Fermentation processes can be overwhelmingly scientific and may seem daunting to try to create at home. However, According to Living Bread, there nothing complicated about growing a sourdough starter/culture:

When flour is mixed with water and allowed to stand, wild yeast in the flour and in the air will feed on the grain’s simple sugars, producing carbon dioxide gas that is trapped in the dough’s viscoelastic structure [a structure that is both viscus, or thick, and also has elastic properties] and causes the moisture to bubble and rise (Leader, 173).

In other words, to make a sourdough culture, simply mix together water and flour, then wait for wild yeast naturally occurring in the air to cause a reaction. With a little patience, you can create your own starter. Use it to make loaves of bread and countless other baked goods in as little as one week!

Sourdough Culture Recipe
(Total Time: 5-7 days Active Time: 5-10 minutes per day)

Ingredients

Day 1

  • 113g whole wheat flour
  • 113g water

Days 2+ (Feedings)

  • 113 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 113 grams lukewarm water

Directions

Day 1

1. Combine whole wheat flour and water in a quart-sized food-safe, non-reactive container, such as glass or food-safe plastic, ensuring the flour and water are fully mixed. Avoid using a metal container to store the culture, because acidity released from the starter may corrode metal containers. Similarly, it is best to mix the starter with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. In a pinch, however, a metal utensil can be used to combine the culture.

2. Mark the level of the starter with a rubber band. This will be helpful throughout the starter process, as it will make it easier to see activity levels within in culture.

3. Loosely place lid on container and store in a warm area for 24 hours. Make sure the lid is not on too tightly or gas will not be able to escape.

Day 2

On day 2, you may notice some bubbling. This is a good sign!

Directions

  1. Discard all but 113g of starter.
  2. Add 113 grams water to the culture and stir. Add 113 grams of flour, and stir until combined thoroughly.
  3. Loosely cover and store in a warm place, 24 hours.

Days 3-5

By day 3, there should be visible bubbles. Your culture may begin to smell fruity.

Beginning today, the starter should be fed twice daily, about 12 hours apart. During each feeding:

Directions

  1. Discard all but 113g of starter
  2. Add 113grams of water to the culture and stir. Add 113 grams of flour, and stir until combined thoroughly.
  3. Loosely cover and store in a warm place, 12 hours.

Day 5+

By the end of day 5+, you should notice a great deal of activity with your culture. Your starter should be doubling in volume within 4-8 hours of feeding. There should be many bubbles in the starter, and the starter should smell tangy but pleasant.

Directions

  1. Discard all but 113g starter
  2. Add 113grams of water to the culture and stir. Add 113 grams of flour, and stir until combined thoroughly.
  3. Let starter rest at room temperature for 6-8 hours. Starter should have doubled or more in size, and have lots of bubbles.
  4. Your sourdough culture is now ready to use in recipes! Remember to continue the feeding schedule every day, or the sourdough starter will starve and activity will cease.

Tips for a Healthy Starter

  1. Adding water to the starter first and giving a quick stir makes incorporating flour much easier.
  2. Using whole wheat flour for your initial mixture will help your starter become active because there is more naturally occurring wild yeast present in whole flour as compared to all-purpose flour.
  3. Measure ingredients by weight, using a scale, to ensure equal amounts of flour and water are being added to the starter.
  4. Use rubber bands to indicate your initial and peak levels in order to use adequately for baking in the future
  5. Set an alarm on your phone to allow starter to be fed on a regular schedule.
  6. It is important to store your sourdough starter in at least a quart-sized container to allow for expansion. Likewise, ensure that your culture’s lid is not sealed too tightly for gas to escape.

When is my starter ready to use?

According to Living Bread, “A mature starter should have a sour smell and taste, with a detectable amount of sweetness. There should be notes of nuttiness and acidity. The culture will look very bubbly, and will take 4-8 hours from feeding to double or more in size. A well-balanced starter should remain at its peak for about 60-90 minutes” (Leader, 173). Starter should always be used during this peak time, unless otherwise indicated in a recipe.

An easy way to tell if your culture is ready to use is by doing a float test. After feeding the starter and waiting a few hours, the starter should be at its peak.

To test the culture’s readiness to use, fill up a small glass or bowl with water.

Take a small amount of the wild yeast, and place it in the water.

 If the culture sinks, allow more time for starter to activate.

 If the culture floats, it is ready to use.

Saving Sourdough Starter when Baking

It would be time (and flour) consuming to create a new culture every time you wanted to use wild yeast in a recipe. It is important to reserve a bit of sourdough culture every time it is used, so that the sourdough culture can continue to thrive. There are some sourdough starters passed down in families for over 100 years!

When thinking about reserving starter, keep in mind that recipes typically do not call for more than 230g of starter.

Directions

  1. When ready to bake, set aside the appropriate amount of sourdough for your recipe.
  2. Measure out 113 grams of leftover culture, discarding the rest.
  3. Add 113grams of water to the culture and stir.
  4. Add 113 grams of flour, and stir until combined thoroughly.
  5. Feed as normal, or prepare for the fridge if planning on going several days without using your culture.

How to Store Sourdough in the Refrigerator

For those who want to use their sourdough starter once a week or less, culture can be stored in the fridge.

Directions

  1. Set aside any culture needed for baking. Bake as directed
  2. Meanwhile, place 113g leftover starter in a storage container, such as a Mason jar or food-grade plastic container.
  3. Add 113g water and stir. Add 113g flour and stir to thoroughly combine.
  4. Let sourdough starter rest at room temperature for several hours, until it begins to become active.
  5. Cover culture with a lid (loosely screw on the lid if using a Mason jar to allow for gas to escape), and store in the refrigerator.
  6. Sourdough starter should be pulled out of the refrigerator once a week for feedings. Set an alarm on your phone so that you don’t forget weekly feedings!

How to Feed Sourdough Starter that has been in the Refrigerator

Feeding your starter after it has been resting in the fridge requires the normal feeding process, plus a bit of extra time for the starter to warm up.

Directions

  1. Remove sourdough culture from fridge. Leave culture on the counter and wait to come up to room temperature, 1-2 hours
  2. Discard all but 113g culture.
  3. Add 113g water and stir. Add 113g flour and stir to thoroughly combine.
  4. Let sourdough starter rest at room temperature for several hours, until it begins to become active.
  5. Place back in the fridge and feed weekly

How to Use Sourdough Starter that has been in the Refrigerator

  1. Remove sourdough culture from fridge. Sit on counter and wait to come up to room temperature, 1-2 hours
  2. Discard all but 113g culture.
  3. Add 113g water and stir. Add 113g flour and stir to thoroughly combine.
  4. Repeat process every 12 hours

*typically 2-4 feedings provides enough activity to use culture in recipes

Want to learn more? Check out Sourdough 101. Ready to Bake? Here is Beginner’s Guide to Baking Sourdough Bread.

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