In my last post on sourdough starter, Old-Fashioned Sourdough: The Backbone of Our Kitchen, we talked about all of the benefits to beginning and caring for your own sourdough starter, which can be used over and over again to bake many different goods – from loaves of breads to sweet pastries.
In this post, you’ll learn how to begin your own sourdough starter, how to take care of it by feeding and discarding it, and how to put some of that discard to use in many different ways.
Remember, a sourdough starter is “an active colony of wild yeast and good bacteria cultivated by combining flour and water and allowing it to ferment.” Your environment is crucial to the success (and flavor) of your starter. Once you begin your starter, you’re basically taking part in an ongoing science experiment that will never end unless you choose to do so. Temperature and humidity are obviously different depending on where you’re located, and you’ll have to pay attention to these details.
Sourdough ferments most successfully in warmer conditions. The colder the environment, the slower your starter will grow. If you keep your home cooler than 68 degrees Fahrenheit, I suggest finding a smaller, warmer spot to keep your starter. Conditions can vary so widely that it can take up to three or four weeks for your starter to be ready for baking.
Another thing that you need to note is that the key to a successful starter is to watch for a consistently dramatic rise in volume – doubling between 1 and 4 hours after feeding. This could be just 7 days or less, depending on how often you feed it.
This may seem strange, but each time you feed your starter, you’ll be “discarding” up to half of it. Thankfully there are plenty of recipes out there to put that discard to good use, so if you invest in a few glass tupperware containers, you can easily store it in the fridge for future uses. Don’t forget to label each one with the date it was stored on, so you don’t lose track of how old it is. I’ve seen many starter recipes calling for half of the starter to be discarded each time but personally I’ve discarded a little less, like 2 cups per feeding, and have had the same success. You’ll just have to experiment to see what works best in your environment.
Why do we have to discard some of it every time? I know it seems wasteful, especially if you don’t feel like baking with the discard all of the time. The technique that’s worked consistently for me is to feed my starter twice a day, but I only discard some before the first feeding. I’ll let her double for about 4 to 6 hours, and then I’ll feed her again without discarding any.
That being said, if you don’t discard some of your starter at some point, you’ll eventually end up with a very large amount of it. Keeping the volume down offers the yeast more “food” to eat each time you feed it. You might consider gifting some of your discard to a friend as a beginner starter for them. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to explain to them how to care for and use it!
Since you’ll be feeding your starter a simple combination of flour and water, you’ll want to keep fresh spring water on hand and choose a higher quality flour than your average white all-purpose flour. My favorite flour brand is King Arthur and I keep their whole wheat, organic rye, and all-purpose bread flour in my pantry at all times.
There are many different sourdough starter kits on Amazon that make the process a little more convenient to follow and observe, but my favorite is the Sourdough Starter Jar Kit from Oscar’s Bakery. It’s got the most perfect wide mouth for easy access, comes with chalkboard labels and an attachable thermometer to keep track of the temperature. It also comes with an app to make the process even easier.
I began my sourdough starter with whole wheat flour in a large Anchor Hocking Batter Bowl before I had a fancy jar, so feel free to do the same. I used whole wheat because the wild yeast that offers sourdough starter its life is more likely to exist in the environment of whole-grain flour rather than in all-purpose flour.
I’ve broken this recipe down according to each day leading up to 14 days, which is generally how long it takes for the perfect fermentation in your starter.
Make sure your jar is clean and dry. In your jar, add 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons of flour and 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of spring water. Stir until a paste forms, then cover loosely with a lid or clean kitchen towel and place in a warm spot in your home. (Mine does just fine tucked away on the counter.) You’ve just begun your starter!
Day Two – Seven
Feed your starter once a day. Remove half of the starter from the jar and discard. Replace it with 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon of flour and 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of water. Stir well and store in a warm spot in your home.
- By Day Seven, you should see some sign of activity in the form of bubbling, smelling fermented (slightly sweet, sour, or alcoholic), and even doubling in volume after feeding (generally within 4 to 6 hours).
- If you notice any mold, strange coloring, or no activity at all by this point, do not continue feeding. Discard all of the starter, clean the jar well, and start over with Day One.
Day Eight – Fourteen
Feed your starter twice a day. In the morning and then in the evening, remover half of the starter and replace it with 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon of flour and 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of water. Stir well and store in a warm place. By Day Fourteen, your starter should be ready to bake with!
- You can bake a variety of goods with the discard from your starter, as long as it doesn’t smell of alcohol. Pinterest is filled with amazing sourdough discard recipes – muffins, pretzels, crackers, loaf cakes, biscuits, pancakes, and much more.
In fact, I made this Glazed Sourdough Lemon Loaf Cake using my own sourdough starter and this recipe that I found on Pinterest and my kids demolished it in minutes!
- Some starters are ready to bake with by Day Seven. For a powerful starter that’s ready for all baking projects, add an extra seven days of double feedings.
- Don’t forget that sourdough is just as unique as we are and results may vary.
If you haven’t begun your own starter yet, I hope this post gives you the courage to try. Creating and nurturing your sourdough can bring so much magic into your kitchen, as well as many health and wellness benefits to you and your loved ones.
Find us on Instagram @FryedHouse and share your own sourdough journey with us! Thank you for reading.