Sourdough baking has ancient roots; the earliest loaf excavated in Switzerland dated back to 3700 BCE but it’s estimated that sourdough baking took place for thousands of years before that. Sourdough was first brought to North America by the French during the California Gold Rush and later came to Alaska and Western Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush. Miners would fiercely guard their starter in a pouch around their neck or on their belt because in the harsh conditions in which they worked, their starter could mean the difference between life and death.
Sourdough baking nowadays is much more about fun- you could even call it addictive. Nothing you can bake with store-bought yeast can compare to the rich flavor and fluffy, holey texture of a sourdough loaf. It might seem intimidating but don’t worry! You just need flour and a bit of patience and you’re mostly on your way.
Even if you don’t like bread or are overwhelmed thinking about making bread, relax. It has so many more uses- in fact, I use mine for bread the minority of the time! More often than not, I am making pizza dough for our family tradition of making pizzas on Sundays, or making the most delicious English muffins, or even using it in pancakes. I use it in just about anything that requires a leavening agent, not only for the great taste, but also because of its health benefits (such as increased digestibility, and a lower glycemic index).
I recently lost my starter due to a silly mistake (left the container open and went to France!) so I started from scratch a few days ago and will show you how to grow a gorgeous starter. I will also include plenty of recipes in future posts that you can use for your discard starter to get started sourdough baking right away!
-Whole wheat or rye flour
-Unchlorinated water (if you don’t have a good filter you can use bottled water or boil and cool some tap water)
- Start by mixing 4 oz. of the whole wheat or rye flour with 4 oz. of water in a non-reactive container such as glass or food-grade plastic. I like to use a large measuring bowl so I can measure the expansion. It’s better to measure by weight as precision makes a big difference, but if you don’t have a scale, you can use 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. We start with whole wheat or rye flour because they have a lot more yeast to get your starter going (yeast is good!), but it’s the last time we’ll use it. Cover and store in a fairly warm place in your kitchen, like the oven with the light turned on (just make sure no one turns on the oven!).
- After 24 hours, remove all but 4 oz. of your starter. Add 4 oz. of all-purpose flour and 4 oz. of water to your starter. Again, better to weigh, but if you can’t then use 1/2 cup starter, 1 cup flour, and 1/2 cup water. Cover and set back into a warm place.
- Repeat every 24 hours until you see it doubling in volume within 12 hours of being fed. There should be a lot of bubbling on the surface and sides. You can now do the water test- place a dollop of starter in a small bowl of water and if it floats, congratulations! Your starter is now ready to use. This should be after about 4-5 days.
- Store your starter in the refrigerator in a sealed container unless you want to use it right away. In that case, keep it in the same place and continue feeding it every 24 hours.
A few notes:
- If your starter has been in the refrigerator for a while, no worries! It’s a good practice to feed it every week or two just as you did when you made it, but you can just take it out and keep feeding it daily until it’s back to bubbling.
- If it’s been a while and you have a dark liquid on top of the starter, just stir it in. This is called “hooch” and it’s harmless.
- If it’s been a few days and you don’t see any signs of life, ensure that your water is unchlorinated and your starter is in a comfortable temperature (if it’s comfortable for you, it’s probably okay for the starter). I’ve had it take 2 weeks to finally be ready in the winter (I imagine due to less yeast in the air since my kitchen temperature wasn’t much different). Just keep going and it should be alright! Also keep it on the counter between feedings and look at it every once in a while- you may just be missing out on some of its activity if you’ve had it hidden!
I hope this was straightforward enough! Good luck and please let me know how it goes.