Prep Time: A few days
Cook Time: 1 day
Sourdough bread making seems to be something of a prestigious club, the members of which are practiced bakers who are so skilled at the art that they make it look effortless. Though I’d love to think of myself as apart of this club, I’m more of a bread newcomer with not enough patience and understanding to make much of anything other than a mess. Despite this, a few years ago I decided I would jump right into the deep end of bread making and start with Sourdough, arguably the most tedious and labor intensive but delicious.
Making your own sourdough starter, though time consuming and often technical, is the most rewarding. It is your own natural leavening agent that you can reuse again and again. This is round two of starters for me; the first was quite successful but may very well have been nothing but beginners luck, so fingers crossed that I’m really am a natural!
To make your own starter here’s what you’ll need:
• A jar
• Rye flour (or whole wheat)
• All purpose flour
• Pineapple juice (orange works too)
• Apple cider vinegar
• Patience (lots of this)
Day 1: I’ve emptied out my old coffee jar and cleaned it all up to be my new sourdough jar. I’ve found the best containers for making your own starter are crummy old ones that seal well enough but still let in a bit of air. I bought this one for $2 at Ikea years ago, but an old jar from pasta sauce or whatever else works great too. This is a new sourdough starter recipe to me but after reading a few others and trying to understand chemistry a little (which I failed to ever take in school) I’ve concluded that keeping your starter on the acidic side is for its benefit, hence the pineapple juice. I’ve only ever tried making starters from rye flour and water; the acidity I’ve assumed has always been cultured on its own. This recipe calls for rye flour and pineapple juice. I’m not fully following any one recipe here, just sort of going off a few different ones and what I’ve found has worked in the past. Add 1 cup of rye flour and 1 cup of pineapple juice to your jar and mix until it looks like a gooey mess. A can of crushed pineapple works fine, just strain the juice out, but make sure it’s at room temperature before you start. It’s important to note what time of day works best for you to add to your starter as they like routine and will need to be tended to on a daily basis. Next, find somewhere that stays at a constant warm room temperature to let your starter live for the next few days. I chose near the fireplace which is almost always going here, but on top of the fridge is often warm enough or underneath a reading lamp (remember you’ll have to leave it on all the time.) Regardless of where you choose, just make sure your starter’s temperature will stay consistent the entire time. Use a rubber band on the outside of your starter’s jar to mark its growth progress, which you’ll be able to observe in the next few days.
Day 2: You probably won’t notice much change in your starter today, but don’t panic, it’s still early. There often isn’t much activity until the third or fourth day. Add 1 cup of regular flour and half a cup of pineapple juice, mix and remark your elastic band to track its progress. Leave again for another 24 hours.
Day 3: It’s alive! This is where you may start to see something yeasty happening. Today your starter should have some bubbles and should have nearly doubled in size. Regardless of activity, discard half of your starter (or give it away to a friend to cultivate) and add 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water. Like the pineapple juice, make sure your water is at room temperature so you don’t shock your starter with a shot of cold. Cover again, remark your elastic band and let sit for another 24 hours.
Day 4: Your starter should have doubled in size today. Add 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water cover and let sit 24 hour. If your starter hasn’t doubled in size, or at least come close, repeat day 3 again (discarding half and adding flour and water.) Sometimes the starter isn’t working because it’s not acidic enough. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to get it going.
Day 5: Feeding your starter. Repeat day 3 earlier in the morning and again 12 hours later. Ultimately feeding your starter twice today. It should be nice and bubbly all the time, but if it goes a little flat it’s nothing to worry about.
Day 6: If your starter today seems very active and has again doubled in size (it’s not uncommon for them to fill the entire jar) this means your starter is ready to use, time to get baking! Hooray!
If you’re not keen on baking just yet, you can also refrigerate your starter and feed just once a week. A regular feeding is 1 cup of flour and ½ cup of water. Whenever you’re not using your starter it should be stored in the refrigerator and tended to once a week (this will keep it active.) When you plan to make bread, take your starter out the day before, feed it and let it warm up. After you’ve used some of your starter it is important to re-feed and refrigerate. If your starter on day 6 hasn’t doubled in size continue to repeat day 3 until you see more activity.
Sourdough bread has been around for years and the starters just as long. You can continue to use the same starter if you remember to discard and feed it once a week to keep it active. If you don’t, your starter will produce what’s called hooch (yes, just like the alcohol.) Usually weekly feedings will discourage the hooch, but if you do end up with some it can simply be drained off and used as a reminded to tend to your starter more often.
One of the best things about sourdough starter (other than delicious bread) is that you can pass it on to others. By spreading some of your own starter thinly on a piece of parchment paper, you can dry it in the oven, crumble it up and mail to a friend to be reconstituted. Seriously, I’ve tried and it’s amazing! So get fermenting and discover the joy of homemade bread!
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.