How To Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch

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Imagine the aroma of freshly baked bread filling your kitchen, the warm crust crackling as you tear into a slice, revealing a soft, tangy center. Now picture this bread as the result of your own efforts, starting from scratch and using your very own homemade sourdough starter. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? In this ultimate guide to starting your sourdough starter from scratch, we will take you on a step-by-step journey towards crafting the perfect sourdough bread, from the unique mechanisms behind sourdough to the initial creation of your starter. So put on your apron, roll up your sleeves, and let’s embark on this delicious adventure together. Get ready to experience the tantalizing world of sourdough, where the magic of fermentation meets the art of baking.

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The Rich History of Sourdough Starters

Sourdough starters have a captivating history that dates back to ancient civilizations. It is believed that sourdough bread may have been one of the first types of leavened bread ever created. Early civilizations discovered that by capturing wild yeast from their environment, they could create bread with a unique tangy flavor and a pleasant, chewy texture.

Throughout history, sourdough starters played a crucial role in sustaining communities, especially during times of scarcity. The 1849 Gold Rush in San Francisco, for instance, led to the establishment of a vibrant sourdough culture that still exists today. Pioneers and homesteaders also relied on sourdough starters as a reliable source of leavening in the absence of commercial yeast.

how to make a sourdough starter from scratch

Bringing Sourdough Starters Back to Homesteading

In today’s fast-paced world, there is a growing movement towards homesteading and self-sufficiency. Sourdough starters align perfectly with these values, as they allow individuals and families to create their own leavening agents from scratch, reducing the need for commercial yeast and contributing to a more sustainable lifestyle.

By reintroducing sourdough starters into the homesteading community, we can foster a deeper connection to our food and the time-honored traditions of bread making. Furthermore, sourdough starters can be passed down through generations, becoming a cherished family heirloom and a symbol of self-reliance.

What Is a Sourdough Starter, and How Does It Work?

A sourdough starter is a living culture of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria that serves as the leavening agent in sourdough bread and various other baked goods. It’s a magical mixture that transforms simple ingredients like flour and water into flavorful, aromatic, and beautifully textured bread. Understanding what a sourdough starter is and how it works is fundamental to mastering the art of sourdough breadmaking.

The Microbial Symphony

At its core, a sourdough starter is a symbiotic relationship between wild yeast strains (typically Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lactic acid bacteria (usually Lactobacillus species). These microorganisms coexist in a delicate balance, and together, they create the unique characteristics of sourdough.

1. Wild Yeast: The wild yeast strains in a sourdough starter are responsible for fermentation. They consume the sugars present in the flour and produce carbon dioxide gas and alcohol as byproducts. This carbon dioxide is what causes the dough to rise, giving bread its airy, light structure.

2. Lactic Acid Bacteria: Lactic acid bacteria play a crucial role in sourdough’s distinctive flavor and aroma. They metabolize sugars, producing lactic acid and acetic acid, which contribute to the tangy taste and aroma associated with sourdough bread.

The Fermentation Process

The sourdough starter is the heart of this microbial symphony. When you create a sourdough starter, you’re providing a nurturing environment for these microorganisms to thrive. Here’s how the process works:

1. Mixing Flour and Water: To start a sourdough starter, you combine equal parts of flour and water. This mixture creates a paste-like substance that provides essential nutrients for the wild yeast and bacteria.

2. Capturing Wild Yeast: Wild yeast is naturally present in the environment, including on the surface of grains and in the air. When you mix flour and water and allow it to sit at room temperature, these wild yeast strains find their way into the mixture.

3. Microbial Growth: Over several days, the wild yeast and bacteria begin to multiply within the starter, thanks to the nourishment provided by the flour. This growth phase is what we refer to as fermentation.

4. Acid Development: As the microorganisms metabolize the sugars in the flour, they produce lactic acid and acetic acid. These acids give sourdough its tangy flavor profile while also creating an environment that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

5. Rising Action: When you use your sourdough starter in bread dough, the wild yeast generates carbon dioxide, causing the dough to rise. The lactic acid bacteria continue to develop flavors during this fermentation, giving the bread its signature taste.

