Sourdough Starter is a natural form of leavened bread that has existed since the first loaves of bread were created by mankind. having your own starter and being able to make your own bread not only increases your native abilities, it also tastes great, is cheap, and impresses the hell out chicks.
Before we start I just want to mention that cooking was only a ‘woman’s job’ during the last century. Bakers were traditionally male, as were most chefs. There is nothing ‘womanly’ about being able to create great-tasting food, and most of the best recipes ever created, as well as the basic ideas behind many cooking methods were both inspired and perfected by men.
The first step to creating your own sourdough starter is knowing what you are getting into. I learned most of what I know by perusing websites and especially from a guy named S. John Ross.
Once you have a good starter going you can use it for an enormous number of recipes. ‘sourdough’ is actually the way the yeast is created, and while it DOES grow stronger over time, it is not necessary to allow it to become strong to make delicious recipes from it.
What you need:
a container capable of holding at least 5 cups, preferably clear plastic or glass (It seems to grow better in glass). Do not use metal, as some metals react badly to the culture and either kill your starter outright or make it taste funny.
a bag of some kind of flour. unbleached white flour is my favorite, but that’s because I don’t like the chemical washes they use to make bleached flour. whole wheat flour takes longer to start and work with, but is much healthier for the finished product. I do not recommend flour that already contains things like baking soda and ‘pre leavened’ flour, as the additional ingredients seem to kill yeast cultures more often than allowing it to develop.
some warm water; ‘warm’ means that when you run your finger under it, it feels neither cool nor hot to your finger.
a reasonably warm place to store your new pet; I store it on top of my refrigerator because it seems to stay around 90 degrees up there. If you live in a warm climate be careful, temperatures over 110 degrees seem to kill the yeast or cause other, unwelcome visitors to grow in your starter.
Step 1: make sure your jar is clean. take about a cup of flour and a cup of warm water (in about equal proportions) and mix them together. stick your jar in a warm place but not too hot (as above) make sure that the lid is on or it is covered with a wet cloth, and that if it’s a lid, that it still has some kind of ventilation. your starter can be suffocated by a closed container.
step 2: wait a day or two
step 3:add another cup of flour and another cup of warm water and mix it up.
step 4: wait another day or two.
step 5: look at your starter. sniff it. It should have some bubbles going all the way through it (The reason I use a glass jar) if it doesn’t, you need to wait another day. It should start smelling a bit like beer. if all the bubbles are at the top, that means a culture has started, but you might need to wait a bit longer, adding equal proportions of flour and water each day until it is ready.
I generally wait until a culture is about two weeks old before I start using itr for baking, since that seems to stabilize the yeast and provide a nice strong culture for making bread.
when your bottle starts getting full, pour some off. just make sure you have enough left for a recipe and a bit more. once you pull out a ‘serving’ to make bread, you can usually just add more flour and water to the crap that is left behind, and in about 8 hours you have another full-on culture brewing. natuiral yeast is REALLY hearty stuff, and it’s nice never having to muck around with confusing leavenings and store bought yeast.
You should generally transfer your starter to a temporary container so you can wash and clean your ‘jar’ about once a week, otherwise something nasty might take up residence in your jar with your starter. if you detect a hint of mold, if the fluid on top isa weird color like yellow, grey, or green, or if your starter starts turning funny colors, THROW IT AWAY. It is very likely that whatever you try to make out of this batch is going to make you sick or kill you.
a note on hooch: There is often a kind of brownish water that forms on top of a good starter called ‘hooch’. it is an alcohol, but it is NOT a good drinking alcohol! (think silage). it is just fine to stir this back into your starter to enhance the sour flavor, or pour it off if you are going for a more subtle flavor.
storing it: you can freeze your starter for a couple of months if you are going out of town or are unable to take care of it daily.I do NOT recommend putting a glass jar in the freezer though! transfer it to a plastic bag or container and just pop it into the freezer. Once you are ready to start making bread again, thaw it out, feed it another cup of warm water and flour, and wait a day or two for it to get active and happy again… look for the bubbles.
refrigerator: putting it into the refrigerator is similar to freezing, except that you really need to clean it’s cage once a week as well as give it a feed and water once a week. Unlike keeping it in the open, you should keep the lid airtight in the fridge so it doesn’t pick up any nasty flavors or odors from the fridge. When you are ready to use it, give it a feed and let it sit out overnight so that it warms up and is ready to go.
There will be some of my favorite recipes for using sourdough starter later, but for right now many excellent sourdough uses can be found via google.