Sourdough starter

starter
Active starter

This post is about making and maintaining a sourdough starter. Mainly aiming for newbies (like myself 4 years ago) and anyone who is interested in natural levain. But if you are a pro, please feel free to read and help me improve the contents. All ideas, suggestions and proposals are welcome.

A lot of baking enthusiasts have been asking me questions about the process. Even though, I reply to every single message the best way possible, I feel like I need to write a good comprehensive post explaining everything I know and I do. So it will be helpful to anyone looking for answers.

Bubbly starter
Bubbly starter

I will try to include more pictures with time and also let this post grow based on replies and any follow up questions. I want this to be a conversation rather than a article, for it to continue to grow. Please feel free to add your thoughts in comments section and/or reply to any question, if you think you know the answer. We can all try to help each other.

Lets get some basic things straightened up:

What is a starter: A starter also referred to as a culture, is a micro-organism. In the context of sourdough, this organism is yeast.

what is yeast: A microscopic single-cell fungus. While there are many species, the bakers yeast is identified by the scientific name Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

How do yeast help make bread: Yeast, when provided with flour, water and air, start to reproduce. They consume the sugars and release CO2 (carbon dioxide) and ethyl alcohol as by-products. CO2 helps give the bread the rise or the bloom. This in turn, gives the light and airy crumb that we love. Without yeast, the dough will be dense, hard, flat and not enjoyable.

Commercial yeast vs natural leaven: commercial yeast is nothing but the same single-cell organism that is isolated. They are grown, extracted and then compacted for commercial use. This gives speed and reliability. Natural leaven, however is slow, because the yeast density is low. Hence it takes longer for the process. This gives lactobacilli (another bacteria naturally occurring) ample time,to act on flour. The lactobacilli consumes the protein in flour (gluten) and releases lactic acid as a by product, which gives sour-dough, well, the sour flavor.

This is a very basic simple explanation. But if you are curious, internet is flooded with information. With that in mind lets see the process of making a starter from the scratch. It is easy, you just need patience and consistency.

  • Place 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup filtered, room temperature water in a clean container
    • I use either bread flour or all purpose flour
    • white flour is the easiest
    • although, you can use whole wheat, rye, spelt etc.
  • Mix with a clean spoon until it resembles porridge(I will call this slurry) pic_1
  • If you like, deposit this mixture in a clear glass jar or a drinking glass.
    • if it is clear, you can watch the activity
    • the container can be anything but it has to be clean and non-reactive (no metal or aluminium)
  • Loosely cover the container, with a lid or a piece of plastic wrap
    • do not make it air tight
    • we want the yeast in the air to reach out to the flour
    • consider your mixture as bait for the yeast
  • Now let the mixture sit in a warm but dry place for 2 days
    • if it is warmer, make it 1 day
    • The process takes longer if environment is colder (I once let my slurry sit for 4 days)
    • If it is too warm, the mixture might go bad, because other bacteria start to act upon the slurry before the yeast
  • Check if your slurry is catching yeast or going off
    • if it has green, yellow, gray spots then it has caught other bacteria. So discard and start the process again. Don’t get discouraged.
    • if it smells horrible, its gone bad and you will have to start again.
    • The good signs are,
      • seeing nothing dramatic
      • may be seeing a few air pockets
      • getting a faint smell of acidity (this should not be off-putting) like vinegar
  • If your slurry is doing good, then, discard half of it.
  • Make a new slurry using 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.
  • Mix well and add to the saved mixture. Mix well to incorporate everything. Let it sit for a day.
  • This is considered a feeding
    • assume now that yeast has started to grow
  • Now we have to repeat this process everyday until you see some activity for up to a week
    • like air bubbles (pic_2)
    • the mixture expanse
  • when its active like this, we change the feeding style. We discard everything but a teaspoon full of our active starter
    (culture) and feed it the same amount of food (1 cup water 1/2 cup water)
  • Continue to feed everyday, until you see some real activity
    • usually takes about another 4-5 days
    • when your starter doubles in size over night, its a good sigh(pic_3)
    • Its is ready to be used at this stage
  • I personally, think, you can’t really know a starter for sure, until you make a loaf of bread with it.
  • Once your starter is active, you can feed it the same way and leave it in the fridge.
  • But you have to take it out often(every week ) and freshen it up for best results.
  • To freshen up, take it out of fridge, let it come to room temperature and become active.
  • Feed and let grow over night.
  • Give a feeding in the morning and place back in fridge.
  • Anytime you make bread, freshen it up first.
  • Then use some of the fresh starter to make bread
    • when you freshen up, if you see slow activity, feed it for a day or two more before using or storing away in fridge
slurry
pic_1 porridge like slurry
pic_2 visible air bubbles
starter doubles in volume
Pic_3 starter doubles in volume

A good starter is like a sponge. It is airy,light and fluffy. When you very gently fold it with a spoon, you will hear the bubbles pop. Another good indication is, that when you pour the starter into a bowl of water, it will float like a foamy sloppy thing. Pic_4.

starter
starter floating in the water

The best time to use a starter once it is fed is, when it is at it’s peak or better yet, just before it reaches it’s peak. How do we know if it is at its peak. Well this takes a lot of getting to know your starter. You can usually keep an eye once you feed and use it when it doubles. If you want and have got time you can chart your starter growth, and use the chart to get the exact hour that it reaches it’s peak. But keep in mind, starters have got their own mind, so you’ll have to re do this chart once in a while.

how to find the right time to use a starter

You may also like

2 Comments

  1. Why does my starter die on 3rd day?
    My recipe 30gr bread flour, 30gr of room temperature + 1 tsp of sugar.
    On the 2nd day, I do the same w/o discard half of starter..
    On the 3rd day, I discard half of starter and add 30gr bread flour, 30gr of water and 1tsp of sugar.. But after this, no reaction at all.. Is there any mistakes in the process?

    1. It may not be dead. Sometimes it takes several days until you see reaction. Try without adding sugar. Sugar can slows down yeast. Keep feeding until you see a reaction. I had one starter that took a week to show signs of life ☺️ As long as it didn’t go moldy, nothing to worry, keep feeding. Hope this helped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.