The MOB Guide To Sourdough Starters

The sourdough starter is the little pot of life made from just flour and water that makes your bread rise. It’s simpler to look after than you might think.
Look at those beautiful bubbles.
Look at those beautiful bubbles.

A sourdough starter is a little pot of bubbly goodness that turns a lump of bread dough into a beautifully risen loaf which is tangy and delicious. When you cook with sourdough, you don’t need to use any commercial yeast to make your bread rise.

That’s because sourdough starter contains wild yeast, which acts as a substitute. If it sounds complicated, then be assured that making one is really easy. You simply add flour and water to a jar, leave it alone, and wild yeast — which is found in the air around us — populates the mixture along with bacteria, turning it into a live culture. You add a small amount of this mixture to bread dough and it makes the bread rise. It is how people have made bread for thousands of years.

Commercial yeast is designed to make bread rise as quickly as possible. Sourdough fermentation is a slower process, but it produces loaves with a completely unique chewiness and depth of flavour.

Once you have a starter up and running, you need to feed it regularly with more flour and water to keep it happy and bubbly. Theoretically, it can live forever, and one you create now can still be giving you beautiful loaves of bread years from now. Think of it as a low maintenance pet.

Creating a starter is probably the most intimidating part of the whole process. There are hundreds of accounts of how best to do it in recipe books and on the internet, along with all sorts of tricks and suggestions.

Use an elastic band to monitor your bubbly goodness.
Use an elastic band to monitor your bubbly goodness.

Back To Basics

But it’s simple. All you need is flour and water. Follow the recipe below and you can have a mixture ready within 7 days. Once you’ve got it up and running, you’ll be ready to try baking a few things.

Two disclaimers. One: You can buy a ready-made sourdough starter from the internet if you would like to skip the recipe below and go straight to feeding it. There is no reason not to — it will save you a week’s bother.

Secondly, it is important to try and use wholewheat flour to create your starter if you can possibly find it in the shops. It creates a better environment for the bacteria and wild yeast in your starter, meaning the process happens more quickly.

The key thing to note with a sourdough starter is that the quantity of flour and water you’re adding to it is always equal to one another. If you add 50 grams of flour, you should add 50 grams of water. If you add 20 grams of flour, it’s 20 grams of water. And so on.

The method below is loosely based on Joshua Weissman’s guide for creating a sourdough starter. He’s a very affable baker and cook from Texas who has a great YouTube channel you should go and watch.

All you need is flour and water, biology does the rest.
All you need is flour and water, biology does the rest.

How Do I Make My Sourdough Starter?

EQUIPMENT

Two glass jars, between 500ml and 1 litre in volume. I use Weck ones like this.

INGREDIENTS

225g Wholewheat flour

175g White bread flour

METHOD

  • Day 1: Add 100g wholewheat flour and 100ml water to a jar. Stir it all together, then put a lid on it loosely and leave it in a warm place (at least 23°C if possible — boiler cupboards work well, so does the top of a big fridge that generates a little heat) for 24 hours. The warmer the place you find for your starter, the more quickly it will develop.
  • Day 2: You might see a little bubbly activity by this point, but don’t worry if you don’t. Pour half your mixture — 100g — into a new jar, then discard the rest. Now add 25g wholewheat flour, 25g white bread flour, and 50ml water. Mix together and leave for another 24 hours. This process is all about giving the wild yeast in the mixture enough food to eat.
  • Day 3-6: Repeat the Day 2 process. By Day 3, you should start to see bubbles forming in your mixture. It should start to smell fresh, fruity, and tangy. By Day 6, the mixture should start expanding significantly in size every time you feed it.
  • Day 7: Add 50g of your starter to the clean jar. Then add 25g white bread flour, 25g wholewheat flour, and 50ml warm water. Mix together and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. Your starter should double in size overnight, and produce a bubbly texture after it’s fed. It should now be ready to use.

If your starter isn’t looking lively enough after a week, don’t worry. Just repeat the Day 2 process for a further few days until it’s started to look more active. Patience is important, because your starter will grow in strength and liveliness over time.

How Do I Feed My Sourdough Starter?

A well fed starter will grow every day.
A well fed starter will grow every day.

Remember the simple rule: Always add equal parts flour and water. To feed it, pour 50g of your starter into a new jar along with 50g white bread flour and 50ml of water. Repeat this forever. If you forget to feed it, don’t worry. It will stay alive for at least a week.

How Often Should I Feed My Starter And Where Should I Keep It?

You can feed it as little as once a week, but feeding it every three days or so stops it from developing any sour, vinegar-like smell

If you bake a lot, keep your starter on the counter and feed it once a day. If you bake infrequently, keep it in the fridge until the night before you want to bake with it. At that point, place it on the counter and feed it.

You will notice that the feeding process involves discarding a fair amount of sourdough starter which doesn’t get added to the new jar. You needn’t waste this. Instead, use it to make crumpets, or even banana bread.

Can I Use Only White Flour Instead Of Wholewheat To Create My Starter?

You can, but the process might take a little longer. If so, just keep feeding your starter once a day until it’s bubbly enough.

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