Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sourdough Series: Starter Recipe

The starter fully bubbling and foaming, we're on the right track!
This summer I learned how to make my own sourdough bread, from my own sourdough starter. The major things I struggled with throughout this process were:

#1 Making the bread actually taste "sour"
#2 Making it look like a proper loaf rather than a flat oblong thing
#3 Finding a baking method that was most conducive to a crunchy crust with a moist interior

Through all of these struggles, I really felt like sourdough was going to defeat me. At one point I did even give up. I put the starter sponge in the fridge and intentionally forgot about it, thinking that I'd probably end up throwing it out in a month. By the time a few weeks passed, curiosity called to me so I took it out of the fridge and refreshed it, just for the heck of it. To my amazement it bounced back with full strength. After this personal resurgence, I stumbled upon a Good Eats episode in which Alton Brown baked his sourdough in a dutch oven (check out Kalie's sourdough she baked in a dutch oven, so beautiful!) I think that is when everything changed.

Here is the list of my ups and downs in my pursuit of sourdough, just in case you may be able to relate:

#1 First loaf was flat, dense, and lacked flavor.

#2 Second loaf I learned about "couches" from Fresh Loaf, and the loaf turned out beautiful although again tasteless and slightly dense but not as dense as the first try.

#3 Third loaf, I had a starter that was now 2 months old. The taste was much improved, could taste the sour notes. Just a little dense still. I baked this one at a higher temperature as per Fresh Loaf's suggestion. The crust was perfect.

#4 Fourth and fifth loaf. Baked them in the dutch oven. Tasted amazing, interior crust was also perfect. The loaves puffed perfectly, very round and not the dreaded flat. I owe many thanks to the Fresh Loaf, and as well to Alton Brown for their tips. I wanted to stay true to "spontaneous fermentation" so at no point did I add any baker's yeast. The other thing that helped the flavor a lot was to increase the salt amount. Since baking my sourdough in the dutch oven, I have to say I am addicted to this method and utilize it for my other breads as well now.

I will post on three of these different experiences, because some of these methods are worth tucking away for future use. For now, if you want to join me on this sourdough venture, begin your starter.

The starter beginning to bubble.

Sour Dough Yeast Starter
Active Time: 5 min Total Time: Indefinite
Notes: I use King Arthur Flour because of its premium baking qualities, and I use filtered water because in the past my breads have had superior taste using filtered rather than tap.

Step 1) In a sealable container, I used a mason jar, mix together 1/4 cup filtered water, and 1/4 cup flour. Let it sit on the counter with plastic wrap covering the top with a tiny hole poked through to allow a little ventilation. Allow it to sit overnight undisturbed.

Step 2) Every day refresh your starter about the same time every day, for a week. Refreshing your starter means you will add 2 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp water every day, and stir or shake it after each feeding. I like to alternate whole wheat flour and white flour whenever I refresh.

Step 3) Your starter should begin to bubble and fizz after the week, if you have attained this effect, place the starter with a lid slightly sealed but not tightly sealed in the fridge. If you have not achieved this "spontaneous fermentation" try again, or use rye flour instead of regular flour. At the end of this week pour half of the amount out into dough and use as a pizza dough, or just throw it out. This will help the remaining cells to become more potent the next time you add flour and water to it. Your starter won't be too sour yet. You will have to use it a few more times before noticing a "sour" taste. Keep the starter in the fridge from this point on until ready to use.

Step 4) Your starter or sponge, may be kept indefinitely as long as you feed it weekly, or sometimes they may last way longer between feedings as I have learned. If it has been awhile in between feedings, refresh, and let it sit on the counter at room temperature for 3 - 4 hours, or for the day, until it starts to bubble a lot before placing it back in the fridge. Every time you refresh it on a weekly (or monthly if it works for you) change out the jar and check for mold. If mold appears, throw it out and start again. Changing the jar often will prevent mold from growing.

Step 5) Using your starter: When you use your starter, reserve about 2 or 3 tbsp in the jar. Build your next starter upon that good 2 or 3 tbsp of previous starter. The taste will continue to improve as it ages. When wanting to use it for baking, take your starter out of this fridge and add 2 tbsp of water and flour. Allow it to come to room temperature. There will probably be liquid and solid separation.* When that occurs stir it up, or easier (if using a lidded jar), turn it upside down. Continue to turn jar every time it separates over the span of 3 to 4 hours (up to all day or even overnight).

*Update as of Jan. 2013: After having an insightful conversation with my dear friend, I realized I should mention the natural separation that occurs when creating your own sourdough starter. When it does separate, it just means that the settled yeast is finished eating the sugars. They are still viable cells, and actually cause it to taste more sour. You're doing fine as long as there is no mold growing in the jar. That would be the only case when you would need to throw it out. When you do see the liquid separation, just shake it up or what I like to do in a mason jar is turn it upside down every time it separates, turn it right side up when it separates again. When I am reactivating my starter after it being in the fridge for a couple weeks, it always comes out of the fridge separated. Turn the jar about 3 or 4 times before using it.

So this is a good start for having as much sourness in the beginning of this process. The unfortunate part is that yes, you do have to use your starter for the first 3 or 4 times, before it will really be noticeably "sour". Also, remember you have to pour an amount out of your starter so that the remainder cells are more potent, and then every time you add back to it it will get better and better. Some people throw it out, I like to take advantage of the part that has to be tossed and use it in a low-rise dough such as pizza. So don't be discouraged, your first loaves or uses will be a little lame, but if you hang in there you'll have a great starter that has the potential to last for years (as long as you use it and replenish it). Happy baking!


  1. This is such a helpful post! My husband and I were just talking about sourdough and we can get a starter from our farmer, but should we, and so on.. but after reading this I feel like I want to try doing it! Especially appreciated your anecdotes about the process.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Shanna! I'm glad it inspired you, doing sourdough at home is so rewarding! Happy baking :)

  3. This was such a helpful post! I am now six days into my starter. Certainly smells strong! I guess I will take your advice and make some pizza dough I can't bear to just throw it out. I was going to try making some sourdough today but I will wait now at least another week to make sure that my starter is good and strong. Thanks again for this post. I read a ton of stuff online today and was starting to feel a little daunted but you have "refreshed" me :)

    1. So glad to hear it! Yes, it is totally daunting at first no doubt about it.. Good luck with your initial pizza and on to your sourdough!!

  4. What's your recipe for the pizza dough using your starter? I just started my starter today and can't wait to use it. I know I won't want to throw any of it out. Thanks for the post!

    1. Hi Aliosn! That sounds awesome. My recipe can be found here: I hope you enjoy! Depending on how active your starter is, once you incorporate the starter into the dough, you may need to wait 3-4 hours instead of the 2 hours, for the dough to rise enough. Just keep an eye on it, and good luck! If you have any comments or questions, don't hesitate to ask :)

  5. When refreshing your starter after using it do you add to it slowly day by day or add the initial 1/4 cup flour:1/4 cup water immediately?

    1. Hi Leon,

      Thanks for the question! I will immediately add 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water to the starter after using it. Keeping it out for the rest of the day or overnight, will help incorporate the new additions, and then I'll return it back to the fridge until the next time.

      Hopefully that helps and makes sense! Thanks again for stopping by. Happy baking :)


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