It’s taken me 5 years to pluck up the courage to attempt to make the ever so intimidating sourdough starter and the baked goods that can be made from it. Well I’ve done it, and it wasn’t so scary after all. I cannot tell you how much research I’ve done before finally doing it. You’d be surprised to know there isn’t a strict guideline; the methods of making a sourdough starter are many! It just so happens that this method works for me and it’s fairly straightforward. Some people use fruit or fruit juice to make their starter, some people use yeast, some people keep it simple and use plain flour and water. Strangely enough for me, I went down the simple route. One thing I will say about this recipe- be patient. You’ll have days where you’ll think ‘yeah this isn’t normal, this isn’t working’, but it is! It’s science at work.
Once you get the hang of how to make sourdough starter and how to maintain it, you’ll never look back! A month ago I was a sourdough virgin and now I’ve made sourdough bread, sourdough pittas and I’m planning on making a sourdough pizza, hopefully just like the ones in Napoli (a girl can dream). So if I can do it, anyone can!
Some fun facts and tips to mention before you take the sourdough plunge:
If you don’t have one already, invest in a glass jar that has at least 1 litre capacity. This will be your sourdough starters’ home for a while – the oldest sourdough starter is 122 years old (I’m being deadly serious) so evidently, it can be maintained and kept alive for ages!
Don’t neglect your sourdough starter. When it’s due a feed, feed it. The more you nurture it, the quicker it’ll be ready for use. Think of it similarly to raising a child- I even named mine (Bubbles- thought that was a pun-tastic name choice by the way). It takes at least 6 days with this method, so don’t get lazy with it because you’ll have to wait even longer!
Don’t be put off by the pungent aroma on the third and fourth day. Some recipes describe the smell as ‘fruity’ but for once, I’m not going to sugar coat anything here. It’s vile. It is however, part of the process and the smell WILL go away. Don’t forget, the making of sourdough starter involves loads of bacteria coming together and working their magic to create something beautiful. Be patient and trust the process.
When your sourdough starter is ready (mine took 7 days, but it could happen by the 6th), use it after a recent feed. A recent feed is around two hours after its dose of flour and water and just when the bubbling reaches its peak. An elastic band fitted around the jar is a good way to keep track of this.
When it’s been used and fulfilled its purpose, you have two options. Bin it or keep it. I’ve personally grown attached to mine so Bubbles is now part of the family and snug as a bug in my fridge. If you too decide to keep your sourdough starter, all you have to do to maintain its life is to keep it refrigerated and fed once a week. When it’s needed for use, remove it from the fridge a couple of days before; feed it twice a day for a couple of days to strengthen it and its ready for use. A good way to double check if sourdough starter is ready: spoon a tsp of starter into a glass of water and if it floats, you’re good to go!
That’s a wrap. I hope I’ve covered all the important points and I hope you enjoy the recipes you can make out of it!
Let’s get it started!
Makes a litre capacity of sourdough starter (you’ll get a handful of bakes from this)
Total time: 7 days
To begin your starter you will need:
100g wholemeal or rye flour (this will give it a good head start as it contains more nutrients and sourdough- friendly bacteria than white flour)
To feed your starter each time you will need:
100g plain flour
100g tepid or warm water if your house is quite cool
Day 1: Best to start off in the AM. Weigh out 100g of wholemeal flour and 100g water in the 1L glass jar and stir until well mixed and no flour pockets remain. Cover with a thin cloth and secure with an elastic band or if the glass jar has a lid, close it but not to the point where it’s airtight (see picture). Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 2: Whether or not you see any activity, discard half the starter (discarding is necessary so that you don’t end up with gallons of starter by the 7th day- you will discard prior to each feeding) and add 100g plain flour and 100g water. Mix well; again making sure there are no flour pockets, cover and let sit for another 24 hours.
Day 3: There’s a good chance you’ll notice some activity by now and if it smells sour and intense, you’re on the right track and it’s now time for 2 daily feeds. Discard half the starter, feed with the 100g of flour and water and repeat the same process at night- I give mine an even 12 hour gap between feeds.
Day 4: Repeat day 3.
Day 5: By today you should see plenty of activity and the not so pleasant smell should be subsiding and not as intense. Feed twice a day as you did on day 3 and 4, discarding half the starter prior to each feed.
Day 6: By now the starter should be on the verge (if not already) of being ready for use. It should be nearly doubling in volume after each feed - with loads of bubbles, almost like a sea sponge appearance. If the activity isn’t quite there, feed the starter twice as you did the previous days.
Day 7: It’s ready! If you’re ready to use your starter, feed it a couple of hours before making your dough for your sourdough bake.
Remember to store any unused starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. If you require MORE starter than what you have, simply stop discarding before feeds until you get the amount you need.
Happy Sourdough Baking!