A starter is a mixture of flour and water left to naturally ferment over a week – essentially a wild yeast, made by you. You are creating a culture, an environment which encourages growth of micro organisms. Unlike the yeast you buy from the supermarket, it is naturally fermented and will be ready to use after 7 days.
Each day you “feed” the starter with equal amounts of fresh flour and water. As the wild yeast develops, the starter will start to bubble and smell slightly sour. As long as you see bubbles and signs of yeast activity, continue feeding it daily. Sometimes the bubbles take a few days to get going, so be patient.
It is very hard to actually kill a starter. Even if it develops a grey liquid “hooch” on the surface which smells sour and acidic – don’t worry. Remove the liquid, give it a feed, leave it somewhere warm and watch it come back to life again.
If you forget to feed it one day, don’t worry. Just feed it a couple of times the next day and it will come back to life. It is forgiving, so keep going and don’t give up.
Remember when making your starter, leaven and bread that all these processes will speed up dramatically in warm environments. In summer the bread will rise faster than it does in the winter so bear this in mind and don’t try to rush it along in cooler weather. Sourdough goes at its own pace.
Try making your own sourdough starter following my simple instructions.
- 50 g Strong flour - I like to use 25g strong white and 25g rye/wholemeal strong flour
- 50 ml tepid water
Weigh the flour and water into your container and mix thoroughly using a spoon until you have a thick gloopy stiff batter.
There can sometimes be a surge in fermentation activity during the first couple days of the process. When this happens, you might think the sourdough starter has worked quickly and well and become active sooner than you thought. Then, on Day 3 or 4 it looks like it has “died,” and you will want to start again. Don’t be tricked by this, just continue with the schedule and eventually, the desired yeast and bacteria will move in and activate your starter.
Cover with a porous cloth (J cloth) or a lid that is loosely placed rather than tightly secured.
Set aside in a warmish place. I put mine into the microwave, out of direct sunlight. A cupboard will also work well or just leave it on the counter top in your kitchen if you like.
Put 50g of your starter into a new container (discarding the rest) and top it up with another 50g flour. Cover and leave for 24 hours.
You might notice a few bubbles on the top of your starter by now. If not, don’t worry just give it a day or two longer for activity to appear. Again transfer 50g of your starter into a new container and top up with 50g flour (rye & white) and 50ml luke warm water and stir well. Leave loosely covered and repeat again for two more days until you see signs of bubbles - which means activity.
Repeat Day THREE
Day FIVE & Day SIX
By now, the starter should be looking very bubbly with large and small bubbles, and it will have increased in volume. If you stir the starter, it will feel looser than yesterday and airier. It should also be smelling quite sour and pungent, almost vinegary. Continue to feed your starter with 50g of flour and 50 ml of water, discarding half of your starter before you feed it.
Your starter should by now be lively, bubbly and rising in a predictable manner. It will be at it’s most lively 5-8 hours after being fed/refreshed.
At this stage it will be ready to use in your next stage of sourdough making - the leaven.