I have been baking bread since I was a child. No one in my family baked bread, but I was fascinated by the science of breadmaking. I took my mother’s cookbooks and taught myself to bake breads, croissants, and homemade pizza dough, sometimes with help from my aunt, who enjoyed participating in my kitchen chaos. One day, many years ago, I decided I wanted to try making sourdough bread, and I ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour. I made two loaves of sourdough bread every week, gradually graduating to more complex recipes from Breads from the La Brea Bakery. At some point, life got in the way of sourdough maintenance, and my starter died.
Over the years, I have tried different methods of catching a starter, and I have found this one is almost foolproof (I had problems last time due to an overly cold kitchen). The technique comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. I use all rye flour for the seed, and then when you feed your starter for the recipe, you can change flours as needed.
Day 1: Mix 1 cup of organic, dark rye flour and 3/4 cup of water in a glass or ceramic container. Cover with plastic wrap. (If you mark the top of the dough with a piece of tape, you can see how it progresses. Move the tape from day to day to keep track of the height). Keep at warm room temperature (you don’t want it too hot, but if it’s too cold, the process will be slowed down so much that you may have problems. My kitchen is very cold, so in winter I keep it in the room with the wood stove).
Day 2: Add to your mixture 1 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup water. Press down, mark again, and recover with plastic wrap.
Day 3: There may have been some rise and a little fermentation. Discard half of the starter, and add to your mixture 1 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup water. Press down, mark again, and recover with plastic wrap.
Day 4: Your starter should have doubled; if not, wait until it does (12-24 hours; if more time goes by and it is still not doubled, your room may be too cold). Discard half of the starter, and add to your mixture 1 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup water. Press down, mark again, and recover with plastic wrap. Wait until it doubles in size again (from 4-24 hours). Now you are ready to turn it into the “mother starter” (Peter Reinhart calls this the “barm”). You can use it the next day, but it will gain character over time.
Take 1 cup of your seed starter and discard or give away the rest (I compost it). Add 3 1/2 cups rye flour and 2 cups water. Mix well, and make sure it is in a container at least twice as big as it is, with a plastic lid or plastic wrap over the top. Gases should build up inside, making the lid or wrap swell in about 6 hours. At that point, open the lid to release the gas, and then close it again. Refrigerate it overnight. It is now ready to use and can be used over the next three days without feeding. After that, you will need to feed it.
Creating starter to use in recipes
1/2 cup mother starter
1 cup flour of choice (if making spelt bread, use spelt, etc.)
1/4 cup water
Mix together, adding a little more water if needed; it should be firm. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let ferment for about 4 hours and then refrigerate overnight.
For example, if you want to make Wardeh’s Basic Sourdough Bread, you would mix 1 cup of the mother starter, 2 cups of spelt flour, and 1/2 cup of water.
Maintaining Your Starter
When you feed the mother starter, you want to double it at least. If you didn’t use a lot to make bread, then discard some so that you are doubling it when you feed it (1 cup starter, 3 1/2 cups flour, 2 cups water). If you don’t make bread every three days or so, you can refrigerate it for at least 2 months in an airtight container, discard all but 1 cup of starter and feed it from there (if you use it regularly, you don’t need to discard any). You can also freeze it for up to 6 months. When ready to use, defrost 3 days in advance. When thawed enough to use, throw out all but 1/2 cup and feed until you have 4-6 cups of starter.
What to do with your starter
Now that you have a good sourdough starter, what next? Here are some great recipes to use it in:
Basic Sourdough Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
Spelt Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Spelt Sourdough Burger Buns
Sourdough Chocolate Cake
Sourdough Pizza Crust
If you missed my post on the book giveaway, go take a look and enter now!