A sourdough starter is the key to give a sourdough bread its distinct taste, its unique chewiness and crispiness as well as its long shelf-life. As the oldest leavening agent, it’s only made out of two ingredients: flour and water. This makes the sourdough starter to a natural and very simple leavening agent. Although it is simple in composition, it is extremely difficult to buy: the easiest solution to that is to make it yourself!
Sourdough starters can be made out of any type of flour. I myself started with wheat and recently added a rye starter to my collection. The process is the same for any type of flour: therefore even if I use wheat for this recipe, it is adaptable to any other type of flour. Every type comes with a distinct flavour profile, so you should try out different flours!
Step one: starting the starter
In the sourdough starter, lactic bacteria becomes active. If you feed your starter with fresh flour, the bacteria will feed on it and create gas. This gas will allow the dough to rise.
In order to produce these bacteria, there needs to be a fermentation process. This works best with whole meal organic flour. Organic flour is less processed, so you have a higher chance of it containing the right elements to feed the bacteria. This goes the same with whole meal compared to plain white flour.
- 20 g whole meal wheat flour (organic)
- 20 ml water (you should use water without chlorine. If the tap water where you live has a high chlorine content, you should consider using mineral water. The chlorine kills bacteria, which is definitely not good for a sourdough starter.)
How it works: in a jar or tupperbox, mix both flour and water thoroughly. cover it loosely and put it in a dark and warm place to ferment for 1 to 3 days.
When small bubbles start to appear on the surface, you can proceed to the next step:
- 40 g whole meal wheat flour
- 40 ml water
Mix this with the existing starter. After a day or so the starter should have risen and fallen again.
The next day
- 80 g whole meal wheat flour
- 80 ml water
Mix everything together again. After less than a day your starter should have made a cycle of rise and fall.
If your starter doesn’t smell funky and has risen and fallen again, you can proceed to step 2: stabilizing your starter.
Step 2: stabilizing (1 week)
In order to stabilize your starter, you should get into a routine and repeat these steps everyday at roughly the same time:
- discard everything except for 2-3 tablespoons of starter
- add 1 tblsp whole meal wheat flour, 1 Tblsp plain white wheat flour and 2 Tbsps water to the remaining starter.
- after a week, your starter should seem stable: it rises and falls at roughly the same height and time in the day and it does not smell weird or looks bad.
- After a week you have successfully stabilized your starter, you can now use it for baking bread!
Step 3: taking care of your starter
In order to keep your starter healthy, active and alive, you should feed it regularly, ideally everyday at around the same time. The easiest way is to integrate it into your daily routine: I feed mine after breakfast for example. You should follow these three points:
- Every day, add 1-2 Tbsps of a mixture of whole meal and plain white flour as well as the same amount of water. (the balance of the two flours keeps the balance between nutriments (whole meal) and the sugars (plain white).
- You should regularly discard some of your starter. If you keep too much, it won’t get enough to eat and will get weak.
- If a skin forms on the surface, don’t panic! just discard it before refreshing your starter. It just means your starter hasn’t been used for baking in a while.
Now you have made it, congratulations! This starter is now ready to be used for your very own sourdough bread 🙂
If you want to watch a good video on sourdough, I recommend you the youtuber Alex. He did a very interesting series on sourdough, from which this article is very largely inspired.