Sourdough Starters from Scratch

Sourdough starter experiment progress.  Days 4 and 5

(clockwise from top) Whole Wheat starter, Bleached All Purpose starter, Unbleached All Purpose starter.

Today is day 5 for my starter (bleached, all-purpose wheat flour) and day 4 for my son and daughter’s starters (whole wheat & unbleached wheat flour respectively).

I kept reading recipes that said to only use unbleached flour or combinations of unbleached & rye or whole wheat flours.  But when I began my quest to learn to create my own starter with just flour & water, I only had bleached all-purpose flour.  So I went for it.

My starter is on day five.  It has gone from a stretchy batter (slightly thicker than pancake batter) to a thinner frothy batter consistency.  The smell has improved dramatically.  I noticed yesterday the distinct & pleasant “sourdough” odor – compared to the first 3 days, when I could only describe it as a sour “bad bell peppers” smell.  Here’s a photo of my starter.  We call it Bob.

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“Bob” bleached all purpose wheat flour starter, day 5.

My son chose whole wheat flour to base his starter on.  It is a little harder to get a good consistency with this one.  We have to add a bit more water to get it to that batter consistency & then it separates pretty rapidly.  It was bubbling very aggressively in the first 2 days.  But that has really died back, the bubbles are now small, but constant.  The smell – to me is unpleasant.  My first thought, when I open the container & before stirring, it that it smells a bit like vomit.  But we’re not giving up yet…  Mine smelled pretty bad to start with, too.  Here’s a close up of the tiny bubbles in his whole wheat starter & then a photo of the rapid separation:

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My son’s, as yet unnamed, whole wheat sourdough starter. Day 4.

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Whole wheat starter separation, less than an hour after stirring.

My daughter is using unbleached all purpose flour for her starter.  To me, hers has smelled better than both the others from the very beginning.  It also started getting the frothy bubbles sooner than the bleached flour.  She has dubbed her starter “Fred”  & here is a photo: 

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“Fred” – Unbleached all-purpose wheat flour sourdough starter. Day 4.

The steps we have followed so far:

  1. 1/2 c. flour & just over 1/3 c. warm water – mixed thouroughly in a tupperware container with a lid that can be left loose on a corner.
  2. Place in a warmish spot (for us this is on the top of our egg incubator) and stir a few times a day.
  3. Second day, repeat the first step & mix with the original starter. Continue to stir through the day.
  4. Third day, measure the starter and use an equal amount of the fresh batter mix to feed your starter.  For us this came to 1 c. flour & just under a cup of water.  Stir as before.
  5. Fourth day.  Repeat the addition of an equal amount of food to the existing starter.  Stir as before.
  6. Fifth day.  Repeat.  If your starter is getting too big for its container, transfer it to roomier accommidations or discard enough so you can double it up with the food batter again.  Stir as before.
  7. Future (up to about day 10-11) we will continue these steps & hopefully see some rising.  If all goes well we’ll have a nice smelling batch of starter to use for our first loaf of completely homemade sourdough bread.

We should be ready for baking on Easter weekend!  I’ll keep you posted.

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Sourdough Starter Experiments

We are learning to create our own sourdough starter & experimenting with different “mediums” for growing the cultures.  Yesterday we started a basic batch using bleached all purpose flour and warm water.  It’s very cool in our house, gotta make that propane last don’cha know, so I have the starter in a plastic food storage container with a snap on lid (just pressed down on 2 corners so we don’t have an explosion) sitting on top of our incubator, keeping warm. 

This batch is 1/2 c. flour and just a little under 1/2 c. warm water.  As you can see, it’s already bubbling and it smells nice and tangy.

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Today we will be making 2 more starters with just flour and water.  One with unbleached all purpose flour and one with whole wheat flour. 

This is such a terrific learning experience for both my children and myself!  We have learned so much about microorganisms, yeasts, lactic acid, leavening, the history of breadmaking, and food security. 

You may wonder what I mean by “food security”  – For the last couple of years I’ve noticed that, month after month, the grocery cart is a little less full and we walk out having spent a little more money.  We are frightfully reliant on foods grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away or produced in a factory with ingredients cooked up in a lab.  I get a little nervous when I think about the “just in time” delivery system that depends on an uninterrupted stream of petroleum from the very beginning when the seeds are planted to the very end when I haul the groceries home.  And most upsetting of all, we are hostages to the cost of that production which is influenced dramatically by the cost of that oil and the whims of investors betting on the future.

For me this all boils down to a simple truth:  We need to learn to be more responsible for our food, if not for our physical health, at least for our financial health.  And for our family this has meant hunting, raising small livestock, learning to process our own meat, growing a garden (I have a BROWN thumb – so I need a lot of work in this department), cooking from scratch, and now making our own starter to bake our own bread. 

I bake a lot of breads, but I hope I have officially purchased my last jar of commercially produced yeast!

Every little bit helps…  I’ll keep you updated on our progress.