**This site contains affiliate links. When you purchase items via these links, I receive a commission**
Sourdough Starter: It’s The gift that keeps on giving
I received my first starter just about 27 years ago. My neighbors were sharing Amish Friendship Bread Starter up an down my street. Unlike the sourdough starter, The Amish Friendship Bread Starter uses milk and sugar. I kept that starter alive in our refrigerator for a few months before life happened, and I had to abandon the process.
Now, I would never dream of letting my sourdough starter die. My sourdough starter is a bit like a child, I have even named my starter Baxter, which means “baker” in old English.
Wild yeast is everywhere.
The bacteria that make up most of your sourdough starter are lactobacilli. This bacteria is the source of that tangy taste, and smell in your bread as the lactobacilli convert sugars to lactic and acetic acid.
Carbon dioxide from the fermentation process creates the bubbles in your starter. The result of this fermentation is the rise in your bread.
Why Grow A Sourdough Starter?
Creating and maintaining a sourdough starter is easy and rewarding. The microbes in sourdough are reported to be good for digestion. They also serve as a natural bread preservative. Leavening your bread with a wild starter is a slower process. The good news is that the longer your bread is left to rise with a sourdough starter, the better the flavor!
I find the feeding of my sourdough starter to be a ritual I enjoy.
Sure, you can buy a sourdough starter, no one would blame you. Purchasing a starter is effective, and is a perfectly reasonable way to kickstart your foray into sourdough. I would argue, however, that starting and feeding a sourdough starter allows you the valuable education of witnessing how wild yeast works. Also, that additional investment of your time creates a sense of satisfaction you can only get when you own the whole process.
Still, another way to get your sourdough starter is from a friend or family member who has been cultivating a starter. Descendants of a “mother” starter are thought to carry microbes from other regions, and changes that occur from the starter’s age that contribute to better flavor.
The study of sourdough from The Sourdough Project at North Carolina State University has discovered an evolution from starters sent from around the world.
The species in heritage starters may be, like Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands, evolving unique characteristics. These characteristics may be a function of their circumstances and relative isolation.
Sourdough Starter: A Brief History
Baking leavened bread with wild yeast dates back to ancient Egypt. Food historians argue over whether the discovery of this process was by accident, a result of the knowledge obtained from the brewing of beer, or that a specific effort was made to cultivate a levan for bread.
When miners flocked to California 1849 during the gold rush, they brought their sourdough starters. As the 300,000 intrepid fortune seekers traveled to stake their claim, they kept their starters in their pockets. Miners wanted to keep their starters warm. This practice either contributed to flavor or kept the starters from freezing. When they camped, the starters hung over their campfires.
Twenty years after the gold rush began, the Fleischmann brothers introduced commercial yeast. While commercial yeast didn’t become popular until 1876, it is safe to say that this innovation in bread baking changed everything.
It’s A Process
The most important thing you will do when beginning your starter is to give your newborn enough attention. You will need to focus on this baby for five days, and then, depending on how often you use your starter, there is very little you need to do to keep it going. At the time of this writing, my starter is about a year old. For this post, I am going to start two new sourdough starters.
The flour you begin with when creating your starter matters. Whole grain flours like pumpernickel (whole rye or dark rye) have the food and the wild yeasts you need to grow the best starter. When you use a more processed flour, like All-Purpose flour, the beneficial ingredients have been stripped out during the processing. I am going to make a pumpernickel starter and an AP flour starter side-by-side for this recipe so we can see the difference for ourselves.
During the first week, you will discard some of your starter every day. Don’t fret! Sourdough discard can be used to make many wonderful recipes. Try discarded sourdough starter in pancakes, chocolate cake, or cookies.
Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter
The way you use your starter will determine the maintenance required. If you bake with sourdough occasionally, you can leave the starter in your refrigerator and feed it once a week. The cold will slow down the fermentation process. Keeping your starter cold but not over-chilling it will depend on where in the fridge you place your container. When it comes to fridge placement, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Cold air sinks
- Blowers that move the cold air in your refrigerator are at the back.
If you want to slow down your starter but do not want to freeze the beasties, place your container on the middle shelf, not too far towards the back. When you need your starter, allow it to reach room temperature before use. You can remove what you need, feed it, and leave it out. Do not forget to replenish your starter before returning it to the refrigerator.
If you plan to bake more frequently with a sourdough starter or have plans to use the discarded starter in pancakes, chocolate cakes, and other recipes you make throughout the week, leave your starter in a non-airtight container on your counter. Do not leave your sourdough starter in a place in your kitchen that gets too warm. Feed your starter daily. To feed your starter, follow the same instructions for developing your starter. Use a scant cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. (2:1)
Enjoy finding new ways to use your sourdough starter. I will continue to share with you the ways I enjoy using sourdough. In the comments, let me know how you use your sourdough starter.
- After Day One
- Again, discard half of your starter. (60 g/4 oz/1/2 cup) Add 1/2 cup of water and stir to a slurry. Add 1 cup of AP flour to the slurry and combine thoroughly. Cover, mark, return to your draft-free place. Repeat in 12 hours. Day 5
- Repeat the feeding process. Watch your starter today for all of the activity. After 12 hours, when you compare your starter volume with the mark you have left on your jar, you should see that your starter has about doubled in size. If your starter has not doubled, feed it twice daily until it does. Get Baking!
- Now that you have an active starter, remove the amount your recipe calls for. Feed your starter after removing your baking amount.
*There are arguments for not using metal. Some believe that using a non-reactive vessel is a must. I have also seen starter keepers state that metal hasn't mattered. I have used wooden spoons and stirrers, rubber spatulas, and metal spoons to feed my starter and have found no adverse reactions to metal.
**Mark your container with tape or a rubber band so you can gauge the rise of your starter. You may enjoy using a notebook to keep track of dates, feedings, and the growth of your sourdough starter.
***The fermentation process creates alcohol. The microbes created by this process are eating up the sugar in the flour. The result is a gooey, bubbly mixture that smells sweet with a bit of tang.