Starting a Sourdough Starter

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As with everything on the internet, there are roughly 11.2 million ways to make a starter for sourdough...and all of them are probably in some way right. Going back to the idea that a starter is simply a way of creating the right environment for friendly yeast and bacteria to grow, the multitude of ways to do this entice different microorganisms. 

Whether you bought one of our kits or are following the method below, the starter we will be working with is a simple 100% hydration (all this means is that the water is equal to the flour) flour and water starter. Depending on the kind of starter you want, you may want to start with a rye or wholewheat flour.  As these flours have more natural bacteria in them and offer food for a wide range of microorganisms, starters made initially with this flour do tend to ferment faster.  However, which ever you pick to start you can always change later.

“Method for Starting a Starter
Day One: In a glass jar with a loose fitting lid, mix 100g of bread flour (white or wholemeal, your choice) and 100g of water. Give it a good vigorous stir. Cover loosely and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

Day 2-7: Discard 100g of your starter. Add 50g of bread flour and 50g of water to your starter. Give it a good vigorous stir. Cover loosely and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

By day 5 the starter should start bubbling.  It is ready to bake with when it doubles in size and or is very bubbly about 4 hours after feeding.”

Maintaining A Starter.

Like any living creature, your starter needs to be fed on a regular basis.  Starters are much more forgiving than people are led to believe and you can pretty much clean out the jar, leaving only a tiny bit of starter at the bottom and your starter will re-grow.

We have changed how we feed our starter. We used to keep more in a jar, using 2 parts starter to 1 part each of flour and water.  This creates a more acidic starter, which we like and great if you are baking regularly.

If you are baking less regularly, a starter with more food in it is better: 

1 part existing starter

2 parts water

2 parts flour

(ie 50g of starter, 100g of water and 100g of flour) 


Using a Starter:

When using your starter for sourdough bread, it is best to use a freshly fed starter.  Generally, you want to feed your starter between 4-12 hours before you bake with it. For example, if I want a loaf of bread for morning, the day before, at breakfast, I will feed my starter, for mixing up that evening. Or if I plan on baking bread for the next day's dinner, I will feed my starter at bed time the night before.  

This isn't hard and fast, if you forget to feed your starter (and it isn't smelly and gross because it was left TOO long), you can usually use it to get an ok loaf of bread, or as an alternative, feed it right away and use it a couple of hours afterward. Starters that are fed more regularly are more active and make better bread, but by no means should you start being a slave to it...that is the fastest way to starter burnout!


“Why isn’t a hungry starter better? 

One of the questions we get a lot is why do we need to feed the starter befrore we bake bread.  This is because the yeast organisms prefer aerobic conditions (with oxygen) to multiply.  When a starter has been sitting for a long time, the yeast produces alcohol and slows down creating an anaerobic environment.  Re-feeding the starter gives the yeast an oxygen rich envirnoment to start multiplying.”

Keeping and Troubleshooting Your Starter:

  • If you don’t bake daily/every other day, you can store your starter in the fridge for a week after you feed it.  Just take it out the night before and give it a feed to get the fermentation back up and going.  

  • If you are going away on holiday, you can add a higher proportion of flour to give your starter more to eat.

  • Feeding every day or twice a day makes the most vigorous starter. However, if you have forgotten your starter for a few days, its not a big deal.  Use the discard in a recipe that has another rising agent like bicarb or baking soda and feed it again.

  • If your starter is developing a layer of clear, grey or brown liquid at top, that means it needs to be fed a bit more – either its been left too long or its just a hungry starter. Stir the liquid in and give it a bit more flour.

Discard

Because you don’t generally need a lot of starter sitting around, before you feed, you need to discard about half of your starter. You can do this by either using it for baking or throwing it away. This is called the discard. 

We bake bread most days, so my starter sits on the counter and weighs about 250g.  That means I can use 200g for bread, then refill my jar with 100g water and 100g flour. However, I can easily use up to 350g in any given day and re-feed my starter more flour and water to get its weight back up.  Starters are remarkably flexible, so don’t worry too much about the ratios. You can use your sourdough starter in a range of recipes, not only bread. The starter adds a wonderful flavour to baking and it means you aren’t throwing away your excess if you aren’t making bread.

Your recipe pack has lots of good suggestions for using discard. 

Starting Again:

Most starters can be revived from just about anything. Unless its more mould than starter, scrape off the yucky stuff and try and salvage a bit of the starter. Simply take about a teaspoon of that starter, feed as usual and discard the rest. I've yet to meet a starter that can't be revived in that way. 

Kill your starter? No worries.  Just start over.

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