Maintaining and Feeding Your Sourdough Starter

To keep your sourdough starter alive and thriving, you need to maintain it through regular feedings. This involves discarding a portion of the starter and replenishing it with fresh flour and water. By doing so, you ensure that the microbial community remains balanced and active.

Sourdough starters can be passed down through generations, with some starters having been in continuous use for centuries. With proper care and attention, your sourdough starter can become a cherished family heirloom, imparting unique flavors to your bread and connecting you to a tradition that spans millennia.

sourdough starter schedule

Gathering the Ingredients and Tools To Make Your Sourdough Starter From Scratch

To embark on the journey of making your own sourdough starter, you’ll need to gather a few key ingredients and tools. Don’t worry, none of these are overly complicated or hard to find, and chances are you might already have some of them in your kitchen.

Flour

First and foremost, you’ll need flour. The type of flour you choose will greatly impact the flavor and success of your sourdough starter. Whole wheat flour or rye flour are often recommended for their natural yeast and bacterial content, which can give your starter a robust and tangy flavor. However, all-purpose flour or bread flour can work just as well if that’s what you have on hand.

Water

Next, you’ll need water. It’s important to use clean, chlorine-free water, as chlorine can inhibit the growth of the beneficial bacteria and yeasts in your sourdough. Filtered or bottled water is a good choice, but if you have tap water, simply let it sit out for a few hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

Vessel

You’ll also need a container to mix and store your sourdough starter. A glass jar or plastic container with a lid works perfectly, as long as it’s large enough to accommodate the growth of your starter. It’s best to avoid metal containers, as they can react with the acidic nature of the sourdough.

Additional Tools

Additionally, a kitchen scale is a helpful tool to ensure accurate measurements of your ingredients. While it’s possible to measure by volume using measuring cups, weighing your flour and water will give you more consistent results and make it easier to follow sourdough recipes.

Lastly, don’t forget about a kitchen towel or plastic wrap to cover your container. This will help create a warm and humid environment for your starter to thrive. Additionally, using something such as Brod And Taylor’s Sourdough Home can be extremely helpful in maintaining precise temperature for your starter to thrive in.

Check out some of our Favorite Sourdough Tools to make your sourdough journey A LOT easier!

With your ingredients and tools gathered, you’re now ready to dive into creating the initial starter on Day 1. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started on this exciting journey of sourdough baking!

sourdough starter for beginners

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day 1

With your ingredients and tools gathered, you’re now ready to dive into creating your own sourdough starter from scratch on Day 1. Creating the initial starter is an exciting and essential step in your sourdough baking journey, as it sets the foundation for a robust and flavorful loaf of bread. We suggest creating your starter in the morning (a.m.) to make scheduling feedings and discard a bit easier.

Combine

To begin, you’ll first need to combine equal parts of your choice flour and warm water (ideally 65 to 70° F). There are many different suggestions on the interweb about exactly how much to use. However, I found that 30 grams of each makes for a successful and delicious starter. This typically measures out to 1/4 cup flour and 2 tablespoons of water. However, you’ll want to make sure this is accurate for your particular flour so it would be best to weigh both ingredients until you find the proper measurement. Always shoot for 30 grams of each.

Mix & Cover

Whisk the mixture vigorously until it becomes smooth and free of lumps. This initial mixture will be quite thick, resembling a pancake batter. Once your flour and water are combined, cover the container with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. This cover will create a warm and humid environment, allowing the wild yeast and bacteria present in the air to colonize and thrive in your starter.

Storing

Now, it’s time to find a cozy spot for your container. Ideally, you want to place it somewhere with a consistent temperature of around 70-75°F (21-24°C). This temperature range is optimal for yeast activity. Avoid placing it in direct sunlight or near any strong drafts, as these can affect the fermentation process.

First Feeding

After the first 12 hours, you’ll give your sourdough starter from scratch its first feeding (p.m. feed). Add 30 grams water and 30 grams flour to your started and stir vigorously. Make sure everything is well mixed. Cover and place back in its optimal spot.

