Sourdough starter, an alchemy of flour, water and the terroir of your very own kitchen, becomes richer, more flavorful, and more fermented and bubbly with time. It may seem daunting, but creating your own starter is straightforward. All you need is water, flour, time and a bit of instruction, which we're providing here.
Build a starter in a week or so, keep it alive with a feeding every week and in a surprisingly short period of time the starter becomes a nuanced, rich, flavorful base for bread, rolls, pancakes, waffles, crackers, English muffins and more. Use all-purpose flour initially to build a bubbly, fermented starter and once it is reliably rising, add any other grain that inspires - wholemeal, rye, - when feeding. Plan a week for the fermentation to happen. The temperature in your kitchen can effect how long this takes.
If you've been given a sourdough starter, or if you've started one yourself, it's something you must keep alive. Sourdough starter may be kept on the kitchen counter, which is a good place for it if you are making bread every day. If you are a bake-bread-once-a-week (or less) kind of baker, keep your starter in the refrigerator and feed it weekly. If you are only making bread occasionally, you will still need to feed the starter weekly. It is not unusual for the starter to have some liquid around it. Stir it well before using it in a recipe or before starting the discard-and-feed cycle.
- On day 1, put flour and water into a 2-litre storage container (a large glass jar works well). Stir together - this is your starter. Place the cover on top but do not seal. Set aside for 24 hours, out of the sun and off any cool surface. If your benchtop is cold, place the container on a wooden chopping board or a stack of tea towels.
- On day 2, stir down the starter. Weigh 113g of the starter into a medium bowl, discarding the rest. Clean the storage container. Stir 113g each of flour and water into the starter. This is called feeding. Scrape the fed starter back into the container. Cover but don't seal. Set aside for 24 hours. Repeat on days 3 and 4.
- On day 5, or when the starter is actively bubbling and increasing in volume, there will be strands of gluten evident when stirring the starter. Discard all but 113g and then feed with 113g each of flour and water. Scrape the fed starter back into the container, using a piece of tape to indicate its level in the container. In 12 hours, check it again. If it has doubled, feed again (discarding all but 113g and stirring in 113g each of flour and water.
- For the next 2 or 3 days, feed the starter every 12 hours until it begins to reliably double in 4 hours. Feed once or twice to make sure. Cover tightly and refrigerate, or use to bake bread, leaving 113g to continue feeding your starter. Feed once a week or when baking bread. If you're planning to bake and your starter has been ignored for more than 1 week, feed it first, letting it ferment for about 4 hours until it doubles and is topped with big bubbles. If you've ignored it for more than a month, it may take up to 4 feedings at 12 hour intervals to revive it.
- To feed or maintain your starter, stir down the active starter. Weigh 113g of the active starter into a medium bowl and clean the storage container. Stir in 113g of both flour and water until fully incorporated. Scrape back into the container and cover without sealing. Set aside for 4 hours, at which point it should have doubled in size. When ready, the starter should be topped with large bubbles and have a strong wheat scent.
- You will need a kitchen scale and a 2-litre storage container with a tight-fitting lid. Opt for glass as it's nonporous and won't attract/absorb smells.
- If you have access to filtered water, use it, otherwise regular tap is fine and cold, straight from the tap is all you need.
- This process generally takes 7 to 10 days. The feeding takes no more than 20 minutes. The final day or two will be more demanding, checking on and feeding the starter every few hours.
- Store refrigerated in an airtight container, indefinitely. Feed once a week.
Adapted from food writer Cathy Barrow.