So you want to make your very own sourdough starter? Good! Let me show you how it’s done.
If you don’t want to put up with my ramblings about sourdough, just use this chart:
|The No-Nonsense Sourdough Starter Chart (developed from Breadtopia)|
|Day||Instructions||What You’ll See||What You’ll Smell|
|1||Mix 3 ½ tablespoons (T) of whole wheat flour with ¼ cup pineapple juice. Let that sit at room temperature for about 48 hours. And mix with gusto 2–3 times a day. Want to watch a video of how it’s done? Click here.||Wet flour, not much happening on the first day.||A sweet (honey-like) wheat smell.|
|2||You’ll just be stirring today. Three times.||You may see a little separation between the juice and the flour.||Same sweet smell.|
|3||Add 2T of pineapple juice and 2T of whole wheat flour. Let that sit at room temperature for about 48 hours. And mix with gusto 2–3 times a day.||The color is turning from that golden wheat color to darker, dull wheat color.||The smell definitely turns at this point. It’s pungent. A little offensive, sour. Like vomit.|
|4||You’ll just be stirring today. Three times.||You should start to see activity on the top of the starter. Like clouds and bubbles that are not generated by stirring. This is make or break time, this is when you may want to throw it out and start over if you are getting absolutely no results.||Still strong.|
|5||Add 5 ½T of flour, and 3T of WATER (you’ll want it thicker now, so more flour and less water). Occasionally folks have trouble with their water source, I can use tap water with no problems (I’ve done this in WA, TX, and SC). You really don’t have to mess with it for a day.||You should start seeing a network of bubbles along the sides of the jar and maybe even some rising.||The smell has probably gone down a notch or two. It is starting to smell more like beer, because it’s fermenting.|
|6||Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and ¼ to 1/3 cup water. You are pretty much done at this point and should have a healthy yeast colony.||It should rise over the next few hours after the addition.||A pleasant yeasty smell. Maybe a tinge of sourness.|
|7||Now you go into maintenance mode. Watch this video to learn how to manage your starter.|
I am heavily dependent on Eric at Breadtopia for this entire blogpost.
Now for the ramblings:
You’ll need the proper ingredients and tools. You need:
- whole wheat flour
- pineapple juice (unsweetened)
- a tablespoon for measuring
- a jar with a lid that doesn’t close air tight (you can accomplish this by poking some holes through a spaghetti jar lid, or just use plastic wrap held in place with a rubber band–poke holes in the plastic wrap). My jar is from Italy (fancy fancy) and specifically designed for starter (I think), and I got it here.
Hey, notice that I did not add store-bought yeast. Why? That’s cheating, and purists will shun you forever.
I am following the “pineapple juice solution” developed by Debra Wink that makes it nearly impossible for this to fail. If you do not use the pineapple solution and just use water, there’s about a 40% chance it won’t work. You can see below that all I did was mix about a tablespoon of flour with a tablespoon of pineapple juice. You want to stir that a few times over the next day or so. I start small. Other recipes start out with a lot and want you to throw out half every day, I think this way is less wasteful.
I try to keep my starter in a warm place and so should you. Near the stove or on top of the refrigerated works well. (This picture shows the apartment schedule for doing dishes, and it also shows that we were currently dealing with some unwanted guests.) After a day or two, add another tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of pineapple juice. Stir with some gusto 2–3 times each day.
Just so you know: the process of adding more and more flour and more and more liquid (don’t use pineapple juice after the second addition) to your starter is called “feeding” It’s like having a little pet in your home. And you need to learn to feed it on a regular basis. After this first week or two, once a week or once every two weeks for feeding is fine (it kind of depends on your baking frequency). Storing it in the refrigerator once your starter comes to life makes it so that you do not have to feed it often.
Time commitment: In my opinion, sourdough is not time consuming. It takes time, but your involvement with it is sparse. You let it do its own thing most of the time.
Well, several days passed and I was hardly seeing any results. I mean, almost nothing. I was hitting the fifth-day mark and I had come up with creative methods to warm it up (it was unusually cold in Dallas this month and we weren’t turning on the heat during the day). I stored it in a hot pool of water. Kept it in the oven over night with the oven light on (one of the little tricks you learn over time), and zilch!
Ideally, and this is important, you should start seeing activity around the fourth day.
Once it got a little warmer, I could tell it was coming to life (see below). It started producing the cloud of bubbles you see across the top. But this was about day 6 or 7 in the whole process.
One of the things you will learn about sourdough is that it is very, very forgiving. You don’t feed it for a month or two (I once went the whole summer) and I revived my starter within a few feedings. So don’t think everything has to be perfect, it’s an imperfect process, which is perfect for imperfect people.
Now this is super important: The whole time you need to be using your sight and your sniffer. The starter usually moves from a sweet (like honey) wheat smell. To what I can only call a throw-up smell. To a light beer/yeasty smell. And the longer you have it, the more twang and sour it will become. See that liquid forming around the side? That’s called hooch! It’s alcoholic but don’t drink it. Either pour it off or mix it back in.
Confession time! I nearly gave up on Apollo. Yes, you should name your starter since it is a living organism. It was about day 8 or day 9, and it just wasn’t moving. Yet something kept me from throwing it away. I moved it from the jar and into a plastic container. I started feeding it some white bread flour. I would see a network of bubbles along the side. Look below the black line.
Let me say this here: the kind of bread you want to bake determines the kind of starter you need. If you want to make whole wheat breads, keep a whole wheat starter. But because I want this to be flexible, I maintain a whole wheat/bread flour starter. That’s why I started feeding it with bread flour.
Insider’s secret: Learn to mark your jar either with a pen or a rubber band at the current level of the starter. That’s when you know without a doubt your starter is rising.
Here’s the network of bubbles up close and personal. These bubbles are not produced by stirring but by the activity of the yeast colony.
At this point (day 13 or so), I knew my starter had not failed but was coming to life. So I moved it back to the glass jar and fed it with more bread flour and warm tap water. I am purposefully being vague on measurements, just experiment to find the right amount to add in the right proportions. Here’s how it started. Notice the rubber band along the line of the starter at 12:02PM.
Here’s my starter just 31 minutes later. About an inch above the rubber band!
Um, yeah. A little over an hour has passed and we have doubled. That’s really good.
Document how long it takes your starter to double. Why? Because that tells you how long it will take to raise your loaf of bread in the future.
You can see that it did very well, but after two hours started to fall on it’s own. When your starter can rise like that, it’s mature enough to store in the fridge.
Again, here’s the network of bubbles (below). Big ones and small ones. Just imagine that in your future loaf!
Here’ the view from the top. Not much going on.
I hope this is helpful for starting your first starter. I scoured the internet when I started and it seemed that few people took the time to explain and show you the beginning. If you have questions or comments just post below and I will get to them as soon as possible! Also, tell me how I can improve this post for true beginners.