Sourghdough starters do sound challenging, but I hope to help make them more approachable as I was not born a bread baker. Starters are great for not only baking bread, but also cakes, cookies, and pasta. You can become your own bakery essentially, which is especially helpful being shut in. We have been making a Cabernet Sourdough since we opened in 2018. This starter was made from our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which you can read about on a previous blog post here. While I love our starter, it is not feasible for those at home wanting to start their own right now.
Two weeks ago I saw a starter recipe that looked really simple from Taste of Home and decided to try it a couple weeks ago. It went great, so without further ado I am going to share the recipe with a few tweaks, feeding info, and helpful starter info as I had a ton of questions when I started! Also, I will have a few tips if you are missing ingredients, or in need of a gluten free starter as everyone has different needs right now.
The Starter Recipe:
1 & ½ teaspoons (or a packet) of Yeast
2 Cups (11 oz) of Flour
2 Cups (16 oz) of Water at 70-75°F
Use a container like a large tupperware that you can put a lid on. Avoid a metal bowl for your starter as that will impact the temperature of your starter. You can use measuring spoons/cups or a digital scale. Digital scales tend to be more accurate. You will also need a thermometer to take the water temp.
*Yeast: Original recipe calls for Active Yeast. I used Instant Yeast and turned out just fine. Use what you have.
*Flour: The recipe calls for All Purpose (AP) Flour, but you could substitute for Bread Flour. Below I share the differences in flour.
Step 1 – Put 2 cups of flour the bowl/container.
Step 2 – Pour in yeast and stir with flour.
Step 3 – Measure 2 cups of water and take its temperature. 70-75°F is ideal for the temp, but if your home runs cooler or warmer, make adjustments. Like I'd do 80-85°F for a colder home. Yeast likes warmth and it encourages activity. I would avoid going over 90°F.
Step 4 – Gradually pour in the water, while stirring with a spatula. Stir until well incorporated. I like to stir for a few minutes to encourage the yeast to be active.
That’s it. You’ll notice it will become active and bubbly within hours. Let it hang out for about 4 days. Stirring occasionally throughout the day to encourage the yeast to be active. You will notice that it will start to smell more sour and a liquid will form on the top. All apart of it and it is fine. By day 4, feed the starter.
Step 1 – Stir the starter for a few minutes. Do not pour off the liquid. Some recipes do this, but I disagree as it’s just apart of the starter.
Step 2 – Pour out about ½ to 1 cup of starter. I did a cup.
Step 3 – Pour in 1 cup (8 oz) 70-75°F water and stir.
Step 4 – Pour in 1 cup (5.5 oz) of flour and stir. Stir as long as you can to encourage activity.
So, that’s the recipe, but here’s more info to help with your sourdough starter journey.
What is happening in the starter? Protein in the flour forms gluten. Yeast eats gluten and it produces CO2. The gluten helps the bread have strength and gives it rise. The water in the starter is helping the yeast move around and encourage the integration with the gluten. Also, yeast likes warmth and movement. So, the water temperature and the movement of the stirring encourage the activity.
There's no yeast in the stores right now? A real issue and there’s no need to panic. I have read blogs mentioning alternatives and one of those is…pineapple juice. This is similar to what we are doing with our grapes. Here's one I found on Breadtopia.
I’m gluten free? Okay! Well there’s sourdough starters that are gluten free…I found this on King Arthur's site.
Bread Flour vs. All Purpose Flour? Bread Flour has a higher gluten percent than All Purpose Flour (AP), which is why it is used for baking breads. The typical percentages are below:
The more gluten you have for the yeast to eat...the more activity you will have. That said if all you have is All Purpose or Wheat, making a starter will still work!
Storing the starter?
Method 1: Store on the counter and feed daily. This is great if you are a baker and bake daily.
Method 2: Store the starter in the fridge. So, the cold will cause the starter to slow down in activity. Upon removing from the fridge for use, feed more like 2-3 times a day for 2-3 days to awaken the starter.
Some starters can be kept in the fridge without feeding for up to a month or more. I would say this depends on the strength of your starter. If it's super active, then it will do great. I do usually up to a month for some of my starters.
Method 3: You can dry the starter on parchment during feeding. Take some of the starter and just spread it out on parchment paper and let it dry for a couple days. Then put the starter in a container like a mason jar. I recommend this for any starter you are discarding during feeding. Here's the article on King Arthur's site.
What is the liquid on top of the starter? So, believe it or not this is called hooch and that's because it is technically alcohol...the byproduct of the activity between yeast and gluten. It is okay and it doesn't mean that your starter is bad. Stir it into the starter and then feed your starter.
How can you tell if it has gone bad? Starters share a lot about themselves via smell. Sweeter means that it has been fed and is happy. Sour means that it is probably needing food.
Acetone and funky smells equals hmmm, something is awry. You just want to start feeding the starter, like you would when waking it up, to try to save it.
Mold or discolouration are a sign of no bueno. Just try your best to feed and save, but I would look at your saved dry starter at this point.
At feeding it feels wasteful, can I make something with the discarded (pitched) starter? Yes! Pancakes is a well-known option, but there are plenty of things you can do with pitched starter. You can dry some for storage. You can also give the pitched starter to someone else. Starter = giving.
How to know if your starter is ready for use? The visual activity of the bubbles will indicate its activity level, but again smell is important. In Tartine’s Bread, the sweeter smells it is fed and more ready to use. The more sour means it needs more feeding and time. I will say that with time you will get to know your starter and will have a feeling.
Another method is the Float Test. Take some of the starter (like a little piece) and put in water. If it floats, it’s ready for use. If it doesn’t float, well it’s not ready. This is not always accurate, keep in mind, according to some bakers.
Can you bake with whatever flour and the starter? You can bake with whatever flours you would like. Some recipes use blends for more flavor. You will get different textures and densities as well. Bread flour due to its higher gluten percentage will have better crumb (meaning the texture and hole pattern in the bread will be more desirable for the sourdough).
How sour does the sourdough get? The sourness of sourdough is just what the starter decides to create. It's the nature of your starter. So, do not be surprised if if it is not super sour. If you want more sourness to your sourdough bread, try using more starter in the recipe. Or try longer fermentation when making the dough.
Ideas for best bakes with sourdough bread? Dutch ovens are awesome and easy. You need steam for sourdough bread. Let's say you don’t have a dutch oven or cast iron with a lid and a water bath in your oven is a bit of a deal. This write up had some great ideas for getting steam going in your bake: https://truesourdough.com/3-ways-to-make-amazing-sourdough-bread-without-a-dutch-oven/
Best ways to store bread? Wrap in parchment, sarane wrap, and then leave on counter - lasts about 4 days-5days.
That was quite the write up, but I wanted to share thoughts and ideas that would encourage anyone to try their hand at this. This is a great project while stuck at home and/or you have some kids. Honestly, the starter becomes like a pet. You have to care for it. The Parrish team giggle at me as I will remember I have to feed my starter, or fold my bread in the midst of a meeting and rush out to care for it. Regardless of the amount of work it has brought to my life, I enjoy it and the fact that it brings joy to others.
Be well and Enjoy!