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day 2

Remember, patience is key during these initial stages. While some starters may begin to show activity within the first 24 hours, others might take a bit longer. Don’t worry if your starter doesn’t show much progress right away – it can sometimes take up to a week for a starter to fully establish itself.

Discarding your Sourdough Starter From Scratch

After 24 hours has passed, you’re going to do your first discard (a.m discard and feed). Simply remove half of the sourdough starter from scratch from your container and replace it with the same amount of water and flour as the first time (30 grams of each). This first discard won’t be active enough to make any discard recipes with. However, you can add it to any flour and water recipe. You’ll be discarding half of the starter every 24 hours for a bit so you could store the discard in the fridge and keep adding to it until you have a recipe to use it in. You can also add it to the compost or feed it to your chickens.

Discard Importance

Do NOT skip the discard step. The discard step in sourdough starter maintenance serves several vital purposes. It maintains a consistent and manageable starter volume, ensuring that it doesn’t grow too large or become unwieldy. Additionally, discarding balances the population of microorganisms, preventing an overabundance of yeast or lactic acid bacteria. Regular discarding and feeding provide fresh nutrients, sustaining the starter’s health and activity levels. It also helps regulate the acidity of the starter, preventing it from becoming overly sour. Skipping the discard step can lead to issues like poor rise, excessive acidity, and a sluggish or impractical starter, highlighting its crucial role in the overall care and vitality of your sourdough culture.

Feeding

During the p.m feeding on day 2, you won’t need to discard anything. Simply feed your starter the 30 grams each of water and flour and mix completely. You may start to see bubbles form on the surface, indicating that the fermentation process has begun. This is an encouraging sign that your starter is on the right track.

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day 3

By Day 3, you may begin to notice small bubbles forming on the surface of your mixture. This is a promising sign that your sourdough starter from scratch is coming to life. This is really when the rhythm of sourdough starter takes off. In the a.m., discard half the starter and feed as before. Then in the p.m., give it another feeding of equal parts flour and water (always 30 grams of each until established).

Feeding your starter is a crucial step in the sourdough process. Just as we need nourishment to grow and thrive, so does your starter. By feeding it, you’re providing it with the essential nutrients it needs to develop robust flavors and a strong, active fermentation.

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day 4

On day 4, continue with the discard and feeding in the a.m., and the feeding in the p.m. Again, use equal parts flour and water at 30 grams of each.

Each time you feed your starter, it will start to become more active and show signs of fermentation. You may notice bubbles forming on the surface, a pleasant tangy smell, or even a slight rise in volume. These are all positive indications that your starter is progressing nicely.

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day 5

Day 5 follows the same routine. Discard and feed in the a.m, feed in the p.m.

By now your starter should be pretty active shortly after feeding it. You officially have a ‘young’ sourdough starter. It may not be up for taking on a loaf of bread yet, however, you can begin to use the discards in non-rising recipes such as pancakes, waffles, quick breads, cakes and so much more!

homemade sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter From Scratch Day’s 6-28

By the time day 6 arrives you should have yourself a wonderful, tangy, immature starter going. It won’t be ready for bread making until it’s at least 4 weeks old. However, you don’t have to baby your starter so much, if you choose.

Feeding Alternative

You may continue with the twice daily feedings with an a.m. discard, or you can switch it up. You can begin once daily feedings with 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of water, discarding as normal. This allows for a bit more wiggle room when caring for your growing starter. However, if you feel as if your starter becomes a bit slow, it may be best to alternate between the once daily and twice daily feedings.

When It’s Ready

Approximately around week 4, your sourdough starter will be ready for bread making! You’ll know it’s ready when it consistently doubles in size just a few hours after feedings.

With just a few simple ingredients you have now created something that can last a lifetime! Sourdough starters are meant to be a cherished tradition, passed now through the generations and cared for with love. It not only makes great tasting bread, without the need to purchase yeast, but it also creates family bonds and heirlooms that your kids and grandkids can enjoy for years to come. So make sure you take care of your starter! And welcome to the world of sourdough!

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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