Basic Sourdough Starter

Sourdough bread is one of the easiest breads to bake, and yet the most poorly understood. So many people think “sourdough? oh that’s too complicated to bother!” This is absolutely not the case!

I began my first sourdough baking experience around three weeks ago, and have been so impressed with the results. With just a little online research, and a lot of patience, I have successfully become a sourdough bread baker!

The very first thing you need to make sourdough bread is a starter (obviously!)

In a nutshell, all you need is two ingredients: Flour and water. Sound like glue? It kinda looks like it to start off with!

You also need some very basic kitchen equipment: A glass jar or jug, a piece of cloth large enough to  cover the mouth of the jar, and a rubber band to hold the cloth in place.

From here it’s really a very straightforward process:

Clean your jar thoroughly. You don’t want any bad bugs taking up residence in your sourdough starter!

Put in at least 1/2 a cup of flour, whether white or wholemeal, the choice is entirely yours.

Add tepid water at a ratio of flour:water 2:1 (ie, 1/2 cup flour: 1/4 cup water). Your starter will be fairly thick and pasty, this is totally normal.

Cover with your cloth and leave in a warm (but not hot!) place in your kitchen. I use my oven and crock pot for cooking quite a lot so I often leave my jar on the shelf above the oven or on the bench next to the crock. Some people put theirs above the refrigerator, my fridge has a surface mould issue so I don’t put my starter anywhere near it. I want to grow healthy sourdough culture, not icky mould!

Every 12 hours or so feed your starter both flour and water at a ratio of 2:1 as above, giving it at least 1 tablespoon of flour at each feed. Once your jar is approximately half full of juvenile starter, you will need to begin discarding an equivalent amount at each feeding (i.e. if you are going to feed it 1/2 a cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water you need to discard 3/4 cup of starter first). This is so that once it starts to ‘grow’ you don’t end up with a fountain of starter overflowing your container! I know discarding your precious starter seems wasteful, but until it is established the good bacteria that will rise your bread just aren’t numerous enough to make it worth keeping.

Depending on what flour you are using, you should start to see some activity within the first 24 hours, up to almost a week later. You will see little air bubbles forming against the walls of the jar, and there may be some foam appear on top often quite early on. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means it is ready to use! It’s still just a baby, and needs time to mature a little more. Once your starter consistently doubles in size every 12 hours (or thereabouts, depending on temperature), then it is ready to be put to work. As a rule of thumb, don’t use a starter that is less than 7 days old. It needs at least this long to get established enough to work its magic in a loaf of bread.

There is often a layer of darkish coloured liquid that accumulates on top during the early stages of growth. This is called “hooch” and is not a problem. Simply drain it off into the sink and feed your starter as usual. Or you can stir it in, whatever you prefer!

Finally, your starter should smell relatively pleasant throughout its maturation. Every starter is different, mine initially smelled vinegary, then a bit like wine, and finally mildly yeasty. However it was never a strongly unpleasant smell. If your starter smells like rank cheese then toss it and start again!

Now for the fun bit – go and get started with your starter and let me know how you go 🙂 Feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions. I’ll be posting some photo steps soon to make it easier, and a basic bread recipe to help you onto the right track.

For some really helpful tips and tricks go to this site on sourdough baking, I found it really useful.

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