Making a Sourdough Starter
I’ve always loved sourdough bread, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized there are actually health benefits to this way of baking. Sourdough has a long history that can be dated back thousands of years. The oldest recorded use of sourdough was by the ancient Egyptians. And for much of human history it was the primary form of leavening - up until the Middle Ages when it started to be replaced by barm from the beer brewing process.
Here are just a few of the many benefits of sourdough bread:
- Sourdough bread does not cause as much of an increase in blood sugar as other types of bread.
- The process of souring flour results in decreasing the phytic acid in the flour. Phytic acid binds with a number of essential nutrients (most significantly zinc) and hinders the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients. Thus, souring the flour makes more of the nutrients available to your body.
- Sourdough’s long fermentation time also allows the protein in the bread to be broken down into amino acids, which makes the bread easier to digest.
- It keeps longer. Sourdough stays moist and fresh for much longer than yeasted bread and it will not go stale, unless you leave it unwrapped.
- It tastes better! Sourdough has a much richer, fuller flavor than yeasted breads.
My first attempt at making a sourdough starter
The first time I made sourdough I starved it to death. For some reason I didn’t see this little piece of advice:
Some people keep feeding the starter the same amount each time they feed it. That's like feeding a puppy 1/2 cup of dog food a day. Even when he's as 120 pound Great Dane. How much organisms should eat depends, in part, on their size.
And that’s exactly what I did wrong. I started my starter with about 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour and feed it that same amount twice a day every day. This would have been fine except for the fact that I didn’t throw out my starter at all so it just kept growing without me changing how much I was feeding it.
At first it did ok – it bubbled and started to grow in size, although it never doubled in size as it should have. But, after a few days my starter wasn’t growing or increasing in size at all. It had some bubbles and it had a nice sour smell, but no growth. I was confused. We used it for some pancakes and some crackers and they tasted great, but still it didn’t really grow. By the end of a week it started to smell really alcoholic and we named it “dead” and threw it out.
What I did wrong:
- I never threw out half of it like they say you should. I just couldn’t bring myself to waste that much good flour. I used it twice and figured since I was using it and it wasn’t really increasing in size between feedings it was fine. I was wrong.
- Since I didn’t throw any out my starter got bigger with each feeding, but I continued to feed it the same amount as I had at the beginning. I now know that this is a big no-no. Starters need to be feed in proportion to their size.
With my next starter I plan on taking out half at every feeding (as everyone suggests). If I don’t feel like throwing it away I will make crackers or something with it, but for at least the first week I will always take out half. After the first week, once I have a healthy, active, growing starter, then if I want to build up the amount of starter I have so that I can use it in breads and bigger recipes I can choose not to take out half. If I choose not to take out half then I will feed it in in proportion to how big it is at the time.
So, I’ll follow these instructions and hope that this time I can keep my starter alive and healthy.
My New Sourdough Starter
So, here’s what’s happened so far this time:
Monday night I mixed a ¼ a cup of water with 3/8 cup of whole wheat flour (which should be about 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour) and let it sit covered on the counter overnight. Tuesday morning there weren’t any bubbles yet, and not much had happened so I stirred it and waited another 12 hours and then check it again. Still no bubbles, so I stirred it and again left it for twelve hours. Wednesday morning there were bubbles and it had risen a little bit so I feed it another ¼ cup water and 3/8 cup whole wheat flour. Wednesday night we were at a friend’s house till late and I forgot to feed the starter when I got home. I remembered it when I got up Thursday morning, but was so anxious to feed it that I just feed it without thinking and without first taking out half of it. Hum… I’m a little nervous. Only a few days in and already I’m not sticking to the directions or following my plan.
Thursday night I borrowed my neighbor’s kitchen scale and measured out 100g of starter. I then feed that 100g a ¼ cup water and 3/8 cup flour. The rest of the starter I set aside and used this morning for making pancakes (I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out and I’m glad I couldn’t – the pancakes turned out great!). So, this morning I again used the kitchen scale and took out 100g and then feed that much of the starter 50g flour and 50g water. It’s starting to look pretty good actually. It’s bubbling and smelling slightly sour. I’m encouraged, but we still have a ways to go before it’s really a healthy starter capable of rising a loaf of bread. So, I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
While I wait for my starter to become fully active I am going to try and get my hands on one of these books on sourdough and see if they are helpful:
- Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker's Handbook
- Wild Bread - Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen
- Baking with Sourdough
Have any of you ever read any of these? Or do you know of any other good books or articles on sourdough?
I’m also going to start reading up on sourdough recipes so that we are prepared with lots of good ways to use our sourdough starter. Here are a few that I’m already anxious to try out:
- Sourdough pasta
- Sourdough egg noodles
- Sourdough cheese crackers
- Sourdough peach pancakes
- Whole Wheat Oatmeal Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Focaccia
- Sourdough pizza crust
- Walnut Sourdough Bread
- Apricot Almond Bread
- Zucchini Bread
Have you ever made a sourdough starter from scratch? If so how did your first attempt go and what are your favorite sourdough recipe?
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman
This post has been entered in the Fight Back Friday May 7th blog carnival at Food Renegade, Food Revolution Friday at Notes from the Cookie Jar, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker. Check out the links for lots other posts.