Want to make a sourdough starter, but intimidated by how complicated it is? I hear you! This is why I am here to share with you this simple guide to sourdough.
As simple as this method of doing sourdough is, bread making is a skill so it will take time, effort, patience, and a few fails a long the way. Don’t be discouraged though! I know you have the pioneer spirit in you to stick with it all the way. Soon you won’t need to buy store bought bread products because you will be making things like…
- A Sandwich Loaf
- Pizza Dough
- And More!
Are you ready to get started? Here is what you need to know!
Does it Matter What Type of Water I Use?
Yes, filtered water will give you the best results because tap water has chemicals added to clean the water that can hamper the growth of the yeast or good bacteria. I tried using regular tap water and my sourdough starter got really sluggish.
Does it Matter What Kind of Flour I Use?
Organic flour is the best, but as long as you use unbleached and unenriched flour you will have a thriving bubbly starter. Again, I have unfortunately used cheap and low quality flour to feed my starter and make bread with, but it got sluggish and not very active.
If you are branching out from a gluten free diet or other food intolerances into the world of sourdough, organic flour is the way for you. Because the flour is organic, that means the berries were not sprayed with pesticides and therefore will be easier for you to digest.
Arrowhead is the best organic brand with King Arthur as the best non organic but unbleached and unenriched brand. They are usually both available at your local Walmart.
What tools do I need?
- Wooden spoon
- Glass, plastic, or wooden bowl (anything but metal)
- cloth or something to cover the starter or dough to keep out dust and bugs
- Scale – This is my preferred method of baking because it cuts down on the dishes and I very much dislike cleaning sourdough starter out of measuring cups.
You may have heard the controversy of whether or not metal kills sourdough yeast. From my experience, when sourdough (a starter or dough) comes in contact with metal either with a spoon or bread pan, it makes the yeast lethargic and it will not rise. It will not kill the yeast so if you accidentally stir your starter with a metal spoon, just feed it and watch it. It should survive.
I have seen other people use their stainless steel stand mixer bowl without it hampering the sourdough. They also had a very mature starter though, like 10 years old. Perhaps, the more mature it is the less it reacts with metal, but from my experience with my “young” starter, metal makes it lethargic.
If your dough does not rise from reacting with metal, don’t throw it out. It may not make a good loaf of bread, but it will make a good pizza dough.
How to Make a Sourdough Starter
- Place 100g (1/2 Cup) of whole milk in a glass jar. Cover it with a towel and place it in a warm place for 24 hours.
- Add 100g (1/2 Cup) of flour and stir with a wooden spoon.
- Cover and place it in a warm place for a week.
- Stir the starter once or twice a day during the week, making sure the starter stays covered and is in a warm place.
- After at least a week or so, it should be nice and bubbly. This means the yeast has matured and is ready to use.
Bubbles sometimes form after a day or so, but you want a good strong starter that is mature. Wait at least a week before using for best results even if it bubbles early on.
How do I keep my starter warm?
In the winter months, it can be difficult for the wild yeast to thrive. Set your starter in warm places like the…
- Stovetop while baking or cooking
- A window with full sun
- The dryer while it is running
- In the oven with the light on
- Under a heating vent
- Next to a heater
This will help the yeast flourish!
How often Should I Feed my Sourdough Starter?
When making a sourdough starter from scratch, you do not need to feed your starter. Simply stir it once a day or so to aerate it. The yeast will grow and mature even without feedings.
When you are ready to bake, feed you starter about 4-12 hours before you want to mix your dough up. Although the starter doesn’t need feedings to mature, it does need to be fed when you are ready to make something in order to have enough to make your recipe.
How do I Feed my Sourdough Starter?
- Add about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of flour to your starter and mix it in.
- Add water a little bit at a time while stirring until your starter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Don’t worry if there are clumps. You can let it rest and come back to stir it later. The yeast will start breaking down the clumps so you don’t have to.
If you are not sure if the starter is the consistency of pancake batter, just make sure to err on the side of a thicker consistency rather a thinner one. If you need to, add a little more flour. If there is too much water, the starter tends to separate and get lethargic, but it seems to do fine if it is thicker.
If you need a lot of starter, you can always add more flour and water.
If you happen to use all the starter in a recipe, don’t worry that you’ll have to start over. As long as there is a little bit left in the jar, even a tablespoon or some such to the side, just feed it. It doesn’t take a lot to survive.
What is Sourdough Discard?
From the best of my knowledge and experience, sourdough discard is when your starter has peaked, is starting to wane and be less bubbly. It usually is less active and therefore will not make bread rise as well. It is still nutritious and can be used in recipes that do not need a rising agent like tortillas.
It’s hard to give an answer saying at what point in the feeding process this happens. There are so many variables like temperature, altitude, and probably humidity, too that will affect how fast your starter grows, peaks, and then starts getting a little sluggish.
I personally never have any discard because I simply stir my starter to aerate it, or feed it again before using it if it is too sluggish. This is one aspect of sourdough that comes with experience.
How to Stretch and Fold
This is an alternative to kneading the dough by hand or with a mixer and can be used for any recipe including a sandwich loaf or pizza dough, not just the actual sourdough loaf recipe.
- After your dough comes together and no loose flour is visible, let the dough rest covered up for 30 minutes. Make sure you set a timer so you won’t forget about it.
- After 30 minutes, hold the bowl with your left hand while grabbing the edge of the dough at the top of the bowl with your right hand. Stretch it up and fold or drop it over into the middle of the dough.
- Turn the bowl 90 degrees and stretch and fold.
- Continue turning the bowl and doing a stretch and a fold until you have made a complete circle. This will add up to four stretches and folds. This is one set of stretch and folds.
- Do two more complete sets of stretch and folds with a resting period of 30 minutes in between. This adds up to three sets.
- Leave the dough to ferment at least 8-12 hours. You can go longer.
There are so many voices out there on how you should do sourdough and make a starter. They all probably work because there are many ways to do something. Some are very complicated, but just know that no matter which method you choose, sourdough is a skill and will take time and experience to master.
I hope that you found this guide valuable and are encouraged that sourdough does not have to be complicated. It has been so good for me to find a simpler and more practical way of making bread for my family.
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