Making sourdough starter had been on my summer-to-do-lists for years, ever since I clipped a recipe for it out of a Sunday morning newspaper insert. There the recipe sat, on the floor next to my night stand, with a pile of other papers that I either needed to file or do something with.
Why did I put off making the starter? I dunno. Why do we put off doing anything? I’ve heard that most of what motivates us is either the emotion of love or fear. I don’t think it was love, so I suppose it was fear. But fear of what? Fear of finding the right container? That sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it?
Perhaps so, but initially I used the excuse that I needed to find a suitable container. I set about collecting jars and bottles of various sizes looking for the perfect home for my sourdough starter. I feared if I picked too small, my starter would grow so big that it would burst its container (sounds silly, I know, but I read somewhere that someone’s starter had expanded to the point of breaking their glass jar. They probably expected that would happen, meaning it was a self-fulling prophecy.
Sourdough starter does expand and need sufficient head space for growth, but I hope my excuse for delaying this project wasn’t due to the fear of “The Blob” overrunning my kitchen, or not having a proper jar! I prefer to think of it as procrastination. But if you think of what procrastination means, in the sense that we put off something we need to do that causes us anxiety, like doing our taxes for example, that basically returns us to fear.
But let’s save that for a conversation over a cup of tea and let’s move on.
So what finally motivated me to make my sourdough starter? My daughters’ muzzle-loading instructor brought a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread to practice one Sunday. I tasted a piece of his bread and decided it was time to get moving.
Let’s get started!
You don’t need a special jar, container, or crock to make your sourdough starter. I used a small glass mixing bowl, but stainless steel, earthenware, or food grade plastic will work as well. If you have a wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar in your cupboard, that’s perfect! I buy flour in bulk, and had whole wheat flour on hand. That’s what I used to start, but plain white flour is fine, just be sure not to use self rising, or a flour with any additives.
Here’s what I did:
I mixed 1 cup of flour with 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Use spring water, as tap water has too many additives. I warmed the water in the microwave for 30 seconds so it would be tepid.
I combined the flour and water.
And stirred it to a smooth consistency. I used a stainless steel spoon, but some prefer wooden utensils for blending.
I loosely covered the mixture with Cling Wrap.
My house tends to be on the cool side, it would not stay between 65 and 70 degrees F, so I opted to put the starter on top of the water heater so as to provide a constant source of ambient heat for 24 hours.
Note: If your house is cool, other heat source options may be the top of your refrigerator, near a baseboard heater, on top of a heating pad set to low, etc.
(The color of the starter looks a little different here; it’s because I took the photograph in the laundry room with poor lighting.)
After the 24 hours were up, I was very excited to see some action (it was frothy) taking place in my starter. Without any commercial yeast, the bacteria in my home were growing naturally in my starter! It was amazing, like a fun science experiment. I was on my way to sourdough.
If you don’t see anything at this stage, don’t worry. It’s normal for nothing to have happened by this point.
I removed 4 ounces of the starter.
As I spooned off the top, I found liquid underneath. Nothing to be concerned with, I continued to remove the mixture until I had a 1/2 cup of discard. Some people throw their discard away, but I hate to waste, and used it to make sourdough pancakes.
To the remaining starter in the bowl, I added 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and a 1/2 cup lukewarm spring water. I then stirred it to a smooth consistency and returned it to the top of the water heater.
The starter was looking good and I repeated the steps I took in Day 2.
By day 4, I had been feeding my starter daily and was making good progress.
However, there was a problem. The family and I would be going out-of-town to a black powder shoot and I would not be able to feed the starter on day 5. I needed approximately 5 days for a good start.
I left it covered on top of the water heater and left for the weekend hoping that all of my efforts had not been for naught.
When I returned a day and a half later, I fed the starter and it was fine. It was now full-bodied, bubbly and ready for use in sourdough bread recipes. Not wanting to feed my starter daily, (this requires a lot of flour) I refrigerated it and began weekly feedings.
Since I’ve made my starter, my daughter’s muzzleloading instructor gave her a jar of his sourdough starter. It’s made with pineapple juice, instead of water, and has a delightful flavor which I think superior. It’s become our preferred starter for using in our sourdough baked goods.
I’ve read that there are many ways to achieve a good sourdough starter and that no two are the same. I am happy with my success and delighted that I can check this project off of my summer-to-do-list.
Here are two sites that I recommend to help you get started on your bread making journeys: