SB 003| How To Make A Sourdough Starter

In this video I use an extremely simple method that calls for mixing flour with warm water, allowing it to sit for 48-72 hours until yeast activity begins, and then refresh/feed at set intervals for about five days, or until the starter is strong enough to levin a loaf of bread. If you've been around since the Free Culinary School Podcast days, you'll remember that in our sourdough series I recommended using fruit peels (apples/grapes) to inoculate your water and flour mixture with natural yeast.

After multiple tests, I've found that there is sufficient local yeast available on your hands, in your kitchen and in your flour, to get a strong sourdough starter going, and in a lot of cases, is much more forgiving then using fruit peels or skins. The reason being, unless your fruit skins come from a hyper local source (like an apple tree in your back yard or a neighbor's garden), then you are still technically importing and using a foreign yeast to inoculate your sourdough starter. At some point, the yeast that is naturally occurring in your kitchen environment will have to do battle with this "foreign yeast" which can kill your sourdough starter outright or give it off flavors (caused by dead or unhealthy yeast).

Tips For Making A Sourdough Starter

  • Always use filtered water, especially if your tap water contains chlorine and/or flouride, both of which can kill the yeast in your starter, especially at the early stages of development.
  • Start by making a 100% hydration starter (1:1 ratio water/flour), AKA a poolish. This is the type of starter that I prefer and will be using in upcoming demonstration videos for sourdough bread. Also, a high hydration rate (like 100%) allows the yeast to propagate faster as compared to a lower hydration starter such as a biga (usually around 60% hydration by the baker's percentage).
  • Once yeast activity begins, remove half of your starter and feed the remainder with the same amount of flour and water removed. So if you took out 400 grams of the starter, you would add back 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water to the remaining starter.
  • Continue to feed your starter at the same time every day, until it becomes extremely active.
  • Once your starter can pass the "float test" 12 hours after feeding, it is strong enough to bake with. At this point, you can either bake your first loaf of sourdough bread or retard in your refrigerator, remembering to feed your new starter at least once a week.

Remember, this is the first step in your journey towards making great sourdough bread. To dive deep into bread and sourdough baking, please refer to the related resources below.

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There are 62 Comments

esavitzky's picture

Jacob,

Great video.

Noticed that you are recommending a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and bread flour.  Based on your earlier recommendation I have been using an 80/20 mix of bread flour to whole wheat for my poolish.

Besides the obvious taste differences, is the higher % of WW likely to make the boule more dense with fewer air pockets in the crumb?

thanks

jacob burton's picture

My approach has changed slightly since the FCS days. I like to feed with half whole wheat and half bread flour, especially early on, because they each have different types of sugars that will keep the yeast strain strong. It also gives a little more depth of flavor.

When it comes time to make a specific type of bread, I'll either dump out my starter almost completely (just leaving what clings to the interior of the container) or pull out a very small amount and expand. Either way, it gives you a chance to feed your starter whatever you want for the bread you'll be baking next. In each case, your starter should be ready to bake with in about 12 hours if left at room temperature, assuming it's a strong starter.

For example, for an enriched dough using a sourdough starter, I'll pour off all of my starter and then feed the container with all purpose flour, water and sometimes milk. Let stand overnight, and the next day you're ready to bake. If I'm making brown bread (something that I've been playing with lately), I'll feed 100g of starter with 100g whole wheat, 250g rye flour and 350g water, let sit overnight, and then use this as my sponge.

Because I'm usually baking rustic style or "country" bread, I find the 1:1 whole wheat/bread flour suits me well for feeding my starter, but this is just a personal preference that I encourage you to play with. You can either dilute the whole wheat out later, or use it to add a more complex flavor. We will be discussing this in-depth in upcoming podcast episodes so you will have the tools to play around and form your own personal preference.

In short: if whole wheat flour makes up less then 15-20% of your overall flour, it won't effect your oven spring or make your crumb more dense (at least it won't be supper noticeable).

Marco099's picture

Hi Chef,

Regarding the use of whole wheat flour here, do you use 100% whole wheat flour that still contains all of the 3 wheat berry components (germ, endosperm, bran) or a version that has been sifted/cleared at least one time?

I just acquired some heirloom seed, hard red winter cert. organic whole wheat flour and it was ground to order so it's extremely fresh and aromatic. It purposely contains all of the berry and is a medium grind. It has a protein content of 12-14% and is high in guten, according to the miller (who, btw, also farms the various grains). 

