If you really want to feel like a real foodie, or maybe a mad scientist, or a magician try making your own sourdough starter. It’s just about the coolest thing I’ve done since we moved to unprocessed, real food.
What is a sourdough starter?
Sourdough is a method of naturally leavening or causing bread to rise without the use of commercial yeast, but instead through fermentation of the dough. Essentially a sourdough starter is an active colony of wild yeasts and bacteria. You start with just two ingredients, flour and water, and mix in a jar loosely covered. Wild yeasts feed on the simple sugars in flour. As they do this, they give off small amounts of ethanol, acetic acid and carbon dioxide. The ethanol and acetic acid produce a sour taste and smell and also keep the bread fresh, while the carbon dioxide puffs up breads and creates bubbles. Bacteria, specifically, lactobacilli, are also present. These bacteria create lactic acid, which serves as a natural antibiotic and keeps the bad bacterial growth out. This bacteria also neutralizes phytic acid and helps us absorb the nutrients found in the grain. Sourdough is said to make the grains more digestible and easy on the gut.
Sourdough is a traditional method to making bread products and many feel it is one of the healthiest ways to consume grains. In addition to not needing commercial yeast, and neutralizing phytic acid, sourdough is also naturally occurring, adds beneficial B vitamins, and breaks down gluten. Plus, in my opinion, it’s just fun! A sourdough starter is a little like having another pet around, which reminds me, my starter needs a name. Edna, perhaps?
Anyway, the sourdough starter is what “starts” your sourdough bread. It is a concentrated amount of these bacteria and yeasts in the flour and water that you add to your bread dough to leaven it . Once you establish a healthy sourdough starter, if properly cared for, can last hundreds of years and can be shared indefinitely with your friends. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Aww how sweet!
So how do you obtain a sourdough starter?
You have a couple of different options:
1. Get some starter from a friend. This would be the best option. If you have a friend that makes sourdough products, ask if you can have some of theirs. This will be the most frugal option, and the one that would grant you the most success since they already have a healthy sourdough starter.
2. Buy a sourdough starter online. Cultures for Health is one online retailer that carries several different varieties, even gluten free options. This would be your most expensive option.
3. Make your own. This method is not difficult, but there is a learning curve when starting your own sourdough.
Here’s how I made mine:
In a clean wide mouth glass jar, whisk together 1/4 c. flour (whole wheat, white, etc) and 3 T. water. Cover with a breathable material like a coffee filter or thin towel. You need air circulation, but covered so that debris and bugs can not get in. I like to secure with a rubber band like in the picture below. Keep the jar in a moderately warm spot in your home for 12 hours. I just keep mine on the kitchen counter. Speaking of counters, check out my awesome countertop! You know you’re jealous. If you want to know where you can get one just like it installed in your home, just shoot me an email. 😉
After twelve hours, add 1/2 cup more flour and 1/3 cup water. Whisk vigorously, scrape down sides, and cover again.
Repeat every twelve hours. You should begin to see activity and bubbles forming, as well as a pleasant sour smell.
You will know your starter is ready to use when it is doubling in size at some point after each feeding. This usually happens after three or four feedings.
If it’s not doubling, or if you see some liquid forming on the top (hooch), you may be using too much water and not enough flour. Just add more flour. In my experience, a thicker starter grows better.
Some like to throw out part of the starter because it keeps growing and gets too big. I like to use the throw away starter in one of the recipes below.
Now it’s time to bake with it. I always start out with things that don’t need much rise to it, since the starter is still young and not well established. It’s got to work it’s muscles a bit to work up to the big boy loaves of bread.
Some great baby starter recipes are:
So tell me, have you ever worked with sourdough? What was your experience?
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