Are you a do-it-yourselfer? Well, if you were ever going to do something yourself, making your own sourdough starter is the thing to try. Saving you money and headaches are just two of the reasons. Imagine the satisfaction of knowing that you single-handedly started your own colony of organisms whose sole purpose is to make your bread healthier and more delicious. Now get going.
Wild yeast is everywhere in our world and, with a little cajoling, can be harnessed into a beneficial and helpful sourdough starter. Baking with sourdough is thrifty, too, with endless free yeast and healthy homemade bakery waiting on the other side of your starter-cultivation success. There are many methods for making homemade sourdough starter, but this is the simplest I have found, and the one I use daily.
The process is simple: in setting out a mixture of water and flour, you provide a bed for airborne wild yeast to settle in, eat the starches present in the flour, and proliferate. After about a week’s worth of guidance, your colony of yeast should be well established, and with consistent feeding and maintenance, it will faithfully produce bubbly, fragrant starter for whatever you need.
How to Make Sourdough Starter
- 1 quart Mason jar
- 1/2 cup filtered water
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- A cotton cloth
- Rubber band or Mason jar canning ring
- Bamboo chopstick or non-metal spoon
- Roughly a week’s worth of time
In your clean Mason jar, measure out 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup filtered water. It is very important to use whole wheat flour (your starter will need the protein to flourish) and filtered water (the chlorine in tap water will kill your starter before you’ve even begun). Mix with the chopstick until you have blended well. Cover with the cotton cloth, and secure on the top with rubber bands or the Mason jar ring. Make sure that the cloth cover has a tight enough weave that fruit flies cannot reach the starter (especially if you are doing this in the summer months).
Put in a relatively warm, dark place. I found that a secluded corner of our kitchen worked just fine. Give the starter another stir before you go to bed that night.
Day 2 and following
In the morning, discard half the mix into your compost and feed the starter 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm, filtered water, mixing well. You don’t have to hope you caught yeast—it’s there. If there are no signs of activity, stir to aerate the mix again before you go to bed, and continue to reduce and feed every morning until you see a change.
Signs of success are bubbles, a clear or light brown liquid separating from the batter, and the start of a sour smell. (Don’t fear if you find the odor to be unpleasant now; it becomes much more palatable once the yeast is established.) In warm weather, this could happen over the course of a day alone, but in cold weather, it may be a few days until you see those promising bubbles.
Things you DON’T want to see are mold (anything green, pink, black, or blue) or fruit fly maggots. If you find these, do not try to save your starter; clean out your jar and start over. Thankfully, once your starter is well established and fed daily, it will never mold. Healthy yeast out-competes everything else!
Build up its strength
Once you have captured yeast, you need to build up your starter’s strength to bake with it. Every morning, continue to reduce it by half and feed it your 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of filtered water. If you see that clear or light brown liquid at the top, that’s perfect—it’s your yeast signaling to you that it is time to be fed. Pour it off, stir up your starter, and feed.
Whenever I catch a sourdough starter from scratch, I usually give it at least four days of this reducing and feeding before I bake with it. The goal is to get a starter that smells pleasantly yeasty (I think mine smells like a roasty porter.), bubbles, and grows in size after being fed. Once you reach the point of a healthy sourdough starter, you no longer have to toss out the extra starter—you can bake with it!
And you’re set!
Before you bake, plan the night before how much starter you’ll need for your recipe and feed accordingly. For example: if I have currently have 8 ounces of active starter, and I want to bake a loaf of bread in the morning that requires 10 ounces, I won’t reduce it—I will just feed it a full cup of flour and a full cup of filtered water and let it sit all night. The resulting 16+ ounces of starter will give me plenty to bake with, and won’t wipe out my starter completely. (I always try to have at least 6 ounces of leftover starter remaining after baking so that I can feed it and maintain my jar.)
For ideas on how to use your sourdough starter for bread, bakery, and more, there are tons of recipes here on Fermentools and online. Happy baking!
If you succeed in making your own sourdough starter, you might want to try the following recipes:
Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place.Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.