Image by matthewf01
So, I mentioned to my Facebook fans that I’m planning to try out sourdough again, starting now. I’ve tried twice before. Here’s how it went:
- First — I used sprouted flour, which, since the grain had already been “altered,” simply did not have enough rising power. Crackers turned out okay, but any “real” bread was basically a brick. After two bread attempts (which also smelled disgusting), I gave up.
- Second — I tried again with unsprouted flour and got some good bubble action…then forgot to feed it for a few weeks (lost my enthusiasm for the project) and it got moldy and had to be thrown out.
I am not going to let either of those things happen again.
No, I am going to create a successful sourdough starter that bubbles nicely and makes both good sandwich bread and a good boule (crusty bread — like the top image). My Facebook fans wanted to join me on my journey, and perhaps some of you do, too. I’ll be updating once or twice a week as I attempt to make this sourdough thing work for me. Are you ready? We can do this!
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
You will need:
- Freshly ground flour (ideally)
- Filtered Water
- A glass jar
- A dish cloth
- A rubber band
- A spoon
Okay, here we go.
I’m grinding white whole wheat flour in my Vitamix. Some say it’s easier to start with white flour than whole wheat (lighter), but I’m not going to bother. What’s the point? The white whole wheat, however, is true whole wheat, just a different variety (than the usual red). It’s naturally a bit lighter and makes yummy-tasting breads. I recommend using that, and it’s gotten quite easy to find in stores now.
I’m going to grind about 2 cups at once, because that is the amount that gets the best results. Too little and it whips it around and doesn’t work so well; too much and it’s very heavy and the motor has to work too hard. I’m only going to start out with about 1/2 c. of it today, so I’ll put the rest in a bag and freeze it.
Step 1: I’m adding my flour to a quart glass mason jar. Having mason jars around is so handy. Start with about 1/2 c. so the sourdough starter doesn’t get too heavy. You need a very small volume at first to get good bubbles — a new starter with a smaller colony of beneficial bacteria won’t be able to rise a lot of starter.
Step 2: Add just over half as much water as you did flour. I’ll add 1/4 c. + 1 or 2 tbsp. water, since I added 1/2 c. flour. This basically makes a (very) thick batter. It’s good.
Step 3: Stir it up until it’s all together. It should be very thick. Thick is good. I learned my lesson after many attempts. (The sourdough starter below is a little on the thin side, really.)
Step 4: Cover it with a clean cloth. Mine is a scrap of birdseye cotton, the stuff that’s used to make cloth diapers. I use it to sew cloth diaper inserts, but also as a substitute for cheesecloth in my kitchen. It works great. Top your jar with a rubber band to keep the cloth in place.
Step 5: Put it somewhere warm and let it sit. A space near your stove (but not too near) is good. If you have other ferments in the kitchen, do spread them out — they have different bacterial profiles, and you don’t want them to cross-contaminate.
Step 6: For the first three days, you need to feed your starter every 12 hours, or twice a day. I’ll feed mine when I get up (or I’m making breakfast) and before I go to bed. After this initial period, feed your starter once a day. You can bake with it after three days, but it’ll get better with age.
You can feed your sourdough starter as often as 8 hours. And, during those initial three days, you should throw out half of it before feeding it. (You should do this any time the starter isn’t very active and you want it to become active.) That’s so the volume never gets too high while you are trying to culture more bacteria. I learned my lesson with this, too — yes, it does matter, and you do need to throw out some of it…at first. Once it’s active, you won’t need to do this (but by then you should be using some of it, so the volume won’t get too high anyway).
One more quick note: sometimes, a grayish liquid will collect on top of the starter. That’s called hooch, and it’s normal(ish). If your starter is regularly making hooch, you either aren’t feeding it often enough, or it’s too thin. Thick is better — because thin starter releases the bubbles easily, while thick starter traps them and produces the rise you’re looking for.