I know this flour is going to really up my game for certain rustic breads, but I'm trying to determine the best way(s) to utilize this flour, if at all, for sourdough starter, the poolish baguette? Should I bother sifting it for certain applications? This stuff ain't cheap, so I'm trying to avoid any obvious "rookie" mistakes when using this truly artisanal flour.

Thanks much.

nir ladany's picture

Hello  Jacob and every body

I've been watching your movies for a while  and would like to say that I am full of Appreciation for the time, beautiful work and effort you put in to them.

things like these are rare and are not obvious.

so thanks.

now I can ask my question :)

 

What are the indicators that the starter need to be fed?

Or how can I know when dose my starter need to be fed?

 

another question 

I started a very small batch of starter tow days ago and every thing  is OK but the smell is very acidic almost vinegary.

I used 50% wight flower and 50% Spelled flower

and 50% liquid (water)

I put the starter in a dark cupboard and let it seat and forget about it  for about 24 hours.

after that time, I took half of the poolish and strengthened it with flower and water and forget about it  for about 24 hours.

today when I came to check on it there was these smell of vinegar, I should noted that it is passing the flotation test and looks alive.

it is about 25-29°c in the room 

thanks 

Nir

jacob burton's picture

Hi Nir,

 

The best time to feed your starter is after it has fully expanded and then starts to fall back on itself. What you'll notice is that as the yeast continues to eat, the starter will about double in volume. At the end of the yeast's feeding cycle, the volume of the starter will start to decline, signaling that it is now time for another feeding.

 

However, an established sourdough starter isn't that sensitive, so you'd be surprised how long you can starve the starter and then revive with a few feedings.

 

If you starter smells vinegary and passes the float test, then congratulations, you have a strong sourdough starter! Some starter will smell more acidic then others, depending on the yeast and bacteria strains contained within the starter, which is what makes everyone's starter special.

 

Now that you have a strong starter that passes the float test, it's time to bake some bread! Good luck, and I'm glad you're enjoying the videos.

 

Jacob

 

amandamariec's picture

I'm so glad I found this website! I've been looking for a while for a good demo on making a sourdough starter from just water and flour and I couldn't believe how hard it was to find. So, thank you! I have 2 questions, however. I live by myself and would only be making a loaf a week so I was curious if I could make a smaller amount of starter - say 2 tbs water, 2 tbs flour? Would it work the same since it is still the same ratio? Also, I always wash my hands before baking and cooking (as I hope most people do) but was wondering if washing your hands is actually a bad idea in this case? If you could fill me in I'd really appreciate it! Thanks again. 

esavitzky's picture

@amandamariec,

 

For over a year now I have been following Jacob's directions for my starters (2) and have never been able to consistently get the starter to float after feeding. I have to admit it was probably because I used tap water which was probably the culprit, but the breads usually came out to my liking.

 

Recently, I have been getting into Chad Roberston's recipe (Tartine Bakery)  for his country loaf.  There are several variations out on the web for getting a starter going and I actually found one that was pretty simple and slightly different than Chad's. It uses a lot less flour and is pretty much foolproof.  Of course, I now use bottle water so maybe that was the issue.

 

All you need for this starter is a good white flour (I use Bob's Red Mill) and a medium or dark rye flour (not light).  I also use Bob's Red Mill dark rye.

 

You also need a pint Bell jar with lid and bottled water.  That's it.

 

Weigh the empty jar without lid and write the weight in grams on the jar using a Sharpie.

 

Then add 50 ml (grams) of water to the empty jar and then 25 g of white flour and 25 g of rye flour.

 

Put the lid on the jar and set it on your counter (assuming the room is about 77 degrees) and let it sit for 24 hours.

 

When the 24 hours is up, remove all but 50 g of starter from the jar and feed it with 25 g or white flour and 25 g of rye four along with 50 g or water.  Do this every 12 hours for at least 9 days.  

 

You will see that the starter not only bubbles, rises and falls predictably after a few days, but also loses the really tart smell it develops at the beginning.  After 6 days you can probably use the starter, but it is better to wait at least the 9 days.  The starter is likely to float after about 4 or 5 days after a 12 hour feeding.  Chad Robertson actually suggests waiting 21 days before baking but again, this  starter is a bit different than his.  A lot will depend on the temperature of where you store the starter and whether or not you do a lot of baking.  If you bake a lot, there are a lot of natural wield yeasts floating around which will speed things up a bit.

