My husband adores sourdough bread. I’m a pretty big fan myself. I bet you are too. In a perfect world there is always a fresh baked loaf of sourdough, right out of the bakery oven, on hand and ready to make paninis, subs, french toast, or just to tear off a hunk and slather with butter.
Lucky for both my husband, and you (because I’m totally going to share the knowledge here!) I’ve been in the mood to bake bread. I’ve mastered the perfect Italian loaf and discovered how to pull off that gorgeous artisanal crisp and brown crust at home, in my own oven. No professional bakery needed! Now I’ve moved on to sourdough. (Score!) I’ve practiced the plain loaf, sandwich bread, adding fillings and seasonings… but, no matter what you do to it, it all comes back to the starter.
Ah, the starter. We’ve all heard stories of starters that have made their way across the ocean from Italy, from a sweet little old grandmother’s kitchen. It might even be 50 or 100 years old. Of course, it produces the most amazing sourdough in existence.
Don’t get intimidated or give up on homemade sourdough because of the ‘starter stories’. Contrary to what the myths might have you believe, a sourdough starter is incredibly easy to start at home; and will yield fabulous bread. All you need is a little flour, water, and time. A starter is nothing more then a way to attract wild yeast from the air so we can bake with it. There are wild yeast everywhere; and your wild yeast is as good as the yeast anywhere else. Nothing at all from Italy is required to make a successful starter… So get started.
Here is the five day process to get you going:
In a glass bowl, measuring cup or other container mix (using a fork):
- 1/4 cup of all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup of whole wheat flower
- 1/2 cup of lukewarm water
This mixture will resemble a sticky dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm location to begin attracting wild yeast.
Each day, two through four, add the following to your glass container and mix well:
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
Re-cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm location to continue attracting yeast. On day 2-3 you will start to see bubbles in the dough mixture. Thats the yeast! At this point the starter will smell yeasty and a little sour. On days 3-4 the starter will have a significant increase in bubbles and smell distinctly sour. The starter will will gradually get looser each day before feeding but, still resemble dough after the flour and water for the day are added.
- Your starter should be about the constancy of thicker pancake batter and have plenty of bubbles, perhaps even some foam. There will be a distinctly sour smell. If you choose to taste it, it will be vinegary and sour.
- Remove half the mixture in your glass container and use for baking (or discard, or use to start a second starter) about two cups. If you do not intend to maintain your starter past the five day mark feel free to bake with the entire container of starter.
- Now you have to decide if you will be using yours starter in the near future or want to put it away for a while. If you want to use it in the near future keep it out in your warm location. Each day you keep it out, continue to remove about half the starter and feed it the 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.
- If you won’t be using the starter for a while cover it tightly and place it in the back of the fridge. Once a week you will need to pull the starter out, remove half of the starter and feed it the 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour. You can either to bake with or discard the portion of the starter that gets removed. Leave the starter out overnight after it’s feeding in a warm location to allow the yeast to be active for a while. (The cold makes the yeast go dormant.) You can maintain a starter like this indefinitely.
- If you need to leave the starter for a longer period feed it 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water, cover and refrigerate. Your starter will resemble dough at this point rather then pancake batter. When you take the starter back out continue feeding it in normal proportions. When it’s nice and bubbly again, it’s ready for baking.
Things to watch for:
- If your starter ever smells spoiled, or you see signs of mold discard it and start over!
- Your starter may appear too runny, and have a thin layer of liquid on top. This may occur if you forget to feed the starter. This is ok, you just need to add extra flour, try adding an extra 1/4 cup at a time to restore the ratio between flour an liquid, you want the starter to return to that dough like consistency.
- If you don’t see bubbles from yeast after several days; you may have the starter somewhere that is too cold. Try moving it somewhere warmer. If that does’t help you can either start over, or add a 1/4 teaspoon of commercial yeast to jump-start the wild yeast. If you don’t have bubbles at this point definitely start over.
BTW- I should mention that should you choose to maintain your starter past the five day mark, it will gradually develop a better and more pronounced ‘sour’ flavor. Perhaps thats where the stores of 100 year old starters come from. Starter age definitely does affect flavor.
FYI A great sourdough recipe for using up that starter coming Friday!