Everything I know about sourdough I learned from Mimi at Israeli Kitchen, expert on wine, mead, yeast, and all things fermented. Any errors are mine alone.
Last year I made a sourdough starter. I managed to keep it alive over the course of the year and used it up just before Passover.
Most of use purchased, commercial yeast for baking. But we all have yeast available in our homes, for free. The challenge lies in incorporating the yeast living in the air into a starter, which is simply a base of flour and water. Last year I used commercial yeast to make the starter. This year I am starting from scratch. A group of us are doing it together on Twitter.
I use sourdough starter in both fast and slow recipes:
Fast—Sourdough pancakes, muffins or quickbreads. These are infinitely superior to standard recipes. You add some of your starter to the wet ingredients, mix in the dry ingredients, and bake or fry as usual. I even made a dairy chocolate sourdough cake.
Slow—Sourdough breads. Sourdough takes longer to rise than doughs made with commercial yeasts, but it is also more flexible as an extra hour or two generally doesn’t make a difference. Baking with sourdough, like baking with commercial yeast, takes practice. But the results for me were worth the experimentation.
To make sourdough starter, choose a week when you will be home fairly often. It takes some care to get started, but once ripe you only need to freshen it every week or two.
Ingredients for new sourdough starter:
Flour and water. I’m using 90% whole wheat. You will need several cups of flour by the time you are finished, and more when you begin baking in a week or so.
Mix a half-cup each of flour and water in a glass, plastic or ceramic bowl or jar, using a non-metal spoon. Cover loosely to keep out bugs and dirt, but let in air. This mixture will become your starter. Stir at least once a day. After a couple of days you will see bubbles forming. How long this takes depends on your climate and the amount of yeast spores floating around your kitchen.
Once bubbles form, feed it. Pour off the layer of liquid from the top and throw out about half of the remaining mixture. Add another half cup or so each of water and flour. The exact quantity isn’t so important, but use equal proportions of flour and water and keep the consistency fairly thick. Most recipes call for a half cup to a cup of starter. Since you can always feed the starter to make more, a cup or two on hand is all you need at any given time.
The reason for throwing out part of the starter is to get a higher proportion of fresh flour to the original. Once your starter is ripe you will use one part for the recipe, and add fresh flour and water to the rest to keep it going.
Feed the starter once or twice a day until ripe. Starter is ripe when very bubbly and covered with a thick froth. At that point you can begin baking. Making the starter takes about a week from start to finish, depending on your kitchen’s conditions.
Every time you use the starter you will take some off for your recipe (or throw it out if you are not baking) and add enough flour and water to the original to replace what you used. Wash or switch the container every few weeks. Let the starter sit out until frothy, then put it back in the refrigerator. If you forget to maintain the starter, it will take more time to become active again. Once my starter spoiled and Mimi coached me on how to fix it.
- Mix flour and water.
- Stir regularly until bubbles form (one to three days).
- To feed the ripening starter, dump half and add fresh flour and water.
- Feed once or twice a day until a thick froth appears on top (another three to six days). Now it is ripe and read for baking.
- Use it, but keep some back. Feed the original starter and let it sit out until frothy. Then return it to the refrigerator until next time, or keep it out if you are using it within the next few days.
Sourdough recipes from Mimi’s Kitchen:
Oatmeal Sourdough Bread Once I perfected this, I never looked back.
This page has a bunch of recipes. I’ve only made the muffins, and they are terrific.