Starting a Sourdough Starter: The Basics

I’ve wanted to start making more bread for some time now. I dream of large, luxurious loaves baking on a daily basis, making the house smell like a bakery. But I don’t. I even have Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but my fridge, you see, is teeny tiny when you’re trying to feed six people. Most days we have to play a few games of Tetris to fit the leftovers in and get the door to close and a bucket o’ dough just doesn’t fit. But oh, how I wish it would. Focaccia be mine!

This week was different. This week I took the plunge. I’ve started a sourdough starter. It’s the first step towards making my very own bread. I’m pretty excited about it, and Ole is too. I could tell when he came home and spied the mug of goo on the counter and, knowing nothing of my plan at all, he asked, “Sourdough starter?” And all the nerdy foodie stars aligned. There was a reason I married this man. That is it.


To help me in the sourdough starter process is my dear Lene, who appears to have aged four full years rather than just turning four last month. And this is the story of how I spent all of 3 minutes in the kitchen with my four-year-old making a sourdough starter earlier this week. Three minutes? Yes. Science experiment with the preschooler and the toddler? Goodness, yes.

Step 1: Water. A quarter cup of it. I used tap water and let it sit to remove the chlorine. You could also use mineral water, and aim for the water to be at room temperature. Add it to a glass container that’s about pint-sized. I am out of canning jars because they’re all full of food, so I used this lovely mug instead.

Step 2: Whole wheat flour. Three-eighths of a cup here. I buy Bob’s Red Mill most often because the lovely Rainbow down the street carries it making it easily accessible. King Arthur is also good for snobbery in the flour aisle. Be a snob. It’s worth it.

Step 3: Mix it up and scrape down the sides. I used a regular old spoon, and as long as you don’t have reactive spoons, this should also work for you. Reactive metals would include copper, cast iron or aluminum. You could also use wood or silicone or whatever, I suppose.

Step 4: Cover loosely. We don’t want those pesky moths that seem to sneak in the door every time it opens in the evening landing in there. A cloth would also work here, but don’t seal it because we want the air to be able to get in and out.

And wait. For 12 hours we wait. Then we repeat the process: 1/4 cup water mixed in. Then add 3/8 cup of flour. Wait for 12 hours. Throw out half of the mixture. (Compost.) Add in 1/4 cup of water and stir. Add in 3/8 cup of flour and stir. Scrape the sides, cover and wait. Hopefully you will see some of these: BUBBLES!

I thought I had killed my starter. I had seen the bubbles, but then after my second feeding there were very few. It looked lifeless and sad. So, I gave it a stir at 12 hours to see what it would do. It *had* been cold in my house, and I’d learned through the sourdough ecourse (information below) I’m taking that it could slow down the process. So, I gave it a stir instead of feeding it and waited. And it paid off. Just four hours later I have an inch more starter growing, and I have quite a few more bubbles! And when that starter looks nice and bubbly and starts filling up my cracked-handle mug, well, then I’m ready to bake. Soon there will be bread.

If your starter doesn’t take off, try, try again. Don’t get discouraged. Be sure you’re not using distilled water; mineral water and tap water (because it has minerals in it) is best. Try a different spoon. Is your flour fresh? Check out the ecourse below for more information on maintaining your starter and the hows and whys of growing it.

1/4 cup water at room temperature (x4)
3/8 cup whole wheat flour (x4)

In a pint-sized glass jar or mug mix the water and flour. Note: 3/8 cup flour is a 1/4 cup plus half a 1/4 cup, and you can eyeball it. Scrape down the sides of the jar, cover loosely with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to sit for 12 hours. After 12 hours add another 1/4 cup water and mix thoroughly until combined. Stir in another 3/8 cup flour. Scrape down the sides, cover loosely and allow to sit for 12 hours.

After the second 12-hour period, remove half of the starter and compost it. Add in another 1/4 cup water and mix. Then stir in the flour, scrape down the sides and cover loosely. Allow to sit for 12 hours. Hopefully you will now see many tiny bubbles and your starter will be increasing in size.

Your starter should start to get more and more bubbles and fill the jar after the 12-hour period after about the fourth feeding. If you don’t see bubbles and your starter isn’t growing, start over. If you see bubbles but your starter seems to be going really slow, try not feeding it, but instead give it a stir to get some air in there, and then wait and see what happens. It may just surprise you.

Use this as a starter in your favorite sourdough recipes.

Food for My Family

This post on the beauties of creating your very own sourdough starter is sponsored by GNOWFGLINS eCourse, where you can learn the art of mastering traditional cooking methods and sourdough! Check out the Sourdough eCourse and join me because, um, I may have registered for it and gotten sucked in. It is quite probable. (There is a crepe and crepe cake topic. I mean, come on. Of course I got sucked in.)

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Comments

  1. You have no idea how erie it was to research all day about sourdough starters and wish that one of my favorite blogs would write a post and there this was in my e mail this evening. Thanks!

  2. I LOVE sourdough starter!!! And that little girl is gonna break some hearts some day;)

  3. I’m getting sucked into that e-course too! Loving it.

  4. Thanks for the sourdough starter idea. I have never tried this because I thought the starter was always something that was passed around from other people and once you have some you keep it going and just take some from it when you need it (sounded a bit scary to me) but making my own sounds like fun! I’ll let you know. Your daughter is such a cutie btw :)

  5. We must be on the same wavelength! I’m starting a sourdough starter with wild yeast this week too. I managed to kill my first starter at the beginning of the summer (hanging head in shame) and my poor oven hasn’t seen any bread since. Now that the weather is cooling down I’m hoping to get back on the wagon.

  6. Yes! I am {so} very grateful that you have posted this information. I personally love sour dough breads; my husband and kids? Not. so. much.

    Sigh.

    Still, this is such an easy way to make your own started that I think I’ll go ahead and make some and make some sour dough bread just for me. Imagine that! :-)

  7. I am so happy you stopped by and to meet you, your site, and yoru sweet family. I can see we have a great deal in common food ethics-wise. I have a LOT of posts about trips to the former Yugoslavia. I will be posting the making of burek later this week. I have been late posting my trips this year. Tonight, when I get home, I will spend some time getting to know you and yhour site and blog better. I am excited!
    :)
    Valerie

  8. This is wonderful, I tried my sis in law’s sourdough starter, I failed 3 times on it this week. Can I use filtered bottled water? and can I make it in a 32 oz pickle jar? My 5 year old has been helping me with my failed attempts lol! Jazzy from Mississippi.

  9. Hi bread lovers,

    I’ve recently started working with Sourdoughs International and I’m learning the difference between using authentic wild yeast and commercial yeast (bakers yeast) the taste and appearance is so different it is absolutely amazing! I totally recommend that you check it out at http://www.sourdo.com, EnJoY!!

  10. Its been almost 3 months and my sourdough is doing great! I use pineapple juice intead of water.

  11. Looks like a very nice and simple starter. I have never seen one that did not require yeast. I have a starter that has successfully lived in my fridge for more than three years. I fed it some Guiness when the starter was about a year old. The starter seemed to be happy with a different source of yeast, and it really added a yummy taste to my bread.

  12. Rachael says:

    I love your blog!!!
    Am definitely going to try this with my new San Francisco sourdough starter : ) Just ordered it from Sourdough’s International! Love their products.

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