Basically, a sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water, which is then left to ferment. Pretty much any flour will ferment if mixed with warm water and then left for a while, but your starter will become active much quicker if you use a wholemeal flour. The reason for this is because the outer bran of the grain contains far more yeast, which is essential to make your bread rise. Wholemeal (or dark) rye flour contains even more yeast and microbes, making it particularly good for a starter, the other advantages of making a rye starter is that its’s more robust, more versatile and more difficult to kill off!
The other important factor for your flour is that it is organic. Non organic flours are sprayed with fungicides and, according to statistics, residues are found in a large proportion of non-organic UK flours. Yeast is a type of fungus, therefore fungicides kill yeast, so do not use a non-organic flour!
The water you use to make your starter is also important. Tap water contains chlorine, which is antibacterial and can kill off the lactobacillus bacteria we are trying to nurture. So either use filtered water, a standard filter jug will do fine or leave the water you want to use in a jug for an hour or so and the chlorine will evaporate off. Your starter will cope ok with water straight from the tap once it has established itself but give it the best chance of getting going by avoiding tap water in the first few days of its life.
Your starter will need warmth to get it going. If you don’t have a particularly warm house, or a nice warm place to stand it, sitting your starter on a hot water bottle or putting it in the oven with just the starter light on can provide enough heat for it 25 to 30 C is about right for a rye starter but don’t worry, if your house is colder it will simply take longer for your starter to establish itself.
The last thing to mention is the container to store your starter. Use a glass jar or a plastic container with a loose fitting cover or use a cloth or tea towel to cover it. There will be some build up of gas pressure and the last thing you will want is an exploding starter! Never use a metal container as your starter will be acidic in nature and may react with the metal, causing it to corrode, which is never good.
The quantities that I've given here are very small, but by doing it this way, you won’t have to throw any excess away but if you want to make a bigger amount, simply increase the amounts given to your chosen quantity.
LET’S DO IT!
Simply choose a suitable container for your starter, it will need to be big enough to hold 325g, then just follow the instructions below, remembering to put it somewhere warm and cover it loosely with a tea towel or a cloth.
Day 2 add
Day 3 add
Day 4 add
With all starters, getting the consistency of the mixture right is important.The starter should always be quite sloppy and almost pourable so that you can see evidence of the yeast working and also a more liquid environment allows for quicker biological reactions to take place. You'll notice that on the third day of your starter, the water/flour ratio decreases and you will have a thicker, less pourable consistency. By day 4, if you've followed the instructions accurately, you should have a starter that is ready to use for the first time to make a loaf. It should give off a fruity, slightly sour smell, will be bursting with yeasts and lactic acid and bubbling away.
You can store your starter in the fridge until you need to use it. You then need to refresh it, ie, feed it to activate it.
I take 25g of starter from the fridge and add 100g warm water and 100g flour, give it a good stir and put it somewhere warm for a few hours. Stirring it frequently introduces oxygen which encourages the yeasts in the flour and you should start to see some bubbles, showing your starter is active.
To be honest I have found that the amounts of flour and water added to activate a starter straight from the fridge, don’t matter that much!
It depends how much starter you need for your recipe.
You should add equal amounts of flour and water
You can add 50g flour and 50g warm water to 25g starter, which will give you 125g starter.
My favourite recipes use 150g active starter and I like to have some leftover to make flatbreads, pancakes or pizza bases which is the reason I add 100g flour and 100g water.
You can add any extra back to your starter in the fridge.
🍃 Health educator🍃