Sourdough bread is amazing. It’s chewy, it’s tangy, and it works well with just about anything – including pizza. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I had the chance to try it, but sourdough pizza crust has definitely become one of my favorite ways to prepare pizza. The very beginning step in making anything sourdough involves something called “starter.”
If you read our blog on different types of yeast you already know that starter is a mix of flour and water that contains wild yeast. Sometimes starter can be hard to come by, so we figured we’d set you on the path to sourdough by showing you how to make sourdough starter of your own.
If You Mix It, It Will Bubble
Making starter is relatively easy; it just requires a little patience. Yeast occurs naturally in the air all around us, and while you may not be able to sense it, chances are there’s yeast in the air around you right this moment. All you have to do is create the right conditions for yeast to thrive in, and in a week or so you’ll have your very own sourdough starter. So how does the process work? Let’s take a look.
The first step in creating a lively starter is to pick up some rye flour or wheat flour. Why use these specific types of flour? It’s because whole grain flours have more microorganisms and contain more nutrients than other flours. Once you’ve got the right flour, the process is easy:
- Place ½ cup rye (or wheat) flour into a medium-sized bowl.
- Measure out ½ cup lukewarm purified water.
- Mix the water into the flour and stir until all of the flour is hydrated. Mixture should look smooth with few lumps.
- Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit out 24 hours.
When you return to your starter the next day it should be starting to bubble and rise, like this:
If your starter doesn’t look quite as bubbly as the above picture, don’t worry, it probably needs just a little more time to do its thing.
At this point, your starter is ready for its first “feeding.” Feeding is simply adding more flour and water to encourage the yeast to grow. Here’s how to do it:
- Remove half of the total amount of starter and discard it (or share some with a friend!). This is done so that your starter doesn’t become too big.
- Add ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour and another ½ cup lukewarm purified water and mix well.
- Cover the bowl again with a kitchen towel and allow mixture to rest 24 hours.
This feeding process is then repeated for the next 5 to 7 days, or until the starter is fully active and ready to use. When you’re finished, the starter will be nice and bubbly. Each time you feed a healthy starter you’ll see it double (or even triple) in size.
Maintaining Your Starter
If you don’t intend on using your starter immediately after making it, you’ll want to store it in the refrigerator in a glass jar that has a loose-fitting or threaded lid. When you store starter in the fridge you’ll need to take it out once a week and feed it using the steps outlined in Day 2.
Simply discard half the starter, add the appropriate amounts of flour and water, mix to combine, and refrigerate. Take the starter out of the fridge the day before you decide to bake for another feeding to “wake” the starter up.
For tips on how to use starter when making dough, check out our sourdough blog.