I’ve been asked by a few people how to begin a sourdough starter. While I’m not an expert, and I’ve only had my starter for the last few months, it is working well for me (you can check this out on my Facebook site).
One thing you should know before embarking on a sourdough journey is that it requires commitment. Mostly at the start. However, once your starter matures you can take a more relaxed attitude to caring for it. Yes, I do mean caring for it. A starter is a living community that, like all living things, requires food and water for it to thrive. It is a microcosm that has moods and will react differently depending on how warm it is, the quality of food you give it and a host of other factors.
The microbes (wild yeast and bacteria) that make the starter the starter come from the flour and water used, from the local environment through the air, on the utensils and containers you use and off your hands. I prefer organic flour for my starter so it has the most variety in microbes it can.
Not all microbes are good, but you’ll know if your starter has some of these ‘bad bugs’ – it will turn different colours from orange to green to pink, red or black and smell really bad. If any of this happens to your starter THROW IT OUT AND START AGAIN.
But that’s enough blather. On to the recipe.
Basic idea behind making a starter
In a nutshell (see below for the detailed method), to make a sourdough starter you add equal weights (note, NOT volume) of plain flour and water together every day for five days. For me, I use 100g each of flour and water. By the end of the five days, my starter comprises 500g each of flour and water.
Some people recommend making the starter in the proportion of 1:1:1 each of starter, flour and water. So you don’t end up with kilos of starter by the end of it you discard part of your starter each day. I haven’t tried this method – I can’t bring myself to throw any of the starter away. That said, worms love discarded starter so if you do try this method, your compost will thank you.
For the purpose of this blog I’ll begin a new starter and run you through the ingredients, method and some observations on the process so you know what to expect. Don’t be surprised if your starter looks or smells different to mine, these will be affected by the source, age and moisture content of the flour, the type of flour you use, how warm it is and the yeasts and bacteria in your environment. But so long as it doesn’t smell off or become anything other than a creamy-colour, it should be okay.
What you will need to make a sourdough starter: flour (I use organic plain wheat flour), water and a glass container that either has a lid or can be easily covered by cling wrap – straight-sided is best so you can easily see how much your starter has risen.
There are lots of websites that go into more detail on sourdough starters and recipes. I recommend you have a look at them and work out what method is best for you.
- Ingredients are measured by WEIGHT not volume, including liquid ingredients
- Water: I’m lucky enough to be on tank water so I can use it straight from the tap. If you are on mains, reticulated water you will have to either boil it and let it cool down or let it sit for 24-48 hours to remove the chlorine from the water. Chlorine is used to disinfect mains drinking water so using it for your starter will kill off any of the desired microbes in the flour. Alternatively, you could purchase spring/filtered water to use.
- Container: For ease of seeing how your starter is growing, I suggest a glass, straight-sided container. A healthy, mature starter will double in size after being fed due to the gas produced by the growing yeasts before deflating. You will need to make sure your container is large enough to cope with the daily expansion of the starter. I use a 7-cup container with a tight, but not air tight, lid. This lets the starter breathe without letting it dry out.
Over the next five days I’ll run you through making a starter, what you need to do and what it looks, feels and tastes like.