Starting and Maintaining a Sourdough Starter
The intriguing thing about sourdough is that it's a part-time science experiment that ends with a delicious, shareable treat. Your sourdough starter and even baking the sourdough itself can be managed while on conference calls, between loads of laundry, or other action items. And the best part is that you create the most delicious bread from just flour, water, and salt in your own kitchen. Just the smell is mouthwatering but there is really something special about fresh, warm sourdough you made with your own two hands. The only downside is a thin dust layer of flour everywhere in your kitchen (or maybe that's just me?) and the inevitable teasing from family and friends reminding you that they saved seven hours by buying a loaf at the store for $2.99.
So after months of perfecting my sourdough starter and subsequent sourdough bread recipe, here is my recipe. I approached these notes like I try to approach startups, offering the lessons I learned that I would have appreciated that first time around.
Leaven is the fermented flour/water mixture that has yeast from the environment. Once you have leaven, you can keep it for making future loaves. You can either get leaven from a friend or make it yourself.
Make the starter: Combine 1,000 grams white-bread flour with 1,000 grams whole-wheat flour in a container to be used over the next week. Put 100 grams of warm water (about 80 degrees) in a small jar or container and add 100 grams of the flour mix. Use your fingers or a spoon to mix until thoroughly combined and the mixture is the consistency of thick batter. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature until mixture begins to bubble and puff, 2 to 3 days.
When starter begins to have bubbles, begin regular feedings. With the starter at room temperature, put 20g of starter into a clean container with 40g of luke-warm water and mix thoroughly until it is a murky color with no starter sentiment at the bottom. Mix 40g of the 50/50 all-purpose/whole wheat flour mixture in for about 15 seconds until it is a consistent mixture.
The other 80% of the starter is discard. You can give this to friends, bake bread with it, or use it for other recipes like brownies or pancakes.
When starter begins to rise and fall predictably and takes on a slightly sour smell, it’s ready; this should take about 1 week.
Once you have leaven, it’s easiest to keep it in the fridge so it can be fed once per week or so instead of daily at room temperature. You can also freeze it or dry it and freeze it, and these instructions can be found readily online.
1 part previous starter
2 parts luke-warm water
2 parts 50/50 all-purpose/whole wheat flour mixture
Use these ratios (by weight) when feeding leaven. This can be adapted as long as you use some previous starter and equal-ish parts water/flour mixture and stay somewhat close with the amount of previous starter to maintain enough culture with enough new food for it.
Mix the previous starter and water together thoroughly first in a clean container until it forms a murky liquid with no sentiment, then stir in the new flour. This helps the starter mix thoroughly and makes the starter much better.
Cover the starter with a loose cap or cloth, and leave out at room temperature for 12-24 hours before feeding again.
While maintaining starter, I’ll most often mix 15g starter with 30g water and 30g flour mixture to reduce waste. Before baking, I’ll want to increase the amount of starter. Roughly 12 hours before I want to bake, I’ll take the roughly 75 grams of previous starter and combine it with 160g of water and 160g flour mixture. The resulting starter will give me enough for 15g to continue my starter and the other 360g-380g goes into the recipe below. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon of leaven into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.