I would like to give you as much useful and practical information as I can about making your own sourdough starter, but I’m afraid that the more I share, the more complicated an otherwise simple process will become.
Before we get into the process and steps, why even bother?
Other than pleasure and joy of making 100% natural and delicious homemade bread, the slow fermentation process breaks down the hard-to-digest proteins and enzymes found in wheat. That’s why many people that are normally sensitive to gluten, have an easier time digesting sourdough bread.
What is a sourdough starter?
Also known as culture or levain, it is naturally fermenting mixture of flour and water…that’s it. A hundred years ago, before baker’s yeast, both fresh and dry, ever existed, all breads were made using a natural leavening process. The culture adds a sour flavor to breads that many people love. But not all naturally leavened breads have this flavor, it can be increased or decreased by the amount of starter used or the amount of time the bread is stored before baking. For example, even if you made a bread dough using dry yeast, by storing it in the fridge for a week, it will start to develop a sour flavor.
How do you make it?
Over the course of 5-6 days all you need to do is add equal amounts of flour and water into a large jar or plastic container with a lid. During those days you will see it coming alive as bubbles will start to appear and the mixture will rise. The process is so simple that it makes it more difficult to explain…okay I probably confused you even more. Here’s a day by day process and you will need a scale for sure! Plus a jar or plastic container with a lid and a silicone spatula is best for stirring.
Day 1: Mix 25g flour with 25g water, cover with lid but do not close it tightly. Keep at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 2: Repeat above adding to the existing starter and mix.
Day 3: Repeat above
Day 4: Repeat above
Day 5: Repeat above
Day 6: By this day your mixture should be bubbly and lively which will indicate that it’s ready. Another indication is that it will have a slight alcoholic smell. If not just repeat the process above.
At this stage, you will have more starter than you need, and it’s a good idea to discard and keep about 50g or even less. You can use the discard to make Sourdough Oat & Seed Bread or look for starter discard recipes on the internet.
Now you can store the starter in the fridge tightly closed, making sure to use it at least once every 2 weeks. Before use, feed it with the amount needed for the recipe. For example, if the recipe calls for 50g starter, then feed it with 25g flour and 25g water. Make sure to continue using the same flour you used initially to create the stater. This is only for feeding the starter; when making bread dough you can use different flours.
What type of flour?
I use rye flour, it’s very stable, gives good results, and allows the flexibility of making a 100% rye bread if you wish. However, any flour can be used so long as it’s unbleached.
What about the water?
It’s best to use filtered water to ensure that there is no chlorine. If you know your tap water is clean then just go ahead and use it. It’s best for the water to be at room temperature and remain consistent throughout the process.
How is it maintained?
As a general rule, only store the amount of starter that you expect to use in a week, or even less. Try your best to feed it and use it once a week or at least every two weeks. If you forget to feed it for 2 weeks, don’t worry, it might just take longer to “wake up” and may need to be fed more than once to come back to life.
What about throwing out excess starter?
You don’t need to throw out any excess.
However the more you feed it and more alive it is the better the result. The heathier the starter, the better the bread. But in my opinion, the “better” result is not worth it. With an active starter, that may not be at its maximum fermentation capacity, you will still get a decent homemade bread that beats anything store-bought…unless it was made at Crumbs of course. The excess can be used to make pancakes, banana bread or my Sourdough Oat & Seed bread. As mentioned above if you only keep a small amount of starter, or feed it with the exact amount you need for your recipe, you won’t have an excess to discard. Also if you use it on a regular basis you won’t need to feed it just to maintain it, again avoiding discarding.
How can we substitute it in yeasted bread or a favorite recipe?
Since sourdough starters are half water and half flour, you need to decrease the amount of flour and water in a recipe by the same amount you will use. How much to use however is very difficult to determine without knowing the recipe you would like to adapt and how long you plan to let it rise and ferment. The longer the rise, the less starter you will need. I would go with about 10% starter to the amount of flour used in the recipe, reducing the amount of water by the same amount. For example, if a recipe called for 500g flour and 350g water, I would use 50g starter and reduce the flour to 475g and the water to 325g.
As mentioned at the beginning, I want to keep it as simple as possible. From going to classes, reading and more importantly experimenting and baking, you will learn so much more, and a lot of what you know in theory will start to make more sense.
And here’s a simple flatbread recipe to get you started. It’s very simple to make and just requires a few ingredients. You just need to plan in advance since a resting time of 12 hours is recommended.
a simple flatbread recipe to get you started. It’s very simple to make and just requires a few ingredients. You just need to plan in advance since a resting time of 12 hours is recommended.
Recipe from Bread Ahead Baking School Book
200g wholemeal flour or Spelt Flour
150g cold water
4g fine sea salt
Lightly grease your bowl with the olive oil, then place the flour, water, salt and starter inside and mix together (as per the book and even in class the dough should be very loose/wet, but for sometimes it’s like a normal dough, depends on the type of flour used).
Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Give your dough a fold by bringing one side of the dough up and over the other side.
Cover, place in the fridge and leave for 8-24 hours.
Preheat it to 250°C/500°F or as hot as your oven will go.
Flour your work surface. The wetter the dough the more flour you will need.
Take your dough out of the bowl and divide it into two equal pieces.
Pull each piece out to form a rectangle or circle as you wish, if though is on the dry side then roll it out using a rolling pin. If it’s loose and soft then place straight into a baking tray and spread out to form a medium sized flatbread.
Top with your choice of toppings such as zaater mixed with olive oil, different seeds, dukkah or leave it plain to have with a dip.
Bake for 5-10 minutes, the time will depend on how thick you rolled the dough. Then take out of the oven and serve.