One of my favorite breads is Iggy's Whole Wheat Sourdough French Baguette, however it's also almost $5.00 a baguette and I can't always finish it before the bread starts to go stale. This lead me to start experimenting with sourdough starters a few years ago. I've made my own starters as well as tried starters from other sources, some that have been passed along for decades.
Sourdough starters are incredibly easy to do at home, all you need to get started is flour and water. After that it's a matter of care and time to keep your starter growing healthy and long lasting.
A well cared for starter can literally last years.
Step 1: Ingredients
- 4oz whole wheat flour
-Water (room temp. is fine)
-Non-reactive container (and lid)
Step 2: Prep
Mix 4oz of wheat flour and 4oz of water together. Make sure to get all of the flour mixed well and there is no dried flour left, this causes starters to go bad. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.
**To speed up this process, you could set your starter container on a heating pad. The colder the environment, the longer it takes starter to get going**
Most American cultures (starters) begin with whole wheat or rye flour, because these flours have more nutrients than AP.
I have tried to do 100% whole wheat starters, meaning I started the culture with whole wheat and I fed it whole wheat, but these always went bad within a couple days. According to some sources, maintaining a 100% whole wheat starter requires more water and more frequent feedings, but I haven't done enough research to find the right ratios.
Step 3: 24 Hours Later
After 24 hours passes, you want to remove some of the starter and add in fresh flour and water. This is called "feeding" your sourdough. Sourdough needs to be fed in order to grow, and 12 hour intervals are a good schedule.
I use a small kitchen scale to help me measure out the right portions. Before turning on your scale, place a container for your discarded starter and then turn on. I remove about 4oz of starter before each feeding and then replace it with about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 c of water.
Step 4: Care & Maintenance
Depending on how frequently you plan to use your sourdough starter will impact the frequency of care and maintenance.
If you're going to use the starter on a daily or a couple times a week, it might make more sense to keep the starter on the counter (out of the fridge) and giving it twice daily feeding. Maintaining your starter this way means it'll be ready to use whenever you need it.
To maintain your starter on the counter, stir and remove half of the starter in your container and replace it with 4oz of AP flour and 4oz of water. Mix well and cover. Repeat every 12 hours.
OR, if you are a more occasional baker, you can store the starter in the fridge and only need to feed it once a week. Whenever you are ready to use your refrigerated starter, remove it from the fridge and toss all but a cup of the starter. Fed the starter and let rest at room temperature, 12 hours or until it starts to become bubbly and active. Refrigerating starter causes it to slow down, so to make sure the starter is strong enough to bread rise, it has to be fed. You want to keep feeding the starter until you see it double in size (or more).
Whenever you do use your starter in a recipe, make sure to add enough flour and water during the final feeding to give you enough starter for your recipe and still have starter leftover to maintain your culture.
(i.e., if your recipe calls for 1 cup of starter, add 4oz flour and 4oz water. If you need a 1 1/2 cup, add 6 oz flour and 6oz water. When the starter bubbles and rises, it's ready to use and remove the amount you need. The starter that is leftover should be fed and left at room temp. for a few hours before returning to the fridge).
Step 5: A Note About Extra Starter
In the process of developing your sourdough starter, you remove part of the starter and replace it with fresh flour and water. But you don't have to throw out the starter you've removed. You can use it to make an additional batch of starter or put it in a recipe that doesn't require the rising power of starter, such as cakes, pizza dough, etc.