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The Basics of Sourdough Starter

Annie MillerSourdough is a healthy alternative to store-bought bread. You know exactly what is going into your bread and you know how it is prepared. Sourdough ferments and grows by “catching” the wild bacteria from the air. I have never made two sourdough starters that yielded the same taste in every loaf. It is a variable as different as each new day. The longer the starter is used and the more sour it becomes, the more maximum health benefits you will obtain. That being said, I have discarded a starter and begun over when my children said it became too sour for them. They have enjoyed trying different sourdough recipes.

Sourdough starter must be kept in a warm place. During the Westward Expansion, the sourdough was guarded with care on the trail. “Cookie” kept the sourdough in his bedroll with him at night to keep it at a warm temperature. Otherwise there was no breakfast in the morning and you would have a miserable Cookie and an unhappy ranch crew!

Sourdough tastes best fresh. There are no preservatives in it and it does not keep much past a day. The daily ritual of making bread reminds me of the Bible verse, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I believe that this is one of the reasons it is better for us because it is a daily action that reminds us of our reliance on God to provide all our needs.

It takes approximately one week for your starter to be ready for use. On Day 1, begin your sourdough starter by obtaining a quart-size Mason jar. Wide mouth is best. Sanitize it well. Place 1 cup flour (I prefer King Arthur for quality) and 1 cup water in the bottom of the jar and stir well. I have found that a butter knife works well for this. Cover the jar with a paper coffee filter placed upside down over the mouth of the jar. Secure with a wide mouth-canning ring. This allows the starter to “catch” the bacteria while keeping out dust and other unwanted things, such as gnats!

Now, you must name your starter. It is tradition that all starters be named with a male name. I think that is because it must be fed each day and naming it gives your starter a personality to help you remember! I named mine Boaz.

On Days 2 through 6, feed your starter flour and water each day using a 1:1 ratio as a general rule. If you want less sourdough starter, 1/3 cup may work best for you: 1/3 cup water to 1/3 cup flour. If you have a large family, 1 cup flour to 1 cup water may be more appropriate for you.

This is a living bacteria, it is not an inanimate object. There is no exact science to this and experience is the key. Some days I use less water and more flour or vice versa. I don’t like the starter difficult to pour but I also don’t like it soupy. A happy medium texture is what I desire, so I adjust my measurements to the desired outcome.

You may also notice after your starter sits that it has acquired a brown liquid on top (sort of like with oil and water, the oil rises to the top or like milk and cream). This is called “hooch” and it is naturally occurring. Just stir it back into your starter, and proceed with the feeding.

Sourdough Hooch
Sourdough starter with “hooch”

Also, I have found that the climate where you live makes a difference. I must use distilled water in my new home whereas in my prior home just a few hours north, well water from the tap worked just fine.

On Day 7, you may use your starter. Each day forward, you will want to discard approximately 1 cup of the starter, feed it, and let it grow again for the next day. You may give your discard away to someone else or ultimately use it in recipes for the day … pancakes, flatbread, bread, cookies, cakes, etc. Find those recipes and use them! I have included some recipe links from the Internet for you below.

Photo: Fotolia/serenacar

You may consider taking 1 cup of your starter and freezing it. That way if something happens to your original starter, you can thaw it to room temperature and feed it to get it going again. If you know you won’t be able to bake for a couple of days, put your starter in the refrigerator. When you are ready to bake again, pull it out, feed it, let it grow for another day or so and you are back in business.

Your mason jar will get messy as the sourdough starter is poured out and used and fed….from time to time, pour your starter into an alternate jar previously cleaned and sanitized and wash the current one. Soak it in hot water and it will scrub clean.

Sourdough Cookies, Common Sense Homesteading

Sourdough Chocolate Cake, King Arthur Flour

Four No-Wait Sourdough Recipes, Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS

NOTE: I do not follow the recipe exactly for King Arthur Flour's Rustic Sourdough Bread. I do add 2 tablespoons olive oil – it adds a nice flavor. When the dough is the appropriate size, I use a sharp knife to divide it in half. I place it in my greased bread pans. I do NOT score it. When I first started making the bread I did do this, but it turned my beautiful risen dough into a flat lump that did not rise during baking. I was afraid if I didn’t that it would expand and burst and make a mess in my oven! My husband convinced me that it wouldn’t and he was right. (But don’t tell him I said that. LOL!) Also, I don’t always use just white flour … sometimes I do 2 cups of white, 2 cups of bread flour, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Or I do 3 cups white, 2 cups bread, etc., etc. I have a friend who has also added flax meal into hers and said it was really good that way, too.

After I make Sourdough Pizza Crust (a recipe from King Arthur Flour), my children told me never to make any other pizza crust again … they loved it! I don’t keep my sourdough starter in the fridge so mine was room temperature and I did not use the optional Pizza Dough Flavor.

Photo: Fotolia/Mi. Ti.