Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How To - Sourdough Starter

Welcome to the DIY Revolution! Why DIY? Some folks do it to save money, to cut back on fossil fuel use, to avoid processed food, to get back to basics, to learn ancestral skills, and to avoid the impending zombie  apocalypse. Whatever your reasons are, they are good reasons. Therefore, I am going to skip over all that and focus on the practical.

I love bread. When I began baking at home, I was satisfied with replacing my previous whole wheat bread with homemade, but I missed sourdough. I assumed that sourdough was out of my league. I was just a lowly novice. And, didn't you need some 100 year old starter? Where the hell was I supposed to find that? Luckily for me, I came across some information on the interwebs about making your own starter. Basically it came down to, mix flour and water. Wait. Add more. Wait.

Everything I ever knew about sourdough was wrong. My world was changed. Forever. Sourdough needn't be descended from hardy wild yeast strains first captured by crusty miners. You can make it, and guys, it is easy! You are about to be inducted into the world of sourdough. Hold on to your hats.

This, and water, is all you need to make starter.

Day 1 - Get yourself a mason jar. The quart size, guys, not a pint. Into this holy vessel, put ye one third of a cup of flour of the refined variety. Also add ye one third of a cup of water - not overly chlorinated, lest ye piss off the yeasties - so, filtered, preferably. Stir this concoction with a spoon hand-carved of the wood of the olive tree. Or any old non-metallic spoon. Place the lid upon the vessel. Let sit for 24 hours.

I love you, Mason jars.

Day 2 - Add a third of a cup of water, and a third of a cup of flour while chanting or saying a prayer (optional) and stirring (mandatory).

Days 3-6 - Continue in this fashion for four more days. If your jar runneth over, try making some sourdough pancakes.

The first signs of life - bubbles!

Day 7 - Examine your sourdough. Take a big whiff. Does it smell alcoholic and sour? Is there a layer of scary looking bubbly liquid on top? If so, congratulations! You have made sourdough! In my experience, you can tell when a starter is viable (harboring the yeast populations needed to leaven bread) by smell, as it will go from smelling bloody awful to smelling like sourdough within a few days. However, I am a smell-oriented person. If you are not, wait an extra week to be sure. Keep feeding your starter every day. If it is bubbling, and there is a layer of liquid (known as the "hooch" - yes, it is really hooch, but I don't recommend drinking it - don't ask how I know) on top, you are on the right track.

If, after two weeks, you have seen no signs of life in your starter, and it looks and smells just like water and flour, something has gone wrong. Perhaps there were not enough wild yeasts in your flour, or your water was too chlorinated. Try again using organic flour and boiled water. Have patience.

Day Post-Readyness - After your starter smells like sourdough, or two weeks, you can keep it in the fridge for up to a week without feeding it. Those little yeasty beasties will just hibernate until you are ready to use them. Take the starter out of the fridge the day before you want to bake with it, and when it reaches room temperature, feed it. After you use it, feed it again before you put it back  in the fridge.

Sourdough - magical, mystical, and obtainable. Also delicious. There you have it, folks.

Next up! Sourdough pancakes, aka, why you shouldn't toss your starter. (Hint - because it is delicious).


  1. Excellent! I've been wondering how to start this process for a long time. Your tutorial is the most well explained I've found, thanks! I'm going to give it a try!

  2. Sister Threads - rock on! Glad to help!