This bubbly and pungent jar of sourdough starter has become quite the kitchen companion over the past few months, and I must say, I love it!
I started making bread from scratch this past summer when my husband and I decided that I would take the summer off from teaching to relax and travel for music gigs with him. In an effort to put myself to good use, I thought I would try to save money by making as many things as I could instead of buying them. Bread was the first one on the list. Throughout the summer I tried a few different wheat loaves, some we loved, some we pretended to like, until we finally landed on a few favorites. The bread making continued into the fall, even after I went back to work. Once I was back to teaching full time, I found it a little difficult to find time to make bread. While it's really quite an easy and not a very hands-on, time consuming task, it does require larger portions of time at home with all that resting and rising business. I eventually fell into somewhat of a rhythm and was able to mostly stay on top of our bread consumption needs.
As the fall progressed, though, I started to read more and more about the benefits of sourdough bread. I knew I loved the flavor of sourdough, but the idea of keeping a starter going seemed like a little too much. I eventually came across this recipe, though, and decided to give it a try.
There are a couple of ways to get a starter going. The first way requires just flour and water. You mix them together and they pull wild yeast from the air and start to ferment. For the second method, you throw a little bit of store bought yeast into the flour/water mixture to help speed up the process. The thought of starting without yeast sounded fun to me, so that's what I did!
My starter developed some nice bubbles right away, but it took almost two months to really get it going. We ate many a loaf of rather dense (and interesting) bread throughout those two months and a few of those loaves even graced our family Christmas tables. However, the day eventually came when my dough not no rose, but it actually doubled in size! That was the day when I knew I had officially entered the world of sourdough. The flavor that developed over that time was also well-worth the wait. Our sourdough bread (a tweaked version of the recipe above) is now a much loved part of our daily meals. In the pictures below you can see how much my starter now rises (and falls) after I feed it (more on feeding below).
So, with that I'd like to leave you with this simple sourdough starter recipe. It's nothing out of the ordinary, just the basics.
1/4 cup flour (I prefer white bread flour)
1/4 cup water (I prefer filtered)
Put the flour and water in a glass jar or container and whisk them together briskly, mixing air into the mixture. Cover the jar with lid, piece of cloth, or paper towel and set in a warmish place in your kitchen. Let is rest for 12 hours or so.
After 12 hours, feed the starter by adding another 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water. Whisk together again, cover, and let rest for another 12 hours. Continue this process for 3-5 days, until bubbles are regularly forming and the mixture has a pungent, sour smell. At this point, you can start using the starter. You can also switch to feeding the starter once per day. If you find that you have sourdough overflowing from your jar (a very real and literal possibility), you can move it to a larger container, give some away, or you can slow the process down by slowing your starter in the fridge and just feeding it once per week. If you store it in the fridge, just take it out 12 hours or so before you want to use it, feed it, and let it rest. This will reactivate the yeast.
When you are first getting your starter going, you may have a clear liquid that develops on the top of your mixture. This is alcohol from the fermentation process. If this happens, just decrease the amount of water that you add when you feed it and it should solve the problem. Also, remember that it may take up to a couple of months for the yeast in your starter to be strong enough to really cause the dough to rise.