Tips for Starting Sourdough Bread from Scratch

Have you ever thought about making sourdough bread at home? If you are even a bit interested in making one, you would know that a sourdough bread requires a starter. This is where most people would give up because, at first glance, creating a starter for sourdough bread seems difficult and time-consuming. All you read and hear is that you have to keep it for several weeks or so, and you have to care about it like a little child.

Well, let us tell you once, and for all that besides being analogically like your child as you have to feed it and keep an eye on it, a sourdough starter is not difficult at all. It only takes about 5 minutes every day for a week, and then it is done! You can use it for years – and just like mentioned before – nurture it like your child by checking up on it and feeding it, all of which is explained in this article.

The best thing about investing your time and energy in making a sourdough starter is that it is a one-time investment that pays off for years – that too, not only in making sourdough bread but also sourdough pizza, bagels, and more. This article articulately explains how to make a sourdough starter with tips and explanations wherever required. Let us begin our journey to baking the tastiest and nicest smelling bread!

What is a Sourdough Starter?

What is a Sourdough Starter?

If you have been in awe about what this fuss is all about, then let us tell you that a sourdough starter is not anything that requires fancy ingredients and expensive items. Flour and water are the two only fundamental ingredients used to create this magic. You can think of a sourdough starter as the yeast you get from the store. A good one like the Saratoga Jacks sourdough starter can help in rising your bread.

In this case, the sourdough starter is the yeast that you create at home. It is obtained by letting the flour ferment naturally when combined with water. Using only two ingredients, you can create the basic magic of baking sourdough bread. Now let us move on and understand why the starter needs feeding and what does it imply.

After the initial combining of the flour and water, keep the mixture away at room temperature. Wild yeast present in the flour naturally starts multiplying once left in a favorable environment (room temperature). The technical term for this is that the natural bacteria starts to eat the flour in the jar and results in yeast. Feeding periodically with more flour is thus required when all the flour is eaten by the bacteria and gone.

How to Create a Sourdough Starter?

How to Create a Sourdough Starter?

All the main work for creating a sourdough starter has to be done on the first day. After that, the only thing you need is to feed it with more flour. So, take equal parts of flour (50 grams whole + 50 grams all-purpose flour) and water (100 grams) and mix them without leaving any clumps. Take a clean mason jar and pour the mixture into it. Cover the jar with a lid or a fabric tightened with a rubber band and let it rest.

After 24 hours, stir the mixture once again to incorporate any air, cover again, and set aside for another day. On the third day, you should see some bubbles in the mixture. Fret not if you do not as sometimes it takes longer than two days. On the fourth day, take about 50 grams of the starter, a clean jar, equal parts flour and water. Mix up all the ingredients and discard the rest of the starter.

Tips for Creating a Sourdough Starter

How Frequently Should You Feed?

Feeding implies adding more flour to your sourdough starter as the bacteria keeps eating the flour in the jar you initially put in. The main purpose of feeding more flour is to keep the bacteria nourished and thriving. This is the bacteria that you need to make incredibly soft and tasty sourdough bread. The frequency of feeding the starter depends on the temperature it is kept at.

Generally, warmer temperatures favor bacterial growth or fermentation. This is why, if you keep your sourdough starter at room temperature, you will have to feed it daily, else it will go bad. Keeping the starter at cooler temperatures, such as in the refrigerator, does not require daily feeding. You can feed your starter once a week if stored in colder environments. This is an excellent way of going on a short trip without worrying about spoiling your starter (told you it is like a child!).

Ways to know if the Starter is ready 

If till day four, your starter looks nowhere to be ready, do not give up. A pro tip is to tie a rubber band around the jar to mark the initial level of the starter. After resting it for a day and feeding it, the starter should double in size. Ideally, a starter is ready in about seven days.

You should know that it is ready when you see it doubling in size after you feed it. If this happens for at least two days consistently, then know that you are more than ready to bake an incredible loaf of sourdough bread.

Another tip to check how ready your sourdough starter is by conducting a float test. For this, you have to take a jar and fill it with room temperature water. Take a spoonful of starter and very carefully drop it in the water. If your starter floats in the water, then know it is time to use it anytime. However, if it does not float and sinks to the bottom instead, let it sit for a day or two more while you feed it daily.

The Smell of the Starter

If you have followed every step to the core and continued with proper storing and feedings, then your sourdough starter should smell sweet and tangy. If, however, it smells bad and unpleasant, then know that you have either used an unclean jar or messed up with the fermentation process. This bad smell might be an indication that your starter is nurturing some other harmful bacteria. In such cases, it is best to start over as nothing can reverse the process of fermentation.

What to Do When Nothing is happening with the Starter?

If your starter was doing well previously but started acting out and fizzled, then it is best to introduce some bread flour in the flour you are using for feeding.

Over Feeding

The indication that your starter requires more than one feeding per day is that it eats up the flour, and you add it very quickly. The best possible sign for that is to observe when your dough peaks and then deflates. This is the common sign that the bacteria have fed upon the flour, and the starter needs more. Besides this indication, do not overfeed your starter.

Some Other Tips to Create a Sourdough Starter

  • If you wish to add more acidity to your sourdough bread starter, try adding a little pineapple juice instead of water during one of the feedings.
  • If you observe water in your starter, then do not be dismayed. It is a sign that you need to feed the starter. So, do so, and let your starter thrive.
  • If there is any discoloration in your starter or mold, and it is only on the surface, you can still save your starter. Discard the mold from the top and save about a half cup of the starter so you can feed it the next time. However, you are the best judge, so you should rely on your smell and see if it can be saved or not.
  • Do not take the float test to heart as often the starter might fail the float test but shows consistency in peaking and falling. In this case, the starter might be ready for baking sourdough bread.
  • You can refrigerate it for about 2-3 weeks without feeding it. It does not mostly ruin the starter, and you can revive it by initially feeding thrice a day and then gradually cutting it down to the normal frequency.
  • Filtered or bottled water is recommended for obtaining the best results.
  • After the initial week, when your starter is peaking and deflating consistently, you can start using the discarded starter for baking.

Final Words

It might seem like a long wait and lots of hard work to create the sourdough starter, but once you are into the second week of successfully creating your starter, you can start reaping the benefits. You will forget the initial work and start petting (read: feeding) your sourdough starter like a pet. The aroma of freshly baked bread will also make you realize how the effort is worth it.