Sourdough Starter for Beginners: 2 Simple ingredients

loaf of sourdough bread

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Sourdough starter isn’t some magical creation…it’s yeast.

Only in this case, instead of buying a packet of yeast from the store, you are making your own living “wild yeast” by fermenting flour and water.  That is it! ONLY 2 simple ingredients!  Once your sourdough starter is alive, it is like a very low-maintenance pet. You must feed it once a week to keep it healthy and happy. You know it’s happy when it bubbles. And YES, you can even name it. Hana named ours Ricky. 

I’ve always loved sourdough bread. I have gone for a long time avoiding wheat because of its inflammatory nature.  I don’t know if it’s because we have been eating really well or if it’s because of the sourdough, but it hasn’t been bothering my joints at all. Many people can eat sourdough without issue though. We get a good deal more nutrition from sourdough too: “In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb.” (1)

Sourdough doesn’t have to be overwhelming

I did quite a bit of reading about sourdough starter and some of it was quite overwhelming.  Get a thermometer because it has to stay at a certain temp. Make sure to weigh everything before you add it. Do this, don’t do that. I am not saying that those things aren’t beneficial, but I did come to the realization that people carried sourdough starters with them as pioneers. It survived centuries without scales or thermometers. I decided not to overthink it (Sally’s Sourdough Rule #1)

You can use whatever flour you have on hand, or a combination. One important tip though – some flours ferment faster than others and you’ll need to feed your starter more often. I’ll talk more about different flours in another post. Also, some starters are just hungrier than others. And some have times when they need a little more food. They’re all different because there are more than 1500 types of wild yeast but thousands more probably exist in the wild waiting to be discovered and recorded.(2) If it’s hungry, feed it (Sally’s Sourdough Rule #2)

Let’s get started…

sourdough starter in jar

Time to get started with the starter. Keep in mind, I’m a beginner here, so this is largely my journey. Make sure to do what I did and do some research before you get started. It’s helpful to have a few different information sources. 

Day 1: Use a wide mouth 1 quart mason jar (or similar – maybe save a mayonnaise jar??) and add 1/2 cup flour and water to the jar, stir and let it sit on the counter (or top of the fridge) for 48 hours.  Cover it lightly. You want the wild yeasts to get in but not pesky pests. I used a coffee filter secured with the lid ring. A rubber band would also do the trick. 

Day 3: Stir and add another 1/2 cup of flour and water. You’ll likely see some bubbling, but don’t fret if you don’t see it just yet. Also, if the sourdough starter goes bad you will KNOW it: mold or a really bad smell is not what we want here. If that happens dump and start again. 

Day 4: If your jar is getting full, you may need to discard a bit before feeding. I hated doing this, and was glad I only needed to do it a few times. Some sources will tell you to only leave about 1/2 cup remaining each time. I did not do this. I only discarded what I needed to for room. If you have a super hungry starter though, you may need to ditch a little more. 

Day 5 & onward: You definitely should be seeing bubbles and even a slightly fruity/yeasty aroma now. At this point, you’ll need to feed twice a day. I neglected to do this AND fed it chick pea flour, which happens to ferment really quickly.  I noticed a separation in the jar and did some research. When the starter separates, it has used up all available food and is beginning to give off alcohol (it’s known as hooch).

Hooch isn’t a sign that your starter is ruined, just that it’s hungry and needs to be fed. Some sources say to dump it off first, others say stir it back in. I think if there isn’t much, you can stir it in otherwise dump the hooch off. (3) I dumped a bit off and fed my starter another 1/2 cup flour & water and then fed twice a day for the next few days. Also, be aware, a super feisty sourdough starter my bubble over the top of jar.  It’s not a big deal. Just clean it up and move on. Don’t stress about the sourdough (Sally’s Sourdough Rule #3)

When is it ready? 

pouring sourdough starter

You’ll see lots of bubbles.The starter should have a tangy aroma — pleasingly acidic, but not overpowering. If you don’t notice this or your starter hasn’t risen much or isn’t showing lots of bubbles, keep feeding every twice a day for a bit longer.  

When you’re ready to give it a go, dump some out if your container is getting full and feed again. Once it’s bubbly, you’re ready to go. You can also use the discard for a variety of recipes like these cheese crackers, or even add it to your compost.

Now it’s time to bake! There are tons of recipes out there. We’ve got some pinned to our sourdough board on Pinterest (are you following us there? You should be!) After you’ve poured off what you need for your recipe, feed again. I have been letting it sit out again until it’s a bit bubbly and then storing in the fridge. We’ll see if this keeps working, but when I take out a cup for a recipe, I feed with 1/2 cup of flour and water before I put in the fridge and then with another 1/2 cup when I take it out. I’m not having to dump that way. 

sourdough bread

As long as you are using your starter once a week, it should be fine. If you aren’t using it for longer than that, you may want to discard and feed. I’ve read about folks who use it much less often and don’t feed it any extra, so use your judgement. If you see much separation happening, I’d give it a snack. 

If you bake daily, or nearly daily, you can just leave the starter on the counter. This is not me. If I baked that much, we’d have other problems…. LOL

Sharing the sourdough love

When you’re ready to share your sourdough starter, it’s a piece of cake (or slice of bread…) To divide your sourdough starter, separate half into a new jar.  Feed each half 1/2 cup flour and water, stir really well and leave out overnight or if during the day for about four hours).  And now you’re ready to pass one jar on to a friend. 

If you have a starter, tell us about it! How long has it been going? Or if you have questions about your starter, contact us or ask in the comments!!

pouring sourdough starter

Sourdough Bread

This simple sourdough bread recipe will quickly become a family favorite
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Equipment

  • kitchenaid mixer

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (fed)
  • cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approx)

Instructions
 

  • Whisk together starter and water in bowl of stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Add honey, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Mix 3-4 minutes or until smooth; let rest for 15-30 minutes.
  • Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Mix at medium speed for 5-6 minutes. 
  • Place dough in a large bowl that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Cover and let rise and ferment for at least 6 hours. I make the dough after dinner and let rest until the morning.
  • On a floured countertop, form the dough into a round loaf and place it on a greased cookie sheet or in dutch oven sprinkled with corn meal.  Let it rise till doubled, one to two hours. Cut slits across the top. The slits need to be fairly deep, about 1”. This allows steam to escape while baking, giving you a more even rise while baking.
  • While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 425°. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. If you like a crustier crust, brush the top of dough with butter or olive oil before baking.
    Let bread cool on a cooling rack. It slices best if allowed to cool for at least 30 minutes
    This would also make two smaller traditional bread loaves. 
  • PS) you don’t have to have a stand mixer.  Good old fashioned elbow grease works too. But with my RA hands, my kitchen aide lets me do so much more than would be possible without it. 
Keyword bread, sourdough
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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