), makes no discard, and no kitchen scale! No waste, and extremely easy.
First, you need to get to know yeast. Yeast will grow in their optimal environments. In order to promote growth, you need a warm environment, without harmful minerals. This means bath-water warm, filtered, or even distilled, water. To kickstart your growth, I suggest using honey water, but pineapple water is even better, for your first “feed”.
What does yeast not like? The cold! Sticking your starter in the fridge will pause its growth, because the cold is not an optimal environment for growth. However, you will need to feed it once a week to keep it alive. Many bakers who bake bread weekly will keep their starter in the fridge, taking it out for a couple days for use. Your starter can even be frozen! One trick, that I haven’t yet tried, is to freeze your starter in a sheet. So in case you ever accidentally kill your precious starter, you have a frozen one you can bring back to life.
Note: salt will also inhibit yeast growth. That is why in most recipes, salt is added after the yeast or your starter is allowed to “bloom” or grow a bit.
Your starter will release CO2, so make sure the lid is loosely capped on your jar or container. When pickling, you may keep the lid on tight, and open it to “burp” your pickles daily, allowing the CO2 to escape. In the case of your starter, you should allow it to breathe at all times.
Once your starter gets going, you will be able to see the curious bubbles that arise and smell the glorious sour, citrus smell. If it ever smells moldy, or there is visible mold — there is a problem! Once, I discovered mold on the jar of my starter, but I was able to carefully remove it with a paper towel, transfer my starter into another container, and thoroughly clean my jar before replacing the starter into it.
Your starter is at its peak about four to six hours after feeding. You will see that it has grown significantly, which is why it’s important to have a large enough jar! You can perform the float test to ensure that it’s ready: drop a small amount into room temperature water, and if it floats, you’re good to go!
If left on the countertop, you should feed your starter every 24 hours. To increase its growth rapidly, you can feed it greater amounts of the flour to water ratio, or feed it every 12 hours. Just make sure it has room to grow!
Starters come in all forms: you can use whatever flour! Some people even mill their own flour! I aspire to mill my own flour, someday. For your first starter, I suggest using all purpose flour, just for simplicity. Then, you can make a rye starter by taking a bit of your existing, living starter, and feeding it with rye flour instead.
Making your own sourdough starter is not that hard! And not that complicated! I watched so many videos, and read so many articles, about making your own sourdough starter. They all required kitchen scales, detailed time tables, and were insanely complex. I finally found the perfect way to make a starter, and it was so easy! This method is simple, and forgiving.
Ok, I think you are ready.
- flour (any type)
- water (filtered or distilled)
- honey (optional)
- pineapple juice (optional)
- To start from scratch, you will need a jar with a lid that can be loosely fit. Mix 2 tbsp of honey water/pineapple juice (sugar water would work, too) with 3 tbsp of flour.
- After 24 hours, feed it again, this time with 2 tbsp water and 3 tbsp flour.
- Continue feeding, and your starter will be ready in 5–7 days.
- Keep your starter alive by feeding at least once a day on the countertop, or once a week in the fridge.