Leavening bread with sourdough is a very old and reliable technique.To make your own starter you don’t need any secret ingredients or a chemistry lab. All you need is flour, water, and some patience. That’s it. Believe me, it’s easy. It’s also cheap and once you’ve got your sourdough culture, you can keep it for years and make the most wonderful sourdough loaves.
To make your own sourdough starter, all you’ve got to do is mix flour and water, stir from time to time, feed the mixture every day, and be patient. After five days (sometimes it takes longer, depending on climate and other factors) you will have an active sourdough starter, also called mother culture or mother starter, which you can use for bread baking.
In this post, I’ll show you step by step how to make your own starter, how to use it, and how to maintain it.
To make the starter, I used a tall and narrow plastic container with a lid. Instead of a lid you can use a piece of plastic and a rubber band. Don’t cover the container too tightly, the starter needs some air.
My sourdough starter took me five days to make. You need to feed your starter every 24 hours, for example right before breakfast. I made my starter from rye flour, which is the standard flour used for sourdough in Germany. Dark rye flour works best here, but you can also use whole grain rye, whole wheat or all-purpose flour. Don’t use bread flour with additives (like malt), bleached flour or high protein flour.
Please do not (as in never ever!) add any yeast to the developing culture. Not at any point. The yeast will mess with the other microorganisms and kill your starter. Adding yeast is not a shortcut to a starter, it will just end in a disaster. So don’t do it, ‘mkay?
Sourdough starters need a warm environment. So it’s best to develop a new starter in summer or put the container, covered in a towel, on the heating. I developed mine in the kitchen, where the temperature was 22-24°C. Temperatures up to 30°C are ideal.
On the first day combine 50 g of flour and 100 g of water in a container.(If you’re not a friend of metric measurements, use 1/2 cup = 60 g flour and 1/2 cup = 120 g water) Stir until most lumps are gone. The mixture’s consistency will be very liquid, a batter not a dough. Let this sit and stir at least once (after 12 hours).
For the next 5 days or so, your schedule will look like this: 1. day: mixing and stirring after the first 12 hours; 2. day (after 24 hours): mix in more water and flour, stir after 12 hours. 3 day (after 48 hours): mix in more flour and water, stir after twelve hours, etc….
On the second day, after the first 24 hours, you may already be able to see some changes in your mixture. Mine had already started to ferment a bit and looked like this:
Feed the dough with another 50 g of flour and 100 g of water. Stir, cover and let sit for 12 hours. Stir the batter and cover again. At this time, my starter was getting a little bit more active:
On the third day, after 48 hours things started to get interesting. The starter smelled weird, which is normal. The batter had risen and bubbled quite a bit:
Feed the starter with 50 g of flour and 100 g of water and stir. At this point, the batter should be very active and start to rise a lot.
If you stir it, it might collapse, but that’s okay. Don’t forget to stir after 12 hours:
On the fourth day, after 70 hours, the starter still smelled weird. If you taste it at this point, you should be able to detect a slightly sour smell already.
At this time I had so much starter that I decided to discard a cup of it. You could also use it for pancakes or waffles. Then I added another 50 g of flour and 100 g of water. The mixture was bubbling and rising and did thrive really well. 12 hours later, right before stirring it looked like this:
You cans ee that the bubbles are smaller. The sour taste had increased and the batter had collapsed:
On the morning of the fifth day the miracle had happened. The wird smell had transform into a fresh and pleasant sour smell, almost like green apples. I knew the sourdough was ready because that’s exactly how my old starter smells. It tasted pretty sour, too. This is it, your very own home-made sourdough starter. That wasn’t too difficult was it?
Now you can bake with your starter for the first time. By now, you should have a lot of starter. For your bread, measure out 1 1/2 cups of starter.
Put the remaining starter in the fridge. That is your mother starter. If you don’t bake with it, the mother starter has to be kept in the fridge. You don’t feed it while it’s in the fridge. It’s best to use a glass jar with a lid (like a peanut butter jar). Keep the starter in the jar and put the lid on but don’t close it air tight. The starter will need some air. When it cools down in the fridge, the microorganisms will stop growing mostly but not fully. That’s why the starter needs some air.
If you want to use that starter for your next bread, take 1-2 tablespoons of the mother starter and mix it with the amount of flour and water your recipe calls for plus 1/4 more (You can discard the remaining old mother starter or make some pancakes).
My recipes usually call for 200 g starter, so I mix 125 g flour and 125 g water with those two tablespoons starter from the fridge. Let this mixture sit for about 16 hours to refresh the starter. In these 16 hours the mixture will be transformed into a fresh ripe and active starter, which you can use for your bread recipe. (You can find several sourdough bread recipes in the recipe index of this blog.)
But before you dump this fresh starter into the bread dough take away the extra 1/4 (= 50 g). These 50 g are your new mother starter, which you have to transfer to the fridge again, for future use. Again you will take some from the fridge, mix with flour and water to make a fresh starter and discard the remaining fridge starter.
I hope this was not too complicated and you are still with me.
Now back to your first bread. Remember your 1 1/2 cups of starter? To make your first bread you can use a very basic bread recipe. I use a standard bread recipe that calls for 500 g of flour, 300 g of water, 10 g salt. I figure out how much flour and water my starter consists of and how much additional flour and water I need to get to 500 g of flour and 300 g of water. My starter has two parts water and one part flour by weight.
1 1/2 cups starter (345 g) makes 230 g water and 115 g flour.
To make my first sourdough bread I need:
345 g starter
70 g water
345 g whole wheat flour
10 g salt
Mix everything and knead the dough very well, adding more water or flour if necessary. Shape the bread and transfer to a proofing basket or place in a loaf pan. Cover and et rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250°C (480°F). Transfer the bread to the oven and reduce heat to 200°C (400°F). Bake for ca. 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing.
Some additional bread baking tips: If you use a proofing basked, you will have to remove it from the basked and transfer it to a baking sheet. This baking sheet should be hot, so keep it in the oven while preheating. You can also use steam in your oven. This helps to make a nice crust. Pour a cup of boiling water on the bottom of the oven right before baking.