Homemade sourdough bread begins with a sourdough starter and bakers are known to covet a healthy starter and care for it as if it's a family pet. If you're interested in beginning your own, there is no easier way to begin than with this easy recipe.
What is Sourdough Starter?
A starter is a homemade yeast for bread. With regular yeast bread, you go to the store and buy active dry yeast. Sourdough breads, on the other hand, get their flavor from wild yeast that is naturally found in your kitchen. It will make your breads rise and give them a unique flavor.
Capturing a good yeast can sometimes be tricky. With this recipe, you will be using a commercial yeast to get the starter going. Once your starter has had a chance to bubble up and grow more yeast, you will be able to use it in sourdough bread recipes.
A sourdough starter is not a one-time ingredient. It is something that you can keep alive for months or years with proper care. Remember, yeast is a living organism and this starter certainly has a life of its own.
- In a ceramic bowl, add warm water and yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until the yeast is dissolved.
- Stir in the flour and mix until smooth.
- Pour the starter into a plastic container that is at least four times larger than the liquid amount of the starter (such as a 5-gallon ice cream container). This is will allow room for the starter to expand.
- Cover with a cloth napkin and hold in place with a rubber band.
- Set the starter in a warm spot for 5 days, stirring once a day.
- Refrigerate and use as needed, at least once a week. Replenish with equal amounts of water and flour.
Keep Your Sourdough Starter Alive
Sourdough starters take on the characteristics of their environment. The air in your kitchen is completely different than that of your neighbors, so your sourdough bread will have a unique taste. Each microenvironment plays a big role in the wild yeasts that develop and the subtle flavors of the final bread the culture is baked into.
As you begin to learn more about this special bread ingredient, you will quickly learn that the starter is the most important element in making great sourdough bread. Many bakers seek out and exchange starters with others throughout the world and some starters have been kept alive for an extraordinary amount of time.
While you can certainly experiment with different starters, the key to any of them is to keep them alive. Just like your houseplants or your family pet, you need to feed and nourish your cultures. The dedication required is what prevents many people from baking sourdough bread on a regular basis.
Feeding your starter is very easy and there are three basic things that you need to remember:
- The yeast culture needs food. When you use your starter to bake a loaf of bread, it needs to be replenished. To feed your culture, simply add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the container and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour before returning to the refrigerator.
- Refrigeration requires less attention. Many bakers choose to refrigerate their starter and this slows down the culture's growth. It also means that you only need to feed it once a week.
- A daily feeding is required at room temperature. If you don't have room in the fridge for your culture, you can store it at room temperature. However, you need to feed it once a day and keep it away from extreme heat and humidity.
If you forget to feed your culture on a regular basis, it can die. Often, this can take a few weeks, but yeast is a fragile organism and under certain conditions, you may have far less leeway.
If you have a sourdough starter that you really enjoy, make a habit of feeding it and work this simple chore into your daily or weekly routine. It's not a difficult task, but it is easy to forget.
It's also important that you regularly use your starter to make bread. Just letting it sit and feeding it does no good for the culture or you: the culture will be healthier if used and you get to enjoy fresh sourdough bread. If you're taking the time and effort to keep it alive, use it!
Don't have time or bake enough bread to keep a starter? You can put the starter into hibernation and freeze or refrigerate it until you need it.
More Basic Sourdough Starters
The recipe above is just one way to begin a basic sourdough starter. It relies on store-bought yeast but if you'd like to play with other starters, here are a few favorites.
- No Yeast Sourdough Starter - All you need to begin is water and flour, the yeast will naturally develop as it rests in your home though this can be a bit more difficult to get going.
- Potato Sourdough Starter - For a mild sourdough bread, skip the grains and begin with a few potatoes.
- Rye Sourdough Starter - Rye flour is a popular base for German sourdough bread and it has a robust flavor you cannot get from other grains.
Interesting Sourdough Starters
While those sourdough starters are very basic, nothing says that you cannot use other ingredients to cultivate yeast. Once you get the hang of sourdough, give one of these fun starter recipes a try as the resulting bread is a completely new experience.