The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide is filled with everything you ever want or need to know about a sourdough starter! What is it? How to does it work? How do I take care of it? AND the very best part… a lot of recipes we’ve created, love, and crave again and again! I often introduce my sourdough start as “the love of my life” and people think I’m kidding… but I’m really not! I completely love and adore it. My sourdough starter is over 75 years old. It was carefully carried in a baggie, on a airplane, from Alaska to Salt Lake City, Utah and from that day, to this, our whole family has been head-over-heels in love with it! Savory or sweet, we love it in a variety of recipes because a sourdough starter adds an irresistible and subtle tang that’ll leave every single person who tastes it wondering “what the secret ingredient is”! The next thing they’ll say is how Ahhh-mazing it tastes! 🙂
Sourdough Starters are for the at home cook!
Did you know that a sourdough starter is the pride of many at home cooks? Are you new to sourdough or a tried and true veteran? Either way, we’ve put together our best tips & tricks, recipes, and how to’s for all those who love sourdough starters (or want to)!!
What is a Sourdough Starter?
When flour is mixed with liquid, the friendly bacteria (lactobacilli) and wild yeast in both the flour and your surrounding environment start working together. Within their flour-and-water slurry (now called starter), these tiny living creatures generate byproducts that cause bread to rise and give it complex, rich flavor. The sourdough starter actually carries in it the wild yeast from anywhere it has lived! Our starter came from Anchorage, Alaska, then it lived in Emigration Canyon for about a year, and lastly moved to Salt Lake City where it’s been happily living ever since! When I share a start with people, I tell them the history and how it will naturally add more wild yeast from the air at it’s new home too! Super cool, right?!
How does a sourdough start work?
A packet of yeast makes dinner rolls rise. Sourdough starter performs that same function — but how? Wild yeast is in the air around us. It settles on kitchen work surfaces and in your ingredients, including flour. Add liquid to flour, and this wild yeast is activated and starts to produce carbon dioxide bubbles. This growing army of gas bubbles, effectively trapped by gluten within the dough, are what ultimately make sourdough bread rise. Sourdough bread’s signature taste comes from friendly bacteria and yeast, which produce flavorful lactic and acetic acids in rising bread dough. These organic acids range from mellow to vinegary. Controlling the balance of these acids, through adjusting ingredients and rising times in both starter and dough, let you create bread with your own favorite flavor profile.
How do I store my Sourdough Starter?
It needs a ceramic crock or non-metallic container for it to live in. I purchased a large cookie jar and then removed the seal from the lid so that it can breathe. Sourdough starters need air to keep the wild yeast active and growing. NEVER use metallic to work with your starter– it will hurt the culture. No metal bowls, spoons, or containers please 🙂
How do I care for my Sourdough Starter?
• It needs a little bit of love in the form of food; which means you need to feed it equal parts flour and water. Feed it 1-2 times a week if it lives outside of the fridge. If you keep it in the fridge then once every 1-2 weeks will do it.
• If you keep it in the fridge then before you cook with it be sure to remove it, feed it, allow it to reach room temperature, and let it return to a more active state.
• It’s normal for it to be lumpy when adding flour- it will eat the gluten and in just and a few hours it’ll be smooth again all by itself!
• When you feed it, scrape all of the insides and bottom back into the starter because it can thicken and settle in these areas so to keep it really happy give it a good scrape while mixing with a wooden spoon.
• You know your start is healthy and happy when it’s bubbling and growing!
• Use the same flour it was started with to feed it. Example: if your starter began it’s life with white flour, then feed it only white flour. Many people have killed their starter by feeding it a different flour. However, feel free to add your healthy and happy starter to any variety of flours in baking (option: 1/4 teaspoon yeast can be added if it’s having trouble rising).
• That being said… it is possible to convert a portion of your starter to another type of flour. It is somewhat simple to convert a starter between white, whole wheat, rye, spelt, or other gluten-containing flours.
How to switch a Sourdough Starter to a new flour
- Divide the active starter into two portions.
- Place one-half safely in the refrigerator as a backup in case the starter does not acclimate well to the new flour. This backup should be fed with its regular flour to keep it healthy.
- Feed the second half with the new flour at room temperature.
- Within a few feedings, the starter should be converted to the new flour.
- Once it is bubbling and growing reliably for a few consecutive feedings, it is ready to use for baking.
Best flours to choose for a switch
- Not all flours work alike in sourdough, so the starter may go through an adjustment period in which it is not as vigorous.
- Whole grain flours tend to contain more organisms to feed the yeasts and bacteria. Switching from a whole grain flour to white flour may cause a decline in the health of the starter.
- Rye flour, in particular, is very well-suited as food for sourdough starters. Switching a rye starter to a new flour may cause a change in the health of the starter.
- Flour that has just been ground can be a little “raw” for the starter to utilize. Aging freshly ground flour for a week or more allows for the development of more of the healthy organisms the sourdough starter can utilize.
- If, after an adjustment period, the sourdough starter appears to be less vigorous than before, try feeding it a blend of the new flour and the old flour for several feedings, to give it a boost.
- If all else fails, discard a less-than-stellar new sourdough starter and return to the refrigerated portion of the original starter. Later, either repeat the flour switch as recommended above or try a different flour. As long as a portion of the original starter is always retained, endless attempts and trials can be made with different flours.
AND the very best part, the Sourdough Recipes (of course)!
We hope that The Ultimate Sourdough Starter Guide will guide you on your adventure in the world of sourdough!
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Ruthie & Madeliene