Those beautiful sourdough boules piled high at The Farmer’s Market may look and taste like a thing of beauty, but in reality, it’s the simple combination of flour, water, yeast and salt… and some time and care of course.
To make sourdough you need what’s called a starter, which we’ll explain fully below, but most of us aren’t blessed enough to be passed one down by past generations or baker pals. However, with a little patience, it’s really not that tricky to make your own from scratch at home.
So, What is a Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is how you cultivate the wild yeast (instead of the active-dry yeast often found in mass produced baked goods) which you can then use for actually baking sourdough breads, pastries and other treats. Yes, it can be fussier than throwing a packet of yeast into a bread maker, and needs to be constantly maintained, but we promise that the flavour and texture will be well worth the effort.
Before Getting Started, You’ll Need:
- A dark Rye or a good quality organic wheat flour
- All-purpose, unbleached white flour
- 2 large empty glass jars
A Couple Pointers Before we Get Started:
- Make sure to keep your jars covered, but not sealed, throughout the whole process - we recommend using a porous cloth – and make sure there’s enough space in the jar for the mixture to rise without spilling over too much!
- Be wary of temperature, as this can make a huge impact on the success of your starter. About 26c is a great temperature and will make the process a whole lot quicker. Try storing it in an empty oven with the light on (but the temperature turned off!).
Your Day by Day Guide:
After the week or so it takes you to create a stable sourdough culture, as long as you make sure to feed and maintain it, it can last forever! Unless you’re a super keen baker, keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week to keep things ticking over.
Pace your empty jar on the scale and set to 0g. Add 100 grams whole grain rye flour and 150 grams water into one of the clean jars and mix together. Water that’s high in chlorine can . impede fermentation, so it’s best to use filtered or distilled lukewarm water. Stir vigorously and keep the mixture somewhere warm without direct light (as mentioned above) for 24 hours.
You may have already see some fermentation going on in your jar… or you may not! Don’t panic whichever happens; a potential surge of activity is totally normal, and things should calm down by tomorrow. Place your second jar on the scale and again set to zero. Scoop in 75 grams of the mixture that has been resting for 24 hours and get rid of the rest. Add 50 grams rye flour, 50 grams all-purpose flour, and 125 grams water. Mix well, cover, and put it back in the same spot for another 24 hours.
Repeat exactly what you did on Day 2 with your new jar – simple!
Today, things are getting serious! On Day 4 of your sourdough project you’ll need to double up to get things moving: Hopefully, this morning you should see some signs of fermentation! Today, do exactly as you have done on the following two days, using exactly the same quantities, but this time cover and let it rest for 12 hours instead. After this time, repeat the process once again and let it rest overnight.
Day Five and Six
For the next two days, keep doing exactly as you did of Day 4, refreshing your starter (using the same flour and water ratio), twice a day.
Day Seven and Onward
On Day 7, this time you’ll need to scoop in 50 grams of the mixture from your jar and add 100g all-purpose flour and 100g water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let it rest for 12 hours. In the evening, refresh again with the same ratio of ingredients and let it rest until the next day.
Hopefully, by this time, the rising and falling of your starter should have become habitual and predictable. This is a great indictor that your starter is ready to be baked into its first loaf of bread! If your starter is struggling to get going, keep doing the above for several more days until things pick up. Starters can be extremely sensitive to temperature and other environmental factors, so can sometimes take a little longer to get into a pattern. Be patient and stick with it!
Ready to make you’re first loaf? Here’s a classic recipe to get started…
And if you’re looking for something to make something a little different with all the delicious sourdough you’ve been making, try our Sourdough French Toast recipe for a tasty breakfast treat…