What is a sourdough starter?
A starter is a naturally fermenting mixture of flour and water—a natural yeast. A starter can be used in place of commercially purchased active dry yeast in dough recipes.
How do you make a sourdough starter from scratch?
It’s fun! OK, all joking aside, a natural yeast gives your bread a better flavor. Yes, a slightly sour, I like to say TANGY, flavor. That’s why it’s called SOURDOUGH. When you use this kind of yeast, your breads will take on a much richer flavor profile that is worth the trouble. And yes, I truly do believe it’s fun.
What do I need to get started?
You can make a starter using a variety of ingredients, but for my pizzas and breads, I use a very simple version. You’ll need the following ingredients and equipment to get started:
- a kitchen scale
- a large glass jar
- rye flour
- all-purpose flour
- a spatula or large spoon (something for mixing)
* a NOTE on water: Some prefer to use distilled or bottled water to get their starter going, as the chemicals in tap water sometimes interfere with yeast activation. I do not have this problem with my water supply and I use tap water quite successfully. Also, always add warm but NOT hot water. I like to use 80°F water, or what feels like lukewarm. If you don’t trust your judgement of water temperature, use an instant read thermometer to help you out.
What’s the process?
- Clean out your glass jar and ready your kitchen scale.
- Place the jar on the scale and press TARE so the scale reads “0”.
- Add 100 grams of rye flour to the jar.
- Add 150 grams of 80°F water to the jar.
- Mix it well.
- Loosely cover it (your baby yeast likes a little air flow) and place it in a warm place, like your kitchen counter. Make sure it’s away from drafts and direct sunlight.
- You may have noticed some activity even during the first day! Mine actually bubbled right over, so I placed a small plate underneath it.
- 24 hours after the first mix, discard 1/2 the mixture.
- Place the jar on your scale and press tare.
- Add 50 grams of rye flour, 50 grams of all-purpose flour and 125 grams of 80°F water.
- Mix well, lightly cover and return to it’s dark and warm resting place.
- A full 24 hours later, repeat the same process as Day 2.
DAYS 4, 5, 6 and 7
- On each of these days, you will feed your starter TWICE, 12 hours apart.
- Each time, feed the starter with a mixture of 50 grams rye and 50 grams all-purpose flour and 125 grams 80°F water.
- Aways mix well.
- If bubbling and fermenting activity has fallen off a bit from the first few days, don’t worry! Keep at it. Persistence is key.
AFTER DAY 7
- At this point, you should see your starter predictably rising and falling after it’s feedings. The rising, or “high-tide” as I like to call it, is when it’s most active, and the “low-tide” when it’s dormant. You want to use your starter when it’s active.
How do I know when it’s ready?
If you’ve noticed your starter predictably rising and falling at Day 7 and beyond, then it’s ready!
How do I use it for pizza dough making?
- Place about 2 heaping tbsp of your starter in a new glass jar.
- Place the jar on a scale and press tare.
- Add 50 grams of rye flour and 50 grams of whole wheat flour to the jar.
- Add 125 grams of 80°F water to the jar.
- Mix well.
- Cover loosely and wait. You are waiting for this new or young starter (also called a “levain”) to activate. It will rise, just like your “mother” starter. Usually, this process takes me about 12 hours. I like to get my levain ready at night if I’d like to make pizza the next morning.
- After 12 hours, test it. Fill a small bowl with warm water. Using a spoon, add a small amount of your levain to the water. If it floats, you WIN! Get to dough making. If it sinks….start again. You must have missed the active time, so just add more flour and water as before and wait and watch for it to become active.
Now What Do I Do With My Original Starter?
You’ll need to maintain it by feeding it once a day from here on out. I told you it was like a pet! But what if I go away? Or what if I don’t want to feed it every day? No problem. I’ve been storing my starter in my refrigerator for the past 5 years. When I need it, I wake it up, but in the meantime, it hangs out, dormant in the fridge.
How Do I “Wake Up” My Starter from the Fridge?
- If you’re storing your starter in the fridge in between uses, you may notice that a thin layer of gray liquid forms on the top. We call this “hooch”. Cute, right? The first thing to do is to pour the hooch off your starter and then give it a mix.
- Discard about half of the mixture and feed it with the same proportions we can been using this whole time. Your starter should reactivate like magic and become bubbly! This process could take about 12 hours.
- Once it’s active again, simply scoop out 2 tbsp of the reactivated mixture into a clean jar and follow the steps above for creating your levain.
- Feel free to place the remaining stater, after you’ve re-fed it of course, back in the fridge.