Our sourdough starter, Sour Sally, is almost as much a part of the family as our dog, Cooper. We use her for everything; namely, bread. Sourdough starter is like a pet; you have to take care of it and clean its home ( I do this once every 2 weeks), and you have to feed it. I’ll show you briefly how to start your own sourdough, but you can really find these instructions all over the internet.
How to Get Her Going
The general rule of thumb is that your starter is ready for baking when it doubles in size within an hour of feeding it and leaving it out on the counter.
Mix 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup water together in a plastic or glass container – don’t use metal, this can cause your yeast colony to die. Leave it out on the counter, preferably somewhere warm overnight.
Depending on how much starter you want to keep on hand you will either discard half of the starter first, then feed, or leave all of it and start bulking. I like to keep about 4 cups of starter on hand, so that I can use 2 cups in any given recipe. Depending on what you’ve decided, do one of the following:
- To bulk: Add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup water and stir. Leave your starter out again somewhere warm overnight.
- To maintain about 1 cup of starter: discard half of your starter, add 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water. Stir and leave out overnight.
At this point you might start to see some activity. Continue to feed your starter the same way as before, day after day, until you notice that your colony smells musty-sweet. It might even smell sort of like a warm beer.
- To maintain 2 cups of starter: discard half and add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup water. Stir and leave out overnight.
Continue to keep an eye on your starter and continue to feed/ bulk if it isn’t ready. Mine took 5 days to be ready for baking – but it was winter and we kept it 68 in the house.
- To maintain 3 cups of starter: discard half and add 1.5 cups of flour and about 1 1/3 cups water. Stir and leave out as usual.
Continue keeping an eye on it. At this point it should be ready for baking, but discarding/feeding/leaving it out for several more days will just make it have a more pungent sour taste.
- To maintain 4 cups of starter: discard half and add 2 cups of flour and about 1 1/2 cups of water. Stir and leave out.
Once your starter is ready for use, you can, at any point, refrigerate it. I like to feed the starter directly before putting it into the fridge. This way if I happen to forget about it, it won’t starve. Try not to leave your starter unattended for more than a week in the fridge. Pull it out at least every 7 days to feed it and pop it back into the fridge. I tend to be more likely to remember when to feed it if I put it on my calendar, and write directly on the glass container she’s in.
Whenever you use your starter, replace as much as you took. For example:
- I made bread, for which I used 2 cups from my 4 cup starter. Replace 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups water. In my experience, other places have said that you would replace the volume with half flour and half water, but I always end up dwindling to less than 4 cups that way. I think the flour soaks up the water to take up less space. I always add the “volume” of flour that I want to replace and add a little less water than that as well.
- One time I made blueberry muffins (which are SO GOOD with starter) and used 1 cup from my 4 cup stock. Replace 1 cup of flour and about 3/4 cups water.
When to Toss Her
There are very few situations in which you can actually kill the yeast colony completely. I even brought Sally back after she had a pink bacterial infection last week. She’s totally fine now, we even made bread 4 days ago and it was delicious.
If you think your sourdough starter is hopeless, try this first:
- Without stirring first, take some starter from the middle of your questionable stock. Not a lot, maybe 1/4 cup maximum. Even a tablespoon will speed up the process compared to starting over from scratch. Put it into a clean, sanitized container.
- Feed it as usual over the next couple of days, and watch it for remaining ick-iness.
- If the problem persists, that means the yeast colony is dead and is unable to fight off whatever bad bacteria are in the starter. Toss what you have, sanitize the container, and start over from scratch.
The nice thing about sourdough is that it is a living creature. It has it’s own defense mechanisms against intruders, and can usually overcome them if given the right fuel and opportunity. Always try to save your starter, because usually it will be fine.
Obviously, use your best judgement. Some bacteria can be really harmful and should not be messed with. I just happened to study microbiology in college and I have a good idea of when to play around and when not to. If you get a bad feeling about the microcosm that is growing in your starter, just go back to square one; luckily it’s not that difficult to get it going again.
A Final Note:
This is the resource I used when getting my starter going. I didn’t strictly follow it to a T, so know that it’s pretty hard to go wrong with this experiment. I used regular bleached flour to start my colony and it worked fine.
Let me know if you have ever used starter before in the comments! Let’s chat!
Until next time,