If you want to learn how to bake sourdough bread, you'll need to make a sourdough starter. Here's my sourdough starter guide on what you need to know to make your own, including my sourdough bread recipe and sourdough starter troubleshooting tips!
Sourdough starter ingredients and tools
1 cup (250g) flour (any flour you like, wholemeal works very well)
1 cup (250ml) water
A roomy mixing bowl (not metal)
A wooden spoon (metal reacts with beneficial bacteria and yeast)
A clean tea towel
A glass Tupperware container with lid or screw-top jar
How to make the sourdough starter
Days three, four and five
Days six and seven
Why do I have to discard half the batter each day?
Removing half the batter ensures that the right amount of flour and water is feeding the growing colony of beneficial yeast. If you weren’t discarding half, the cup of flour wouldn’t be enough to feed the beneficial bacteria on days three and four. Basically, your bowl would be overflowing with batter by the end of the process, and none of it would be mature enough to use.
How will I know if my sourdough starter is working?
If your starter is bubbly and has doubled in size, then it's working!
How do I keep my sourdough starter alive?
There are two ways to maintain your sourdough and keep it active. First, you have to decide how often you want to use your starter.
Most likely you will want to use it for weekend baking, although there might be a couple of you who want to use it everyday for breakfast pancakes or for something similar.
I'll give you both methods, so you can choose which will suit you best.
In the fridge for weekend use
Storing your starter in the fridge will slow down the fermentation process, meaning you can feed it less often.
Store your starter in something glass with a lid to minimise the risk of it spoiling. I've used a glass Tupperware dish with a lid and even an old coffee jar with a screw-top lid and both have worked fine.
I pull the starter out of the fridge the day before I want to use it, stir it up and add my cup of flour and water.
By the next morning, it's ready to go. I can remove the amount of starter I need for the recipe, add another cup of flour and water back to the 'master starter' and put it back in the fridge.
Since it's just been fed, it'll tick over in the fridge for another week just fine.
On the counter for everyday use
Only use this option if you're planning to use the starter for a lot of baking over a period of a few days or if you will definitely use it daily, as it's a commitment to feed it everyday and you're more likely to forget, meaning you're more likely to kill it.
Leave your starter out on the counter covered with a clean tea towel. Feed it the usual cup of water and flour, stir it up and take out the amount you need for your recipe.
You will need to use pretty much half of the starter each day to avoid going into overflow with the mix.
My sourdough doesn't have any bubbles and seems sluggish. How do I give it a boost?
First, consider how often you're feeding it - maybe it needs less time between feeds.
Next, feed the starter and move it somewhere slightly warmer and monitor for a couple of hours. Does this liven it up?
If not, consider the type of flour you're using. If you're using a refined flour such as white plain flour or supermarket basics strong white bread flour, there isn't much goodness there to feed the starter. Switch to an organic white flour or a wholemeal flour for feeding and see if this helps.
My sourdough starter seems very runny, can I use less water?
It's best to keep to the same ratios of flour and water, as changing the ratios will affect the hydration rate of any dough you use with the starter.
Briefly, the hydration rate affects how easy/difficult it is to handle any dough made using the starter, and the crumb structure of any finished product.
As a beginner, it's best to stick to a 100% hydration rate for your starter which the equal ratio of flour and water in the starter will give you.
When you're ready to, you can start to play about with the hydration rates - more info here.
For now, it's better to switch the flour you're using to something like spelt flour or wholemeal flour, which will give you a thicker starter batter without changing the quantity of water.
Help! My sourdough has greyish black liquid on the surface. Has it gone bad?
No need to worry! The look of it might give you the heebie-jeebies, but it's easy to put right. The greyish black liquid is called hooch and is the liquid given off when the wild yeasts ferment.
Your starter isn't dead, but it's definitely hungry! Stir the hooch back into the sourdough and discard half if you're not going to be using it straight away, then feed it with your usual cup of flour and water.
If this happens regularly between uses, you'll need to adjust how often you feed the starter.
My sourdough is mouldy! What should I do?
Mould on a sourdough starter is obviously not a good sign, but in certain circumstances, you might be able to rescue it. The presence of mould means that there's not enough beneficial bacteria left to be able to keep the bad bacteria out.
If your starter is less than two months old, it's classed as an immature starter and is less able to recover. In this scenario, it's probably safer to admit defeat, throw it away and start again.
If your starter is three months or older, you're feeling brave and want to try salvaging it, follow the steps below.
Look very carefully at the surface of the starter. Can you see a pink or orange tint or any pink/orange streaks on the surface of the starter? If so, don't risk it, bin it.
Rescuing a mouldy sourdough starter
If there's a crinkly crust and the mould is only on the surface, you can carefully remove crust and throw away.
With a clean utensil, take a teaspoonful of visibly clean starter from the underneath and place it in a fresh container. Discard the rest of the starter. Feed it with half a cup of flour and half a cup of water, cover with a clean tea towel and leave on the counter for 12 hours.
Carefully monitor it for signs of mould. If you see any, it's time to say goodbye and start again.
If there's no sign of mould, feed again with half a cup of flour and water and leave out for 24 hours on the counter, covered with a tea towel. Carefully monitor again.
If everything looks good the next day, discard half the mix, feed with one cup of flour and water and put it in the fridge to use for a test bake before putting into general use.
If the mould has developed into the body of the starter, throw it out and start again.
My sourdough starter smells of alcohol or nail polish remover, what's going on?
When sourdough starter isn't fed often enough or if feedings are missed, it will begin consuming discarded yeast, as well as its own waste, leading to the alcohol fumes or smell of nail polish remover.
To fix it, try feeding your starter every 12 hours for a couple of days to see if it helps and then narrow the gap between your regular feeding schedule.
If your stater is on the runny side, it tends to need shorter gaps between feeds, so you can thicken it up with wholemeal flour, which might also fix the issue.
I'd love to share your sourdough journey, chat to me over on Instagram @brambleandfoxshopuk, tag me in your sourdough pictures and share anything you've learned about sourdough along the way!
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