Flour and water seems simple enough to make your own sourdough starter at home. What consistency should a sourdough starter be? What kind of flour should you use it for best results? How much flour? How much water? What’s a float test and what temperature should you keep your starter at?
If you have these questions you have come to the right page! I am going to show you how easy it is too catch wild yeast and maintain an active starter. This purpose of this post is to teach you how to do your sourdough starter without measuring. You do not need to measure how many grams of flour or water everyday. Sourdough can be measured in cups and done quickly when you know what consistency your starter should be.
What is a Sourdough and why do you need a starter?
Sourdough bread, is bread leavened with wild yeast. If that sounds foreign to you, let me try again. Sourdough bread is bread that gets its fluffiness and rise from natural yeast that is in the air all around us. This is how everyone made bread before you could hope in the care and buy of a packet of dry active yeast. It is the OG way to make bread.
I love making sourdough bread. Yes, it takes all day. It is a slow-down and enjoy the process kind of thing. The flavor is unbeatable. Once you start making your own bread it’s really hard to go back to a store bought loaf of bread. It might be faster to grab a bag off the shelf but with prices climbing every day, grocery store storages, and questionable preservatives and fillers. Making bread, especially sourdough is a skill everyone should take the time to master. And you just cant do that without a sourdough starter!
It can be tricky but I think I have made just about every mistake possible so you don’t have to. Feeding ratio, flour types, hydration starter amount, room temperature, warm temperature, stretch fold, knead, it can all be SO overwhelming. I think the first time I opened a book on sourdough I closed it right back up. I thought to myself there must be a simpler way to do all this!
So lets talk first about the star of the show: an active sourdough starter.
Lets breakdown starter:
Yeast is what makes bread rise. Have you ever looked at a piece of bread closely? its filled with little bubbles. Little pockets of air that puff up the loaf to make it stand. Yeast is what makes this happen. We someone says yeast you might think of the tiny packets in the back of your aunt or grandmothers baking cupboard. It is crazy to think but yeast is everywhere. It’s in the air all around us. we don’t actually need to buy yeast. It is all around you for free. Commercial yeast is very convenient. It defiantly has its place in the baking world. Really I feel like sourdough is a completely different world! so lets jump into it!
Why sourdough? So this all day event, all the measuring and folds and making sure we don’t let the starter die sounds like a lot of work. Why bother? Well like anything in life when there is a lot of work, there is a lot of reward. Sourdough is indeed sour. It is sour because it is fermented. Fermentation has a host of benefits. It is easier for us to digest because it breaks down the acids in the grains our bodies have a hard time processing. Some people with gluten sensitivities find they are able to eat sourdough bread and other sourdough goodies. The fermentation can help the bread last longer then yeast breads. This is because fermentation is more resistant to mold.
Okay lets talk about that starter. Sourdough starter is a living organism. So you can start by giving your starter a name.
Meet Matilda the Sourdough Starter of East Pine Home.
Lets talk about flour. Flour is really important when thinking about a healthy starter and getting your sourdough journey off the ground. You can use just about any type of flour in your cupboard. But you are serious about getting things going quickly, you can start by using a whole wheat flour, bread flour, rye or unbleached all purpose flour. These flours will give your starter the fastest start. Somethings like rye you can start making sourdough bread in as little as 8 days. If all you have is all purpose white, it might take 14 days to really get going.
NOTE: If you have spent anytime poking around my website you know here we are super fans of fresh flour and milled grains. I do NOT recommend using your freshly milled flour in your starter. Freshly milled grains/ whole grain flour have the bran present. Those teeny tiny bran pieces act like razor blades and can shred your starter apart and cause a lot of issues over time. It might look fine this first little while you put freshly milled flour in your starter but over time it will fall flat.
I tried for a solid three months to create a freshly milled flour starter and it was okay for a few weeks and then a lot of dense flat bread followed. So when building a starter to use as a leavening agent, steer clear from your grain mill. You will want to grab a bag of whole wheat, rye, etc. off the store shelf where you know the bran has been 100% sifted out. You can play around with different flour but any organic flours or sprouted rye flour have been my favorite!
What about water?
Next lets chat about water. Yes your water matters. If you are on town/city water that has chlorine in it. That is a big no no. Use filtered water. Chlorine will kill the wild yeast you are trying to keep alive. If you have a well and drink your tap water chances are you are already testing your water regularly so if you are clear from chlorine you are good to go.
