Caring for a Sourdough Starter
By Laura Poe | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
To create your own sourdough breads at home, you will need to begin with a starter. These instructions are to make a 100 percent hydration starter, meaning it is made with equal parts flour and water, by weight. You can use white, whole wheat, rye or a 50/50 blend of white and wheat flours for your starter. For best results, use unbleached, unenriched flour, no matter which kind you choose, and non-chlorinated water.
In a small mixing bowl or glass jar, mix equal parts (by weight, not volume) of flour and water together and stir well. I typically use 75 grams flour and 75 grams water. Cover with a cloth and let sit at room temperature for two to three days. If your kitchen is cooler than typical room temperature, then it may take a few extra days to get your starter going. When you start to notice bubbles forming and a tangy smell coming from the mixture, it is time to begin feeding it.
Every day for the next three to five days, discard all but 75 grams of your starter. Then mix in 75 grams each of flour and water and stir well. You want the mixture to have the consistency of pancake batter, so if needed, add a little more flour or water to get it to the right thickness. Cover with the towel again and let sit at room temperature.
After several days, the mixture will become bubbly with a sweet and fruity smell a few hours after feeding, and it will go through a cycle of rising and falling between feedings. It is now ready to use in recipes.
If you bake regularly, then you can store your starter at room temperature. Kept this way, the starter would need to be fed one to two times per day, depending on how warm your kitchen is; a warmer kitchen will likely lend itself to two daily feedings. Again, discard all but 75 grams of starter before each feeding, and then proceed with equal parts flour and water. (Don’t throw away that starter, though! If you don’t have a friend to give it to, it’s great to use in pancakes, waffles and even tortillas!)
If you only bake occasionally (once a week or so), then store your starter in the refrigerator in a covered container. To activate it again, feed it the day before you plan to bake. It will be ready to use when it bubbles and goes through the rise and fall cycle after feeding. A dry crust or brown liquid may form on the top of the starter when stored this way, but it can still be used. Simply discard the top layer and continue to use the starter as usual. However, if mold forms or it produces an off odor, discard the whole batch and create a new starter.
A younger starter will smell more sweet and fruity and will produce breads with less sour flavor in them. A more mature starter will have a more acidic, cheese-like smell to it and will produce strongly sour breads. Our recipe for Sourdough Bread with Spelt and Rye uses a less mature starter, used about six to eight hours after feeding. If you prefer more strongly sour breads, experiment with allowing your starter to mature for three to four hours longer, as long as it is still bubbly and active.