I’m new to the world of sourdough. Homemade sourdough bread visited me by way of loved ones' tables and I became even more curious and intrigued after hearing them talk about how they had to “feed” the dough. I’ve always had an interest in learning the science behind it once I learned of its health benefits for thousands of years in human history. I’m in a phase of life where I have to get intimate with things to learn about it. So, in the way that all things happen, my preoccupation with this new project led me to a friend who was giving away some starter. Once I received it I fed it until it was mature enough to hibernate in the fridge.
I’ll admit that it felt like having a child or an animal friends to care for because it was new to me. Now, it is a part of the family and we take turns feeding it. Through building relationship with the starter, I learned about how to cook with it as well as start one from scratch. I’m even stretching myself to bake more! My family's current favorite thing to make for brunch on the weekends is sourdough discard waffles. Yum!
There’s something about good food that just makes you want to share! So, when Mama Kaiya asked for some of my starter, I was definitely excited to keep the tradition alive and send her some via express mail across state lines. The sharing of this fermented goodness with the energy and intention from my hands and those before me feels like we are reclaiming something ancestral–like we are sharing ourcellves with each other and our food. It feels like another small and special way to stay connected to my tribe.
So I thought I’d share my learnings with you, too!
How to make a starter
1 cup rye or unbleached wheat flour
½ cup water (I use spring water I collect from a natural cold spring)
Combine rye or whole wheat flour with coolish water in a non-reactive container. Glass is my go-to. Make sure the container is large enough to hold your starter as it grows (it can double or triple in size). I use a 1-quart mason jar. Stir everything together so that all dry flour is wet.
Cover the container loosely (I use something breathable like cheesecloth or paper towel with a rubber band or metal band) and let the mixture sit at a warm room temperature (about 70°F) for 24 hours.
You may see a bit of expansion or bubbling and you may see no activity at all in the first 24 hours. Either way, discard half the starter (about ½ cup), and add to the remainder about 1 cup of flour, and ½ cup room temp water. You may have to play around with water temperatures and add coolish water if your house is warm or lukewarm water if your house is cold. Mix well, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for 24 hours.
By the third day, you'll likely see some activity — bubbling; an aroma of fermentation, and some evidence of expansion. Now you can begin two feedings a day, as evenly spaced as your schedule allows. (I tend towards 8 am and 8 pm) For each feeding separate out a generous ½ cup, once it's thoroughly stirred down. Discard any remaining starter. Add a scant 1 cup of flour, and ½ cup water to the half-ish cup of starter. Mix the starter, flour, and water, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for approximately 12 hours before repeating.
Measure out about ½ cup of starter and discard any remaining starter. Repeat steps of adding a scant cup of flour and ½ cup water and stirring.
Measure out about ½ cup of starter and discard any remaining starter. Repeat steps of adding a scant cup of flour and ½ cup water and stirring. By the end of day 5, the starter should have at least doubled in volume. You'll see lots of bubbles; there may be some little streams of fine bubbles. Also, the starter should have a tangy aroma — pleasingly acidic, but not overpowering. If your starter hasn't risen much and isn't showing lots of bubbles, repeat discarding and feeding every 12 hours on day 6, and day 7, if necessary — as long as it takes to create a vigorous (risen, bubbly) starter.
Pro tip: I find that playing around with the 2 feedings a day, room temp, and favoring a more clumpy mixture instead of a loose and liquid mixture all will help you find the sweet spot with your starter.
Using Your Starter
Once the starter is ready, give it one last feeding. Discard all but a generous ½ cup). Feed as usual. Let the starter rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours; it should be active, with bubbles breaking the surface.
Remove however much starter you need for your recipe — typically no more about 1 cup. If your recipe calls for more than 1 cup of starter, give it a couple of feedings without discarding, until you've made enough for your recipe plus a generous ½ cup to keep and feed again.
Transfer the remaining starter to its permanent home: a crock, jar, or whatever you'd like to store it in long-term. Feed this reserved starter with 1 scant cup of flour and ½ cup of water, and let it rest at room temperature for several hours, to get going, before covering it. If you're storing starter in a screw-top jar, screw the top on loosely rather than airtight.
Store this starter in the refrigerator and feed it regularly, using your normal process: Discard all but ½ cup of starter; feed it with a scant 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water. A feeding once per week should keep it healthy and robust. I test the quality of my stored starter by removing it from the fridge and sitting it on the counter. If it is still thriving it should start expanding by the hour with obvious bubbles! Recipes for baking and cooking usually require the starter to be at room temperature before using.
Pro tip: The more frequently you feed it, the less time and effort it takes to get your starter ripe and ready for baking.
While sourdough baked goods are naturally lower in gluten and can be tolerable for those with gut sensitivities, you may want to try using a gluten-free flour to create a gluten free sourdough option. This gluten free recipe is mostly the same as the one above.
If you are desiring to begin your sourdough journey and aren’t ready to devote yourself to creating your own starter, consider adopting a healthy starter from your sisters here at The Tribe Learning Cooperative! We can arrange to mail your starter in exchange for a donation plus the cost of 1-day shipping. Connect with us at email@example.com.