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How to Start a Starter

To make sourdough bread you need a healthy, active starter. Below is a guide on how to get your starter going.

What is a sourdough starter?

The sourdough starter is a culture of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. These are naturally occurring in most types of flour. Through making a starter you are creating an environment where these useful microbes can grow in number. Used in your bread, they will cause it to rise and give the lovely open structure of sourdough bread.

You will need to feed your starter with flour and water twice a day for 5-10 days. The time taken mainly depends on the temperature of your kitchen and the type of flour you are using. Rye flour has a higher number of microbes to start with so is the quickest flour to start to ferment and get active. The example here uses rye flour.

Wholewheat and spelt flours are moderatly quick to get going, while white flour is slower and can take several more days than other flour type to get going.

Top tips

Aim to sit your starter somewhere above 18 degrees C, it will be slow to get going below this temperature. However, make sure it isn’t too close to a heat source as this can cause it to try out.

Use a large, clear container. This will give the starter plenty of room to grow. Keep in mind that when fully active, your starter will double in size. A clear container will also allow you to see air bubbles forming with is the first sign of the microbes getting lively.

Loosely cover your starter between feeds. You want to allow oxygen to get in but want to keep dust and other contaminants out. You can use a clean dish cloth, or the lid of the contain loosely fitted.

Use water that has been boiled and allowed to cool to room temperature. This will boil off any chlorine in the water which can upset the microbes in the flour.

Use organic flour. Nonorganic flour can be treated with fungicides which can kill of the vital wild yeast.

Use a whisk to mix the flour and water together, this helps add more oxygen which will in turn help the microbes to grow quicker.

Starting a starter

Below is a feeding schedule. Leave 12 hours between each feed.

Feed 1: mix 1 tbsp of flour with 1 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 2: mix 2 tbsp of flour with 2 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 3: mix 3 tbsp of flour with 3 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 4: mix 4 tbsp of flour with 4 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 5: mix 5 tbsp of flour with 5 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 6: remove ½ of your starter, reserving the discard in another container to use elsewhere. Then mix 5 tbsp of flour with 5 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

Feed 7: remove ½ of your starter, reserving the discard in a container to use elsewhere. Then mix 5 tbsp of flour with 5 tbsp water, cover and leave in a warm place

If you are using rye flour you may find that your starter is active. The picture here shows what an active starter should look like. Yours looks like the picture it is ready to start baking with. If not, continue with Feed 7 until it does.

Your new starter won’t necessarily bake great bread to start with, as it takes several feed cycles to get an active, mature starter. Just keep going, the more you bake with and refresh your starter, the livelier it will become!

 
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