What should you put your starter in. I am sure if you are here you have seen a sourdough starter before. I’m going to guess you have seen them in a glass jar. You can store your sourdough starter in a wide mouth clean jar. But heed my warning from a women who really hates doing more dishes then necessary. I don’t have my dear Matilda in a pretty glass jar. Matilda is a practical girl and lives in a large Tupperware container. Once upon a time I had her in a pretty glass jar and it was a nightmare to clean. The thing a lot of people wont tell you about sourdough is how utterly messy it can be. When flour and water meet.. they can create a flim of cement on those pretty glass jars. I have found a large Tupperware container much easier to clean.
A new sourdough starter is worth all the time and effort. It really is an accomplishment making a homemade sourdough bread recipe with natural yeasts. It is a great way to add fermented food to your diet.
Lets get started
Now that you have your flour picked out you can start you starter. This process might feel wasteful but in a week or two you can save that “discard” for a whole host of recipes.
Sourdough starter recipe
Day 1: Mix1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. Mix vigorously until all combined. Put a little lid, cloth, cheese cloth, loosely on the lid of your jar.
Day 2: Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water
Day 3: Discard half of your starter mixture, Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water.
Note: If you need to add a tbsp of flour to get a thick consistency.
You might see a clear liquid or grey liquid forming on top of your starter. This is not mold. As your starter ferments “hooch” or “scooby” will form. This is just fermentation process doing its thing. Just scoop it off the top of your new starter and continue on as normal.
Repeat the daily feeding everyday for 10 days, you should start to see bubbles forming by day four.
Consistency of Sourdough Starter
Now lets talk finding the right consistency. You want your sourdough starter to be the consistency of thick pancake batter. if its too thin add a scoop of flour. If it is too thick add water to find the right consistency.
When trying to establish a mature starter try to keep her out of extreme lower temperatures and higher temperatures. A healthy sourdough starter should be kept in a room that’s warm. 70 degrees is just about perfect. You can keep your starter in our oven with the light on if you find your kitchen is a bit cold. I leave mine on the counter, but on days its colder its a good idea to find a warm spot in house.
This part of the sourdough process can feel really wasteful but once your starter is established you can use your discard in sourdough discard recipes. Crackers, brownies, and even cinnamon rolls.
This routine will be the regular feedings until day 10. By day 10 your starter should be good and strong. By now if your starter is in a jar you can take a rubber band and put it around where the starter is when you feed it. After 4-6 hours you can watch as your starter rises, doubling in size. When your starter has reached this point it is ready to try a “Float test”.
The “Float test” is taking little bit your starter/ teaspoon of the starter, when it is at its peak with lots of bubbles and plopping in it a glass of water. If it floats then your starter is gassy and bubbly enough to make a loaf of bread. This is the best way to see if you have a good sourdough starter.
If by day 10 you don’t see any bubbles. There is probably something in your water that is killing the natural yeast. Switch your water source and try and start over.
If she is alive and well..
If your sourdough starter lives you can now really get going with sourdough. Because I have six kids Matilda (my starter) lives in a spacious container. Part of the reason being I need more then 1/2 cup of starter at a time. If I am gearing up for a baking day I know I want 3-4 cups of starter bubbly and ready to use. If your starter is ready and your going to play around and experiment you can increase the amount of flour and water you put in your starters feed. This is when its important to know what sourdough starter consistency you are looking for. When you figure out the consistency you are looking for you don’t need to think about the ratio of flour or the amount of water. You can just mix it up and go
You will have to feed your starter everyday. If that sounds like too much and you think you want to be a weekend sourdough baker. That’s fine too. Once your starter is going (14 days) you can pop her in the fridge. Take her out Friday morning to warm up, feed her Friday night and bake on Saturday. There are a lot of different ways to store a sourdough starter. You can even put it in the freezer for two months, thaw it, feed it and in a day or two it is ready to bake with again.
An established good starter is pretty hard to kill. It is really the best thing when you get the hang of it and the uses just never cease when feeding a hungry crew of children. Your feeding schedule is not something to be stressed about past the two week mark. morning or night so long as it is done every day you are good. I use to set a timer on my phone so I wouldn’t forget but now its natural. I have forgot from time to time and Matilda is going and still thriving. Don’t stress too much over your own starter. It is something that can go for a long time in the fridge as well if you know you’re entering a busy season of life that don’t have time for a sourdough recipe.
