How to Make A Sourdough Starter

We’re quite big fans of sourdough chez Kungfoodie, so I finally decided to pull me finger out and do something about it. What should have taken a couple of weeks has taken a fair bit longer than I’d thought. Getting a sourdough starter going is simple, you just have to mix up some water and flour. Using it to produce tasty loaves is not, as starters vary tremendously. There aren’t any photos because starters aren’t sexy things and I don’t want to put you off, besides the two links to Azalea’s kitchen below have far better photos than I’d ever take.

This is the short version of how this works. For a much more comprehensive info on how sourdough starters work, take a look at Azalea’s kitchen. She’s got no less than two pieces on this with photos. There’s Part I , and Part II. Go read them, they’re chock full of really useful information on how to get this going. Now, Azelia is also the only person I know who has been able to make a sourdough starter actually look appealing.

If you’re itching to get going, here is the short version.

Yer basic Sourdough Starter

To begin with you’ll need about:
1 cup of flour (any sort of flour will do)
1.5 – 2 cups of water (I just happen to use this ratio because that’s what my starter likes)

Just mix it up, cover and wait. How long you wait before you see signs that it’s alive depends on a lot of factors:
The sort of flour you used – I’ve had fermentation start using white, wholemeal, brown, rye and spelt. Typically I use wholemeal as that gets going quicker.. but..
The sort of wild yeast in your kitchen – Some are more vigorous than others. The yeast I have in mine is rather lazy, and takes a long time to get going.
How warm your kitchen is – Warmer kitchens will get them going quicker, but that doesn’t mean to say that you won’t get anything if your kitchen is cold.
The thing to do is to be patient. If you see nothing for a couple of days, just keep waiting and checking to see how it’s going.

When the fermentation gets going you’ll see it start to bubble a little. You might think that photos would help here, but actually the best thing to use is your nose. All the starters I’ve made have looked different as they mature (that might be a function of incompetence), but all of them have followed the same pattern of smelling a little acrid, vinegary as they start, and then mellowing as they mature. If it smells a little bad when the fermentation starts that’s fine.

Feeding

A good starter is like a pet. You have to feed it or it’ll die. Every day after it starts to fizzle to life, pour out half of it, and pour in 1 cup of flour and 1.5-2 cups of water. Give it a good whisk to get air into it. That’s all you really have to do.

If you feed it diligently you’ll notice that the original acrid odour will start to give way to something much more pleasant. My starter, affectionately named “The Bitch” after Adam last-name-unknown’s creation smells of beery blueberries. What you might eventually end up with is anyone’s guess, it really depends on the wild yeast in your kitchen. It could smell of almost anything, I remember someone mentioning that his starter smelled of Stella.

After about a week, two weeks if your yeast is your starter should be showing signs of vigorous life. It’s at this point that it’s ready to use.

What Didn’t Work

What I say here’s all what I’ve found from experimentation and trial and error. Conditions in my kitchen might make so that some of these things aren’t possible, I’ve not looked into the microbiology enough to tell.

I’ve read quite a bit of literature on the subject of how to store your starter, and there are things that people swear by, like being able to keep your starter in the fridge for a week. My take on it is.. it depends. Wild yeast can vary tremendously. The Bitch doesn’t like being refridgerated, and god knows how many times I’ve taken her out of the fridge, at death’s door and had to cajole her back to health. That trick about adding extra flour until you get the consistency of double cream and then not having to feed your starter for a week? Didn’t work. She died after three days.

What sort of worked was freezing. The Bitch doesn’t mind being frozen, but when you thaw her out you have to feed her very quickly, as she appears to be hungry after a spell in suspended animation and if she doesn’t get fed, she’ll die.

The best advice I can give if you’re starting out is to experiment. Expect to get it wrong several times before you get it right. Just like every pet is different, every starter will be different, and you have to spend some time getting to know them. What might have worked for someone isn’t necessarily going to work for you.

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