You literally only need flour and water. Whole wheat and rye flours work great for this, but you could also use white flour if that's what you have. I grind my own flour whenever I need it. It's optimal to use dechlorinated or filtered water (read my post on how to easily dechlorinate your own) but this isn't essential. If you don't have a filter that removes chlorine, you can leave water in a jar overnight and most of the chlorine evaporates out of it. Chlorine in tap water can inhibit the fermentation that we're trying to achieve for the sourdough starter. To read more about my favorite low cost water filter, check out this article.
Covering your starter with a piece of cloth and rubber band allows it to breathe while keeping it clean.
Start with a cup of flour and a cup of water. Stir them together in a jar; the mixture should be thick but runny. If you want it to be ready sooner, you can also jump start the natural fermentation by using some kombucha or ginger bug for part of the liquid, (click the links for instructions on how to easily make your own kombucha or ginger bug).
If you don't use a starter, wild yeasts from the air, from the surfaces of your jar, spoon, and the grains themselves, will find their way to your starter. This is what you want; those wild yeasts produce the gas that allows the dough to rise. Cover your starter with a cloth so it can breathe but stays clean, and stir twice a day for 3 or 4 days. After that it should be bubbly and smell nicely sour.
Leave room in your jar for expansion! Sourdough starter can double in size during fermentation.
It's ready to use in just a few days! I use about a cup and a half per recipe, and always replenish what I remove in order to maintain the starter. If you keep it on the counter, it needs to be fed daily. Feeding only involves adding a bit of fresh flour and water, maybe a half cup each day. Always stir twice a day unless you've got it in the fridge.
Your starter will grow faster in a warm room, but if it's too hot you might have to stir and feed it more frequently. However, if you don't plan on using it again for a while, cap it tightly in a fresh jar, and stick it in the fridge where it will go dormant. It will keep this way for several weeks, and it's always easy to make a new batch of starter if needed.
If you bake seriously large amounts, you may want to have a bigger jar of sourdough starter. The instructions remain the same, just use larger amounts. If it smells bad or is moldy, compost your starter and try again. This could happen if it was contaminated, or if it went too long without being stirred or fed.
For more on traditional sourdough, as well as a whole world of fermentation ideas, check out the original source of my inspiration, two books by Sandor Katz. Both probably available from your local library, but also definitely worth owning. If you buy either through my ad links below, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of cash. Thanks in advance!
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Making A Sourdough Starter
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