Sourdough Starter

Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Tags: pantry staples
A watercolor illustration of a jar of yellow-beige liquid with little shapes of different purples and some browns - as to represent the raisins and honey sugar water that begin the recipe. On top it says 'Mother of' and on the bottom it says 'Starter!'

inspired by Sarah Owens’ Sourdough, pages 42-44

Ingredients

Directions

Starting the stater

  1. Combine 570 grams water and all the sugar in a saucepan over low.
  2. Mix until dissolved and take it off the heat.
  3. Once it’s cooled, stir in the honey.
  4. Pour it all in a big glass container with a latch top (I hate to be specific with something like this, but the latch top does have a use later).
  5. Add all the raisins.
  6. Latch the lid and place the jar in a warm place in your kitchen/home.
  7. Thoroughly shake it a few times a day for anywhere from 5-7 days.
  8. Depending on the temperature of where the jar lives, on day 3 or 4 you’ll likely begin to smell alcohol when you open it. The jar will likely pop when you open it, too, due to all this fermentation. At this point, leave the jar loosely covered vs. latched.
  9. By day 6 or 7, there should be bubbles. It’ll be very obviously active at a glance. Now the starter can begin! Don’t worry too much about the days in this step and the previous, the main thing you should pay attention to are the signs of readiness - the smell and pop in the previous step, and the active bubbles in this one.
  10. Take 60 grams of this funky raisin water and stir it with 60 grams of bread flour in a new container. This container will be the home of your starter! I personally like something glass (so I can see inside), that’s easy to stir ins and has a lid that’s very easy to lightly lay on top vs. having to fiddle with a screw top or something. I’ve found if the container is at least 32 oz/4 cups, it’ll work for my starter needs in the long run. But here in the beginning, you might need something bigger as we start with more than you’ll likely keep on hand. It
  11. Let this mixture sit for around at room temperature for 8 hours.
  12. This isn’t necessarily a new step, but while those 8 hours are passing, you can decide what to do with that funky raisin water. The original recipe suggests keeping it for 6 months in the fridge and using it in place of sweet cooking wine or to give to someone else. We just ended up throwing it away (and I hate throwing things away!), but maybe you can find a use for it.
  13. After 8-ish hours have passed, you should see tiny bubbles. Yay! Life! Stir in the last 115 grams water and 115 grams bread flour from the ingredients list.
  14. Another 8 hours at room temperature.
  15. Now this is officially sourdough starter! At this point in my process, I felt the instructions in the original recipe were lacking (I was still relatively new to serious home cooking and I still wanted everything spelled out for me). I can now see the next steps more clearly…
  16. If my calculations are correct, the contents of your starter container should weigh (without the jar, of course) 350 grams. Get another jar out - I usually use a 32 oz mason jar. This will be your discard jar. It’s “discard” in the sense that you take some starter away from the main starter in order to feed it (feeding it encourages activity, which you need for many sourdough recipes), but this discard is not something you throw out. This stuff is GOLD. For now, put in half of your starter (175 grams) in the discard jar. Put your discard jar in the fridge - it’s permanent home.
  17. Now add 175 grams water and 175 grams bread flour to your starter container and stir.
  18. You know the drill - 8 hours at room temperature.
  19. This is going to sound repetitive, but you need to go through a couple more rounds of these feedings that involve removing half of the starter (175 grams) and putting that in the discard jar, waiting 8 hours, then doing it again. You’re building strength to your starter.
  20. After a couple of feedings in this manner, you should be good to go. Take a tablespoon or so of starter right before you feed it and drop it in a bowl or glass full of water. If the starter is ready, it will float. This is considered ripe starter.

Routine maintenance

  1. This will vary by household, but unless you’re going to be baking with ripe starter multiple times a week, your starter will live in the fridge. When you are getting ready to use it for something that requires ripe starter (most recipes will identify that), you’ll need to take it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature (this will take a few hours), then feed it at least a couple of times in 12 hour intervals to get it going.
  2. After a couple feedings, wait 8 hours after your final feeding, and then do the float test. This is ripe starter and ready to use ASAP!
  3. As a ground rule, when take anything from the starter container, you must replenish it. So, when you take some out for a recipe, you need to put in an equal amount of water and flour to replenish it. For me, I usually have about 50 grams of starter after I take some out for a recipe, so I’ll add 50 grams water and 50 grams bread flour (but I’m sure other types of flour work, like AP), totaling to a typical starter container holding 150 grams total. This has worked for me, but your needs may be different. You’ll figure it out.
  4. Once you feed your starter, let it sit at room temperature for anywhere between 3 and 5 hours before you put it back in the fridge. You mainly want to see that it’s active and bubbly before you store it.
  5. Another ground rule is to make sure you feed it once a week. This may not be an issue for you because maybe you bake with ripe starter two times a week. For me, there will be a week here or there that I don’t use ripe starter. I just put a reoccurring reminder in my tasks app (Things) and my calendar.
  6. That discard, btw, is good forever. At first, I was having to rush to find ways to use it. Nowadays, I think I use it more than ripe starter and have actually fed my starter a few days in a row just to get more discard. You’ll develop your own habits with this.

Thoughts

Sometimes trends annoy me, but sometimes, it’s the start of a global pandemic and there’s nothing else to do so why not actually look at that sourdough cookbook you got your husband a long time ago? If you didn’t already hop on the sourdough train, here’s your chance. I make a lot of things with active starter and the “discard. ” Like my fennel beans recipe, I knew that I needed to get this posted before I can share many of the other recipes on seemingly constant rotation in my home.

I know this sounds like a massive undertaking, but it is a fun little project that makes you practice baking a lot. You’ll be frustrated sometimes, but eventually you’ll be proud of yourself (and well fed). If you don’t feel like making this but still want to make sourdough things, by all means seek the starter elsewhere. King Arthur will mail it to you (not to mention lots of other folks). You may even know someone nearby that can share some with you without dealing with receiving something technically living in the mail. Either way, the upkeep mentioned above will work and I’m certain there are many other ways to keep up your fermented carb pet!