 

Once you pass the 9 day point, you can dial down the amount of starter you are keeping and slightly shift the ratio of white and rye flour.  You can keep a constant amount of 60 g of starter, removing all but 20 g when feeding and adding in 20 g of flour (13 white/7 rye) and 20 g of water. This is a manageable amount particularly since Robertson's levain only calls for a tablespoon of starter.

 

I am currently at Day 9 or 10 with my starter and am continuing to feed it every 12 hours although I can probably slow down to every 24 at this point.  I'm going to give Robertson's country loaf recipe a try this weekend.

 

Good luck.

 

Elliot

 

 

 

esavitzky's picture

see my post on sourdough buttermilk pancakes.  Not that you will eat pancakes every day, but it is one way to make use of tossed starter.  Otherwise, cutting down on the amount of starter you keep is probably the best solution.

jacob burton's picture

You've gotten some pretty good advice here and I don't have much to add, unless you have a follow up question. One thing that I will highlight though is sometimes you have to through away some starter unless you're going to be baking with it every day. It's just par for the course.

jacob burton's picture

If you're looking to just "start" a sourdough starter, then you can eye ball proportions or measure in cups. Even AP flour is OK. All that is important is that you get an active starter.

 

Once your starter is active, then you can go through the process of dumping most of it out the night before, and then feeding back bread flour, whole wheat flour and water in weighted measurements.

 

If push came to shove, I could actually make my sourdough bread just by sight and feel. There are a lot of tactile and visual cues that you can use during the bread making process, but as you said, nothing beets the accuracy of a scale.

 

But again, if all you're trying to do is start a sourdough starter, volume measurements will work fine for now. Look at the consistency of the starter in my video; if yours seems a little wet, then add more flour to sight, or if it seems a little stiff, loosen with some water.

 

Let me know if you have any more questions, and welcome to Stella Culinary.

jacob burton's picture

Sounds like you got it. What you describe is basically expanding your starter, using it to leaven a 70% hydration loaf, retarding that loaf to reinforce the sourness, and then baking. All your calculations check out.

Let me know how the finished loaf turns out.

jacob burton's picture

@Marco,

Sorry I'm just now seeing this. To answer your question, I use 100% whole grain flour. Try using 20% or less in your final dough formulation and it should come out great.

Marco099's picture

Thanks for the info. Since I posted this I've made a lot of progress in my bread making abilities. I use about 5% in 2 different baguette formulas I like.

jacob burton's picture

Sounds like you have a nice, active starter. How'd the loaf turn out?

To answer you question, yes, direct sunlight can adversely effect your starter. You don't have to store it in the dark, just don't store it in direct sunlight.

jacob burton's picture

@bucket_mouth,

Glad your loaves turned out good. You'll definitely find that your sourdough bread will become much more complex as the your starter matures.

jacob burton's picture

Pour off the liquid and then refeed the starter. Start feeding every 12 hours at least. You may want to start storing your starter in the fridge.

The podcast links should be working again; the server was temporarily down.

jacob burton's picture

Hey Horst, welcome to Stella Culinary! It's good to have another bread head around these parts.

To answer your question, no, you don't need the full volume of the recipe. I think it's a little easier to work with the larger proportions, but you could easily get away with using 100g water and 100g flour.

Good luck. Let us know if you have any more questions as you work your way towards baking some awesome sourdough bread.

jacob burton's picture

Nice looking loaf Horst! The reasons why your changes turned out is because you making educated decisions based upon the information you had at hand. Great job.

+250 Stella Stars.

Marco099's picture

That's a hardcore country loaf right there. I like the use of the oval dutch oven and how it shapes the final loaf. Crust and crumb look great. 

jacob burton's picture

Hey Horst, that's great news. Look like you have a bubbling, healthy starter on your hands. Congratulations!

jacob burton's picture

What stage are you at right now? How many days have you gotten into the sourdough starter's life span before giving up?

Remember, it's common for the sourdough starter to stall at some point during the first 10 days.

jacob burton's picture

Bucket_mouth is absolutely right. The water on top which is technically alcohol is a sign that you're starter is not only active, but hungry and out of food.

Try feeding every 12 hours for 10 days. You should be fine. And don't worry when your starter stalls; it's part of the process. Just keep dumping and feeding, and then get back to us on day 10.

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