Sourdough starters are the answer to the question: "If I couldn't find yeast, how would I make and bake bread?"
A starter is the basis of good, flavorful sourdough - not just breads, but pancakes, waffles, cookies, banana bread, pasta - so many choices.
The instructions below show how to create and maintain a healthy starter that can be used for many years. Keep the starter fed and healthy and when you don't need it, the fridge will be your friend.
Starters are not hard to do or to keep. Here's to taking the mystery out of sourdough starters.
Creating the Starter
1. Day 1 - Using a pint or quart jar, start with ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup purified/bottled or filtered water (tap water that contains fluoride or chlorine doesn't work as well). Mix well and sit on counter for 1 day.
2. Day 2 - Add ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water. Mix and let sit another day on counter. Consistency should be like thick pancake batter.
3. Day 3 – ½ cup flour and ½ cup water. Mix and let sit on counter for 3rd day.
4. Day 4 - 5 The mixture should start smelling like a sourdough start. Continue feeding the start as before, feeding equal amounts flour and water. Remove/discard some of the starter if the bottle is getting full to allow enough room in the jar to continue to feed the starter. 1-2 inches of starter is enough to leave, and continue to feed in the jar. Do this each day for 1 week. After 1 week (or less if you can see the starter is very active and smells sour), then feed every other day or so and put it in maintenance mode (put in fridge, see below).
Feeding / Maintaining the Starter (after starter is mature – day 6-7 or longer)
Once the starter is mature, I store my starter in the fridge and only feed it every few days, sometimes less. The starter will be just fine left in the fridge. If you keep it on the counter in a warmer environment, it will grow more quickly, sour faster, smell stronger and require more frequent feeding because it will consume the starches/flour more quickly. Keeping the starter in the fridge slows down the starter and saves on flour/water when you’re not using the start.
When you need to be away for a few days, put the starter in the fridge (covered with a lid) and forget about it until you return. It will happily go dormant, stop growing and will not go bad.
Once the starter is mature and working well, feed the starter with one part purified water to 2 parts flour. This creates a thicker, healthy starter.
Feeding the Starter for Bread
When using the starter for bread, take the starter out of the fridge and feed it a day or two before you make bread. Keep the starter on the counter and feed 1 or more times till the starter is active and bubbly again. This may take a full 24 hrs feeding 2-3 times during that period. For the starter to work for bread, it must be very active/bubbly, and growing, which will be the case if you feed for a day or two and prior to using it.
Types of Flour
A sourdough start is a living thing. It must be fed as needed. The type of flour should not matter, use white (not bleached) or whole grain flour - but regular feeding and using the starter is important to keep it healthy and strong.
Mild vs Strong Tasting Starter
If you miss a few days a liquid (natural alcohol) may appear on top of the starter. Just pour it off, scrape 1/2 - 1 inch of the starter off the top and feed/mix again.
The more often you feed the starter, the more mild it will be. The less frequent the starter is fed, the stronger the smell and flavor.