By Kate Davies
I’ve been baking lots of bread at home lately. My current favorite recipe calls for a natural starter (also known as sourdough, or leaven), which sounded daunting until I actually tried it. If you can stir flour and water together, you’ve got this. It takes about 5 minutes per day to get your starter up and running, and once it’s alive and bubbling it takes about 5 minutes each week to maintain. If you’re like me, you might feel a sense of ownership and attachment; after all, this is your unique bread starter, cultivated from your environment and brought to life with your care. The longer your maintain your starter, the more strength and flavor it will develop.
Taking the plunge into baking with my own starter was a great experiment. I mixed equal parts (4oz/110g) flour and warm water, covered it with a dish towel, and waited anxiously. The next day when I checked it, it didn’t seem much different. The following day, however, there was a brown crust over the top. Ew! I was sure I’d failed, until I peeled back the dry layer at the top of the starter, and there were bubbles beneath! After a bit of a stir I covered it, left it on the counter for 24 hours, and the next day there were bubbles and an unmistakable, fruity yeast aroma. So far, so good.
Once I was sure my starter was alive, I fed it daily with a mixture of equal parts flour and water for about a week. This initial feeding cultivates and establishes wild strains of yeast specific to your starter, and after the first successful batch of bread you can store a jar of starter in your fridge and give it weekly feedings. When you’re ready to bake bread (or pizza dough, pancakes, or flatbread), remove 75-80% of the starter and discard it (this is a good time to share your starter with a friend). Add equal parts flour and lukewarm water to replace what you just removed, and let it sit on the counter for a few hours. You’ll see the volume increase, and the aroma will change from fruity to tangy. If it seems a bit sluggish, move it to a warm part of the house. An extra feeding can kick things into gear, too. As you feed fresh water and flour into the mixture, you can gradually increase the quantity of your starter if you have a big project coming up. Mine hovers between 8 oz/226g and 12 oz/340g.
We’ve made pizza dough, laffa (flatbread), pancakes, and crusty country style bread with our house starter. It’s opened up a new type of baking in our kitchen, which has been delicious and fun. Warm sourdough bread with a bit of cultured butter might be as good as it gets.
Sourdough Starter (leaven)Print Recipe
- 16 oz/440g each of White Bread Flour and Whole Wheat Bread Flour for feeding the starter.
- 4 oz/110g White Bread Flour
- 4 oz/110g Whole Wheat Bread Flour
- 8 oz/220g lukewarm (about 80°F/27°C) water
Combine 4 oz/110g white bread flour and 4 oz/110g wheat bread flour in a small container.
Add the water to the flour.
Mix until a thick paste forms.
Cover with a dish towel and leave at room temperature.
After 48 hours, your starter should have a few bubbles. If it looks dry on the top, or if there is a layer of liquid, just give it a stir.
Once you see bubbles, the starter smells tangy, and the surface appears bumpy, start your feeding. This can take 2-4 days.
Feed your starter with equal parts flour mix and water daily for a week; if you can, feed the starter at the same time every day.
Store your starter in the refrigerator, feeding once weekly.
Always replenish what you use for recipes with fresh flour and water, just as with a feeding.
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson