Who wants to make sourdough starter?!
Who has no idea what sourdough starter is?!
Do you remember years ago when there was a bit of a fad with people passing around a gross glop of dirty looking glue? You were supposed to take a bit out, separate the rest and pass it along to a bunch of unsuspecting friends. It was like a chain letter but with something people could sneeze into.
THAT was sourdough starter.
And even though it seemed gross (and in fact I thought it was totally gross to pass around a food product that could have been contaminated with God knows WHAT kind of cooties) it’s actually something that’s been going on for centuries. Probably for as long as cooties come to think of it.
Sourdough starters have been known to be passed on from generation to generation.
Sourdough starter is basically a mixture of flour and water that’s been left to ferment and turn into liquid yeast. This is what Laura Ingalls’ mother would have used to make bread and biscuits rise. And when Mary moved out to live with her husband Ma would have given Mary a blob of her sourdough starter so Mary could make bread for her husband. Even though she was blind. She went to that blind school so she learned to fend for herself and could do things like make bread and scare away wild pigs from the homestead.
Sourdough yeast tastes different than regular yeast because it’s fermented and has a slight sour taste to it which gives sourdough its distinct flavour.
O.K. NOW do you want to know how to make this miracle of nature that has you catching wild yeast from the air known as sourdough starter?
I thought you might.
It all started with this by the way.
A few years ago my neighbour Jane was wandering around James Street in Hamilton when she came across this book. A few hours later she was standing on my porch handing it off to me saying she didn’t know of anyone else that would appreciate an instruction manual on how to make things rot. She may not have used those exact words.
One of the first things you learn in the book is how to catch wild yeast to make sourdough starter. Otherwise known as glop. I made that up. I’m the only person who calls it glop, but it’s pretty appropriate if you ask me.
“Catching wild yeast” is a bit of a romanticism. You are in fact catching wild yeast, but yeast is pretty much in abundance everywhere. You know when grapes have that white haze on them? YEAST! Yup. The white haze on grapes is yeast.
Yeast is in the air, on your hands, and possibly on the spoon you use to stir your concoction. Which is lucky for we sourdough starter makers.
Mix 1/4 cup clean (filtered or bottled) water with 1/4 flour.
Rye flour, whole wheat flour, white flour … whatever you want. I used rye because it apparently ferments quicker than other flours.
Stir it together. Cover it with a cloth.
Let it sit for a couple of days.
After just 8 hours I could already see tiny bubbles starting to form.
See? That’s what you’re waiting for. Bubbles and a slight yeasty smell, like beer. Or … like yeast, I suppose.
Once you notice bubbles and a yeasty smell (after 2 or 3 days) you can get rid of half of your mixture. Just scoop it out and throw it down the drain. It may have dried out a bit. That’s O.K.
Add 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of flour again to the remaining starter, mix and cover up again.
Do this every 8-12 hours for the next 2 weeks or so.
Remove half the starter, then add 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup of flour. Wait 8 – 12 hours and do it again.
After several days of doing this you’ll notice the bubbles are starting to get bigger.
(Once it came time to add more flour and water I switched over to regular white flour)
By day 12-15 you’ll notice your starter will start to double in size after you feed it. It won’t just get a bit bubbly, it will literally double in size!
Once your starter reliably doubles in size for several days, you can break out the cigars because you are the proud parent of glop. Some people suggest you keep feeding it on the counter like this for up to a month to really get the sour taste. Those people must not have a life. Because just feeding this starter twice a day for two weeks is enough to make a person crazy. Trust me. By the end of two weeks you’ll be as sick of feeding this starter as you are of feeding your family every night.
Once you have a successful starter you can stick it in the refrigerator until the day before you’re going to make bread. The day before you make bread the starter should be removed from the refrigerator and brought up to room temperature. Once it’s warm, add 1/4 cup of bottled water and a 1/4 cup of flour. This will help activate the starter and get it bubbly again. 8-12 hours later, do it again. Your starter should now be ready to use.
If you don’t think your starter is doing much you can:
a) put the starter close to an open window so it has more access to wild yeast. (no idea if this is a fable or not, but I did it and it worked)
b) Put the starter in a warmer part of the room, or warmer room in general.
c) Increase the amount of flour and water you add from 1/4 cup of each to 1/2 cup of each.
Bag of flour
Filtered tap water or bottled water
Day 1 – Mix together 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. Let sit for 2-3 days until bubbles form and it smells of yeast. During this time, stir the mixture whenever you think of it.
Day 4 – Remove half the starter mixture and dump it down the drain. Feed the remaining mixture with 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. Mix.
Continue to dump and feed exactly the same way every 8-12 hours for 2 weeks or until the mixture reliably doubles in size after feeding.
Store the sourdough starter in the refrigerator until the day before you’re ready to make bread. The day before, remove the starter, let it get to room temperature and then feed it. (add 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water) 8-12 hours later, feed it again. It is now ready to use in the sourdough bread recipe of your choice.
So there you have it. Sourdough starter glop. Pass it on.