In a lot of recipes you will see the authors measuring in grams. They are using a digital scale. Often they avoid white flour or make it more complicated then it needs to be. I am hereto reassure you sourdough is not really that complicated. So long as you have an established starter. You have a shot at some pretty amazing sourdough recipes.
Learning what consistency sourdough starter should be can be tricky but with some practice it becomes second nature!
Can you freeze your starter?
I learned that this one of the best option to store sourdough for future use. If you are heading into a busy season of life and do not want to deal with sourdough starter discard, baking and more just pour 1/4 cup of your starter into an airtight container and pop it in the freezer. I found out sourdough bakers do this all the time in case they do kill a starter. This saves them from starting over.
As your sourdough starter thaws you might not see any signs of activity. The longer it has been in the freezer with no feeding the less chance it will come back to to life. If you want to take it out and let it thaw, be fed, get active again at least every month. then you can stick it back in for later use. It is a good idea to always have a little starter in the freezer as a backup starter. Just in case something happens to your fresh starter by accident.
Ready to bake bread?
Awesome lets do it.
When your starter is the perfect consistency, and passes the float test. take 1/2 cup and mix it in 2 cups of warm water.
Mix 4 cups of flour and 2 tsp of salt.
Add your liquid starter and warm mixure to the flour and salt.
I usually wet my hands and knead by hand. It can get messy but thats ok.
knead for about 5 mins
put in a bowl and let rest for 15 mins. Stertch and fold until dough is more firm. Allow to rest for another 15 mins. Do one more stretch and fold until the dough is firm.
A stretch and fold really only takes about 20 seconds. It is quick and easy.
Cover your dough bowl with a plastic bag, shower cap or damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for 6 hours.
Bring out dough and shape and build tension. You do this by pushing the dough forward and pulling it back, trying to create a round ball of dough. Keep tucking the dough down to the bottom.
Once that is done place on floured parchment paper in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 mins. Take out and score top. Scoring is taking a razor or sharp knife and making a long 1″ inch slice down down the length of the dough. you can even make smaller slits and create a beautiful design.
Preheat oven to 400 with dutch oven in it to heat up. Place a large baking sheet on lower rack. This will help the bottom of your bread not be so hard. under parchment add a small amount of water ( 3 tbsps)
Place dough in dutch oven and bake with lid on for 20 mins. remove lid and continue baking for 40 mins.
Remove bread from dutch oven and allow bread to cool completely before cutting into it.
Simple Sourdough Bread (IN CUPS)
- 1 Dutch Oven
- 1 cup Sourdough Starter Bubbly and active fed 8-10hrs before
- 2 2/3 cups water
- 7 cups White all purpose flour
- 4 tsp Salt
- Feed starter 6-8 hours before you want to start mixing ingredients.When your starter is the perfect consistency, and passes the float test. take 1/2 cup and mix it in 1 1/3 cups of warm water.Mix 3.5 cups of flour and 2 tsp of salt.Add your liquid starter and warm mixture to the flour and salt.Repeat for your second loaf in another bowl.I usually wet my hands and knead by hand. It can get messy but that's ok.Knead for about 5 minsPut in a bowl and let rest for 15 mins. Stertch and fold until dough is more firm. Allow to rest for another 15 mins. Do one more stretch and fold until the dough is firm.A stretch and fold really only takes about 20 seconds. It is quick and easy.Cover your dough bowl with a plate, plastic bag, shower cap or damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for 6 hours. or place in fridge for 10-12 hoursBring out dough and shape and build tension. You do this by pushing the dough forward and pulling it back, trying to create a round ball of dough. Keep tucking the dough down to the bottom.Once that is done place on floured parchment paper in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 mins. Take out and score top. Scoring is taking a razor or sharp knife and making a long 1" inch slice down down the length of the dough. you can even make smaller slits and create a beautiful design.
- Preheat oven to 400 with dutch oven in it to heat up. Place a large baking sheet on lower rack. This will help the bottom of your bread not be so hard. under parchment add a small amount of water ( 3 tbsps)Place dough in dutch oven and bake with lid on for 20 mins. remove lid and continue baking for 40 mins.Remove bread from dutch oven and allow bread to cool completely before cutting into it.
I hope you learned more about what sourdough starter consistency should be.
Remember to do what you do for His glory. Until next time xoxo – Sam
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