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Starting Your Sourdough Starter
I recently got into sourdough bread making, so I wanted to give you a few tips on how to get started.
All you need to make your sourdough is:
- A bag of wheat flour
- Lukewarm water, 90-100°F
- A glass container, either very tall or very wide
It will take at least five days to get a proper sourdough starter going. The more your sourdough starter ages, the better it will taste in your baking.
For the first five days:
- Add a 1/2 cup of wheat flour and a 1/4 cup of lukewarm water together. Stir it together for 2 minutes.
- Cover the mixture with a towel. Let sit for 24 hours.
- The next day: add another 1/2 cup of wheat flour and a 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Cover it. Repeat the process tomorrow.
- I advise starting this process on Monday then by Saturday you can make your first baked good.
Your sourdough starter will likely smell bad by day 4. Don't put your nose up to it and take a big sniff. The smell will eventually get better, or you will get used to it. Try adding some pineapple juice into the mix if the smell is really getting to you.
Don't use a metal container for your sourdough. The acidity of the starter will attack the bowl, and it will ruin the flavor and texture.
Store your sourdough starter in a place that is draft fee. I place mine in the oven: make sure other people in your household know it is there. It will become normal to check the oven before using it.
After the first week, you can store the sourdough in the fridge, which will slow down the growing process. This means you won't have to feed it as often.
When Should I Feed It?
You should feed your sourdough mixer daily for the first week or so. Every 24 hours. When you feel you have a good understanding of your starter, you can relax a little. Feed it every other day, or twice a week. (I recommend daily or every other day.)
To feed your starter add 1/2 cup of wheat flour and 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Make sure to completely mix it. If you want your starter to have a softer texture, add more water: 1/2 cup of wheat + 1/2 cup of water. If you want your starter thicker, add more wheat.
Hint: if your starter isn't bubbly, you can add more feedings. Try twice a day.
Do I Need to Discard Portions of the Starter Often?
No. Throwing away starter isn't the most economical option. You should first consider getting a larger bowl. You should be using your sourdough often enough that your starter isn't getting too big. There are also discard recipes you can find online.
Try to slow down on feeding it. Also, put it in the fridge where it will slow down the growth process. It will harden it, but you'll only have to feed it once a week.
- Look for recipes that call for a large amount of starter.
- Consider selling portions of your starter to your neighbors. They may want to try baking with sourdough, but they don't want to spend time making a starter.
Best Mixing Practices
When you feed the starter, you want to spend about 2-5 minutes making sure everything blends together. I prefer to use a whisker and do it by hand. I find using a spoon makes it way too easy to accidentally flick out flour and get it everywhere, to my husband's annoyance.
I push the whisker slowly into the starter. As things begin to meld, I move it around more. I use a knife to get the starter off the whisker. When done mixing, it is important to clean off all the starter from your utensils immediately. Dried sourdough is hard to get off objects. My dishwasher tends to cook the starter onto the utensils, making it even hard to get rid of all the residue.
Has My Starter Gone Bad?
Most likely, no. If you left it out uncovered for weeks at room temperature, then yes, you probably destroyed it. Sourdough starters are fairly resistant.
Some signs that something went array:
- Unusual colors: pink, yellow, and orange. The sourdough starter color should be in the brown family. Not a color of the rainbow.
- If the smell is extreme, like moldy meat, then it has decayed. I would look for other signs before declaring the starter dead because knowing by smell can be tricky.
- Is fuzzy mold growing on it?
- Did you ignore it for too long in the fridge? It can go bad that way.
- If it has dark liquid on top: it's not dead. It's just hungry. Feed it!
Remember: you can start the process over simply with wheat flour and water. Of course, a longer lasting sourdough has matured and tends to have a better taste.
It's not the biggest deal if you have to start over with a new starter. Just remember: the first five feedings should be with wheat flour, not other types.
My first book that I used to begin a sourdough starter was: Starter Sourdough: The Step by Step Guide to Sourdough Starters. It was given to me as a wedding present. The author is Carroll Pellegrinelli.
I recommend buying a book or two at first and experimenting from there. This way you have a nice collection you can rely upon. These books often have tips that can help sharpen your skills.
I use recipes online too. I save the ones I really like. The problem with electronic recipes is that baking is messy, and you don't want to ruin your phone or computer with your flour encrusted hands.
What Should I Make First?
I recommend a bread recipe for your first bake. One with a low amount of ingredients, especially if this is your first time ever to make bread, sourdough or otherwise.
Follow the directions carefully. You may have to add more flour or water if your dough isn't coming together. If your dough is turning into crumbs: you need more water. If your dough is really sticky: add more flour.
I find in winter when things are dry, I need more water for my dough. It's okay to keep adding flour and water until you get the right consistency.
With baking sourdough, there is one important ingredient you can't neglect: time. These recipes can take several hours and even multiple days. It's a good idea to plan ahead rather than spontaneously decide you're going to bake with sourdough.
Consider the timing carefully. You don't want to be up at 4:00am trying to proof a loaf. Read the whole recipe first for time cues. Sometimes those time prep indicators at the start of a recipe lie. Also, unless you are a professional, it will likely take you longer than what it says.
When you get a little more confident after trying bread a few times, then you should experiment with other baked goods.
- Try naan. Your family will enjoy an Indian food night. Naan also freezes well.
- Bagels are one of the more fun sourdough recipes. Also, you'll impress people with your savvy kitchen skills.
- Hamburger buns. The first time I tried this, it was imperfect. You want fluffy sourdough starter, not thick.
- Pretzels. There are discard recipes specifically for pretzels. If you're in a jam and need to get rid of your starter fast, make pretzels.
- Waffles. Breakfast is often people's favorite meal of the day. Waffles go great with fruit and syrup. Also, maple goes really well with sourdough.
- Be adventurous, try sourdough cake. A coffee cake will have a delightful flavor.
- Donuts. They'll melt in your mouth.
The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread
The lactic acid produced in the starter process will give the bread a more sour, earthy taste. Sourdough bread is made by fermentation of dough and naturally occurring lactobacilli / yeast.
It has a low glycemic index compared with other breads. The enzymes during fermentation affect the absorption of dietary minerals.
The fermentation process reduces wheat that may contribute to non-celiac wheat sensitivity. Another big plus: there is less chance for irritable bowel syndrome when eating sourdough bread compared to white bread.
Sourdough is an excellent source of antioxidants. The peptides found in the bread can lower the risk for some cancers, signs of aging, and diseases like arthritis. That's according to webmd.
- Sourdough is rich in nutrients that the body can easily absorb. It doesn't rely on preservatives, which is always a good thing.
- Potassium aids in the function of your cells. It helps regulate your heartbeat, helps your nerves, and muscles function properly.
- Antioxidants protect your cells from damage. It can help prevent serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.
- Eating sourdough can help you keep your blood sugar levels stable.
- Your insulin levels will not spike as high when eating a slice of sourdough bread compared to white bread.
- The fiber in the bread feeds the good bacteria in your intestines.
Moral of the story: sourdough bread actually nourishes your body. It's natural, it's easy to create at home, and it'll impress your friends and neighbors. Sourdough baking is versatile and can protect you from serious diseases.
© 2021 Andrea Lawrence