If you are not lucky enough to know someone who has their own sourdough starter to share. Then you can easily make your own with three simple ingredients; water, flour and time. It is an easy process and once you have your starter it will keep forever. Lets just talk a little about the ingredients – this is really important you are trying to make live bacteria. Sounds a little disgusting however it is the natural yeast that we are looking for which helps your bread rise.
Water for your starter: It’s best to use filtered, spring or tank water. Most of you who live in a city tap water will just not do as it has plenty of chemicals like chlorine which wont help your starter to thrive. So get yourself some bottled water which has no added minerals or chemicals. You will only need this for your starter – though I would recommend you also use it to make your bread.
Flour for your starter: You can use any grain based flour to make your starter; rice, rye, spelt, whole-wheat or even barley. For the best starter you can use one part of stone ground rye to bakers flour – the natural ferment process just loves rye. I use a baker’s flour which can be readily bought at the supermarket its an Australian stone ground flour – not sure of the brand but it does have a kangaroo on the packet. If you are looking for a real dense sourdough which is very aromatic use a combination of rye and whole-wheat flour. Yet the baker’s flour I use tends to still be sour and the starter thrives on the stuff, though you may need to add a little more.
Storing your starter: I use a large plastic container for my starter though you can also use a jar, its best to have a wide mouth on your jar so it easy to add more flour & water. Either vessel works well however they should never be kept airtight as the bacteria thrives on air circulation. The natural fermentation releases natural gases and these gases need to escape and not explode on your kitchen bench. Your starter will expand and rise twice its volume after feeding once its well established so using a large vessel is ideal. Also you need to be able to stir your starter – I use a chopstick – what ever you stir your starter with must be clean from any oils. Another tip which I do is cover my the top of my starter with a chux or you can use calico or muslin cloth. It allows the starter to breath and keep the ants and bugs out. Though my picture of my starter still has an ant in it. I keep the fabric over it with a rubber band and then leave the lid on an angle.
Here in Australia I keep my starter in the fridge during summer. When I need to use it I take it out of the fridge the day before, then I feed it and leave it on the bench overnight. It’s then ready to use the next day. Once again each climate is different play around with your starter and see what works best for it. If you want to keep your starter for an extended amount of time between baking then definitely leave it in the fridge. Just give it a feed before using. If it has been in the fridge for quite sometime (say 2 months) then give it a feed for a couple of days.
NOTE: It’s best to feed your starter roughly the same time each day. I do mine at breakfast time.
HOW TO MAKE A STARTER
DAY ONE: In your large container/jar pour in 1/3 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour* (1/4 cup of bakers & 1/4 cup rye – is best). Stir the mixture to combine. Allow to sit overnight at room temperature. *You can use just bakers flour if you want too.
DAY TWO: Add 1/3 cup of water to your starter and stir. Then add 1/3 cup of flour. I find its best to add the water first to make the consistency better. From this point you can just add baker’s flour.
DAY THREE – FIVE: Repeat day two until the starter is bubbling happily and has become aromatic it should be some what sweet the smell. Even though it is sourdough. After day three if your starter is ready you can then use it on the next day, once again with warmer weather a starter can be ready with in just a few days. It’s best to see the process through to day five before using the starter.
Your starter should resemble thick pancake batter with bubbles when ready and evidence that it has risen in the jar is another good indicator that your fermentation is working well. If a brown liquid appears on top of your sourdough starter, simply pour it off. This liquid is called the hooch and it is harmless. It often means that you have over fed your starter too much water or have starved your starter between feedings. Sourdough starters are quite resilient and can bounce back quickly once you take proper care of them again.