Sourdough Starter

A resource no serious baker should go without and one that intimidates novice bakers - the sourdough starter. A blob of living microorganisms adapted and ready to eat the sugars in your creations and turn them in to something more. Endless folklore and superstition lurks within the bubbling mass and although some of it may be far fetched, what's important to know is that it will help you make a far more delicious loaf than by just using baker's yeast.

The main difference between baker's yeast and a starter is the bacteria that's inside. With baker's yeast you're getting mainly a strain of Saccharomyces_cerevisiae, yes that's beer yeast. A starter, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of many bacteria that are found on flour naturally and around your home. The most prominent and important critters of the bunch are those that belong to the Lactobacillus genus. Progenetor of lactic acid, "Lacto" bacteria are resilient and lovely; not only do they help to develop a variety of complex flavors in our bread but it also makes some delicious sour beers!

So, if you're ready to dive in to the surprisingly simple world of using your own leavening agents for your breads, this is the place to start! As you follow along with the procedure below, don't fret about the timeline. It may take a few tries to get right or it may take longer than described or expected depending on a myriad of factors, so take it easy and be patient.

whole wheat flour
all purpose flour

I use King Arthur brand, they're a great company to support

Day 1
- Mix 25g of whole wheat flour (WW) and 25g of all purpose flour (AP) along with 50g of warm, dechlorinated, clean water in a glass container until thoroughly hydrated. Cover and leave the container in a warm dark place for 24 hours. You should have 100g of starter.

Day 2 - Mix in 25g WW and 25g AP along with 50g of warm water. Leave the container to sit in a warm dark place for another 24 hours. You should have 200g of starter.

Day 3 - You may begin to see activity at this point, little bubbles and the beginnings of a fruity smell. If you do not, it is absolutely ok, just keep going, this could take two weeks. Now, discard 100g of the starter, then add 25g WW, 25g AP and 50g water, much like before. You should have 200g of starter.

Day 4 - This time, discard 150g of the starter and add 25g WW, 25g AP and 50g water. You should have 150g of starter.

Day 5 - Discard 100g of the starter and add 25g WW, 25g AP and 50g water. You should have 125g of starter.

Day 6 - Repeat Day 5 until your starter bubbles up and doubles in size within 8 hours of feeding it and smells nice and fruity.

As mentioned, this process can take as long as two weeks depending on your climate and conditions, so be patient and don't give up! Along the way you may notice different smells coming from the starter as well, this is to be expected but if you begin to smell anything unpleasant for more than 3 or 4 days, it may be time to start over. You're looking for the smell of flour mixed with Greek yogurt but it won't be exact; if it's too cold it could be more astringent, too warm and it will be more sulfuric.

The key is patience, so take your time, let it do its thing and ride it out until you hit the sweet spot. The most wonderful thing about a proper starter is that once it's healthy it can last you a lifetime, as long as you feed it. Since you won't be baking everyday, it is much easier to store in the fridge and just feed (or use it) once every week or two.

Feeding Your Starter can be something you do each time you make a new loaf or just on those off weekends you don't bake, as long as it happens, you're golden. To feed it or prep a leaven for a loaf, simply remove it from the fridge and add water plus a mix of AP and WW flours at 100% hydration (equal parts water to total flour) up to the amount of leaven you need plus extra to set aside as your next starter base. For example, if a loaf calls for 100g of leaven and you have 50g of starter in the fridge, add 25g water and 25g flour, so you have 150g of active starter (also called leaven). Let the leaven sit for 8-12 hours and when ready to bake, set aside 50g to save in the fridge and use the remaining 100g for your loaf. For a regular feed, simply discard half the weight of the starter and then add enough of equal parts flour and water to bring you back to the same weight. For example, if you have 50g of starter; discard 25g then add 12.5g water and 12.5g flour and return it to the fridge.

I hope this has simplified the process for you a bit because I promise, this is super easy, not scary and totally worth the wait!