A starter is only made up of a few ingredients. Flour and water are all it takes to get started.
So how exactly do you make a sourdough starter? Simple: add good quality, unprocessed flour and filtered water together and mix to make a thick slurry.
Leave this slurry for a few days until you start to see signs of fermentation and life. A syrupy sweet aroma should develop which signals the fermentation is well underway.
Once the slurry has doubled in volume thanks to the fermentation gas, it’s time to half or quarter the mixture (discard or save what you remove), then add equal amounts of flour and water.
Ideally when you first start out you will use 60 grams water, and 60 grams flour. Once this slurry has doubled in size, you will discard half of it and add equal parts flour (60 grams) and water (60 grams). This process begins to concentrate the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria.
Initially, the feeding schedule is a bit of give and take while you carefully monitor how your starter develops. Don’t rush the feedings, but don’t leave them too long after the starter doubles.
We recommend aiming to feed your starter twice per day until it reliably doubles in size within 8 hours or so for a few weeks. Once it gets its bearings, you can stick it in the fridge and take it out when you need it. At minimum, aim to feed your starter once a week if you’re keeping it in the fridge. When you take it out and feed it, let it come to room temperature and then feed it and allow it to at least quarter in size before you return it to the fridge.
To make your life easier before you get started, you will need:
- a large mason jar
- cheese cloth or a loose fitting lid
- a spoon
- a scale
- filtered water
- natural unprocessed flour
Ideally, Rye Flour is best here because it’s minimally processed and milled which means it has tons of enzyme, yeast and bacterial activity.
Notes on refreshing (or feeding) your starter
Each time it doubles in size, it’s time to feed it. Be sure to attend to this carefully, because if you don’t feed your starter often enough the bacteria and yeast will run out of food and begin to produce alcohol. If this happens, don’t be alarmed! If your starter culture runs out of food, it will form a layer of thin watery liquid on the top which will smell strongly like alcohol or acetone. This is often referred to as “hooch”. Discard the hooch, discard the extra starter and feed it again.
Another reason it’s helpful to feed your starter regularly, is to ensure that you have a healthy balance of bacteria and yeast. A healthy and balanced starter will smell fruity and sweet and produce lots of CO2. If you don’t feed your starter often enough, it’s likely that the starter will become concentrated with bacteria that can work against the gluten in your flours, which prevents lofty and open crumb structure!
Although the process of creating a starter is quite straightforward and simple, each starter will vary depending on the environment it’s in. Remember, it’s a living thing and it’s likely your feeding schedule will need to be tweaked to feed it based on how quickly it doubles in size. If your starter is taking longer to grow, don’t worry, just be patient. But! Make sure that you’re not using any tools or water contaminated with chlorine, soap or other chemicals. And of course, use the best flour you can get your hands on!
Caring for a starter is a labour of love, but once you develop a harmonious relationship with it, it will pay you endless dividends of tasty baked goods and so much more!