Making a sourdough starter from scratch is a simple process of combining flour and water, and allowing time for the wild yeast within the flour to grow and ferment.
It is important to use filtered water as the chemicals in plain tap water can affect the fermentation process of your starter.
In terms of flour, you can also use any type of flour (grain is naturally covered with microorganisms that ferment), and on line you will see many recipes for starters made with plain white flour, plain wholemeal flour, whole grain flours, and rye flour. The flour used should be fresh and unbleached, as the chemicals used in the bleaching process can affect your starter.
Whatever flour you decide to use, you should continue with that flour when feeding your starter. Also be aware that whole grain flour absorbs more water than white flour, so you may need to add a little more water to your first step when making a starter.
A word on flour you choose to use:
Please note that in my experience I have found rye flour, which has more microorganisms than white flour, always gives me consistent results. So this is the flour I recommend you use to make and maintain your starter. You do not want a heavy rye, or a light rye, just normal rye flour, and if it happens to be organic then that is even better, but I have used plain rye flour for a long time with great success.
Wholemeal flour is also another option, but once you decide what to use stick with that same flour so that you don’t “confuse” your starter. A young starter can be quite temperamental when being established, but as it develops it becomes more resilient to change, although I would still suggest you stick with the same flour as you go along.
Once made your starter should look like a thick pancake batter.
I keep my starter in a 1 litre Decor container week to week (see here for the equipment I use) … I never wash the base of the container, but will sometimes wash the lid if the starter has risen and pressed against it so that it is a bit sticky. If you remove your starter from the container to wash it, you are not only disturbing your starter unnecessarily, but you are also removing beautiful bacteria that you have gone to a lot of trouble creating and feeding. If you use a container smaller than I litre you won’t have the room for your starter to be fed and double in size before using without it overflowing from the top of your container.
There are many descriptions on the internet for making a sourdough starter, and after sampling a few, the one I suggest to others is from Sophia, Thermomix Baking Blogger, which I have tested with success (see here).
Whilst I don’t use the grated apple that Sophia has in her recipe as I haven’t felt the need to include it (Sophia explains that it helps with the fermentation process), I do like that Sophia gives the option of using rye or wholemeal flour for the starter, which fits more with my own suggestions too (I prefer rye, but more on that later). I also like that Sophia uses less flour than other recipes I have seen, so there is less waste throughout the process.
Whilst this is known as a “rye starter” there are some recipes like a Brioche where you will need to use a “white starter” to get the right finish to the brioche (I have used a rye starter to make a brioche, but the brioche was not as light in colour or flavour that I would expect in a sourdough brioche). So in this circumstance you will make a “white starter” as a one off, and the process to do that is detailed in the brioche recipe on this website (still to come).
You can use your starter daily or weekly.
If you use it daily I still suggest you keep your starter in the fridge overnight to slow down the fermentation process, and take it out in the morning to feed as described when making my basic sourdough loaf. Many sites say that you can keep the starter on your benchtop, which I totally understand, but when doing that you need to keep it happy using more flour and water, and have to keep an eye on it more constantly than our lives may allow. So by keeping it in the fridge you will slow down the fermentation, and only take it out on the day you wish to make your dough.
So whether you use it daily or weekly … as long as you feed it when it comes out of the fridge to activate it and use it, and you feed it going back into the fridge to give “thanks” and a “full belly” to sleep on, it will be happy.
To make your starter you will need a plastic container, at least 1.5 litre capacity, preferably with straight sides and a wide mouth to make mixing easier.
Once you have made your starter, you will use it to make your first dough, but keep 150g to dispense into the container you will use week by week (more information is below on what to do once the starter is made). Before you use this container, ensure you weigh it, without a lid, before putting your starter in it and make a note of that weight. You’ll understand why later.
This is Sophia’s method, minus the grated apple and with some on my amendments added (I have put suggested days in the headings to help you keep track if you need it):
HOW TO MAKE A STARTER:
Days One to Three – Make the initial starter (9am Saturday/Sunday/Monday)
- Add 150g rye flour and 150g filtered water to your container and whisk thoroughly to add in as much oxygen as possible … I use a flat sided spatula to do this, and when I have finished whisking I scrape around the sides of the container with the back of the spatula so that it is clean, and I can track what my starter is doing over the next three days
- NB: If you find the mix really stiff (this will depend on the flour you use), then add just a little more filtered water (say 40g to 50g) and mix thoroughly again … you are looking for a thick batter but not one that you can’t easily stir through.
- Once you have scraped the sides, leave the lid lightly popped on (don’t screw it on) and put the container somewhere where there is a consistent temperature and let it sit for thethree days (I leave it on my bench top) … do not use excessive heat when making your starter to fasten the process (i.e. direct sunlight) … it might rise quicker but you can also encourage bad bacteria instead of allowing the “good stuff” to work its magic so just let nature take its course.
- Use a non-permanent marker pen to mark the level of the mix on your container so that you can see what is happening over the next three days, where you should see bubbles starting to appear in the mix, and some of the batter rising … but this may not happen until day three.
Days Four and Five – feed your starter (9am Tuesday/Wednesday)
- By today you should see that the dough has risen a bit and fallen back down again which means it is active (you will be able to tell this from the mark you have made on your container).
- Even if it hasn’t done this, continue with this next feed as it may need just a little more food … the smell from the container will be quite yeasty
- Add 75g flour and 75g water and leave for another two days.
Day Six – feed your starter (9am Thursday)
- On day six you should have plenty of activity (lots of bubbles) … the smell should be slightly sour but pleasant, with a tangy aroma
- Add another 75g water and 75g flour and leave for 24 hours.
- If the next day (day seven – Friday) it has returned to bubbling consistency it is ready to be used that day.
- If it has formed a liquid layer on top it is over active, but do not worry, just add a bit of flour to return it to a slightly thicker consistency and watch it for 1-2 days for the bubbles to come back again.
Days Seven or Eight – use your starter (9am Friday or Saturday)
- You can now use your starter – use the amount you need to make your dough, but retain 150g starter to go into the container you will use week to week, and feed it 60g flour / 90g water (so you now have 300g starter), to go back into the fridge as per the instructions given for making a basic sourdough loaf.
- This is now your base rye starter you will use on an on-going basis.
When you first start to use your starter you will find that it will take a little longer for your dough to rise … this is because your starter is still getting its “mojo”.
If you use your starter weekly, you will find that it will slowly get into the pattern of rising (activating) within the time frame suggested in the Basic Sourdough Loaf recipe … initially it may be a bit slow because it is still finding its “legs” … but with regular use it will become stronger and more consistent.