Further to the previous blog begging you all not to get freaked out by sourdough, I have had lots of requests for simple instructions about how to make and keep a sourdough starter.
I have two sourdough starters on the go at any one time: white wheat, and rye.
I don’t have a spelt starter because a) I find it tricksy: at any given moment if I turn my back it just jumps up and pours itself all over the counter and the floor. Maybe it’s just me, but I cannot be doing with such an independent creature in the kitchen and b) I find it makes bread that is rather bitter unless I add sugar or honey or some other thing to add sweetness and I don’t necessarily want to do that all the time. Feel free to disagree and let us know.
Sourdough Starters: White Wheat, and Rye.
- Airing Cupboard
- Heated Floor
- Sunny Place
- 50 g Wheat Flour
- 50 g Warm Water
- 25 g Rye Flour
- 50 g Warm Water
General rules for making a sourdough starter
- Once you have mixed flour and water together (see quantities below) for four days, your starter should be frothy and/or bubbly. If it is not, just tuck it up and leave it for another 24 hours. After that if nothing at all is happening you can add a few grains of yeast to it and leave it for 24 hours but you should not have to do this. If nothing is happening naturally you have been using too much disinfectant and need to let your house get a bit more (normally) dirty!
- To store your starter once it is frothy and bubbly, you put it in the fridge in a plastic container with an air tight lid or a kilner jar (the kind with the rubber sea). Do not use a regular jam jar because it may explode in a dangerous shower of glass shards. You will need a lot of space in your container especially for the first few days – the starter may continue to froth up. The worst that will happen in a kilner jar or a plastic tub is that it will leak through the seal and form a thick pool in your fridge!
- You do not need to feed your starter slavishly every day. I once found some of my 1857 white wheat starter in the back of the fridge that had been there for about 5 years. I refreshed it and made bread. It took a couple of days to refresh and then it was as good as new. Remember, sourdough was used by people who did not have access to commercial yeast – cowboys rolled it up in their bed rolls, pioneering women transported it in the back of covered wagons, families living on the steppes of Russia managed to keep theirs alive in spite of harsh Siberian winters. You can freeze it, you can dry it, you can ignore it – it will always comes back. If it doesn’t, make another one.
When it comes to using it, you have a choice:
- If you are going to bake every day or every other day you may want to feed your starter every day. That way it is in a permanent state of being “refreshed” and you can usually cut out the step that says “The day before you want to make bread, refresh your sourdough”. To feed your starter every day simply put it in a big container with a lid and put in as much as you took out. Sound odd? Not at all. Your starter will have the consistency of thick cream. When you make bread you take starter out of the pot to make the bread. Add flour and water to the starter – maintaining the thick cream consistency. If you change flours you will have to change quantities because flours are all different. If your starter gets a little thin, add a bit more flour. If it gets a little thick, add more water. Use tepid water if you can – sourdough likes warm water. If you have not fed it in 4-5 days you will need to go through the refreshment cycle again. Just follow the instructions of the recipe you are using.
- Refresh the starter when you need it. If you do this always refresh more than you need so you have some to put back in the fridge for the next time you want to bake. To refresh the dough, follow the recipe instructions as there are lots of ways to refresh dough and different bread calls for different refreshment techniques.
White wheat or whole wheat sourdough starter
- Day 1: Mix 50 g white wheat flour and 50 g warm water together. Cover and put somewhere warm (airing cupboard, on a heated floor, sunny place) for 24 hours.
- Day 2: Add 50 g white wheat flour and 50 g warm water to the Day 1. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm.
- Day 3: Add 50 g white wheat flour and 50 g warm water to the Day 2. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm.
- Day 4: Add 50 g white wheat flour and 50 g warm water to the Day 3. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm. Voila. You have a viable white wheat starter.
Rye sourdough starter
- Day 1: Mix 25 g whole rye flour and 50 g warm water together. Cover and put somewhere warm (airing cupboard, on a heated floor, sunny place) for 24 hours.
- Day 2: Add 25 g whole rye flour and 50 g warm water to the Day 1. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm.
- Day 3: Add 25 g whole rye flour and 50 g warm waterto the Day 2. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm.
- Day 4: Add 25 g whole rye flour and 50 g warm water to the Day 3. Mix. Cover and put somewhere warm.
- Voila. You have a viable rye starter. And now you can bake.As a final, final final note, a lot of bread that is called “sourdough” has yeast added to it. That’s fine, it’s still sourdough bread, it is not “pure” sourdough bread. If you are concerned, ask the baker.
- If you would like to take an introduction to sourdough class to really get your head around the topic, do click here to find a trainer.