There was never a better time to get started on your sourdough adventures. As we are forced into taking it slow by a tiny micro-organism, we can cultivate our own community of beneficial micro-organisms to bake delicious breads and ponder upon what might have been in a world more mindful of how we ate and lived.
Most of you have probably been following my sourdough journey for the last couple of years. But this is the second round. I made my first sourdough starter in 2010. I was way ahead of the trend and it was a lonely journey that ended as might be expected. After a year of maintaining it, it was laid to rest in a final batch of pancakes. That’s what happens when you forget to name your starter and think of it as a pet. Do give this a thought and think of an appropriate name for this new pet that you are going to soon have.
Sourdough is dough that has been allowed to ferment or go sour. Wild yeast are floating all around us. They are on everything, fruits, grains, and vegetables, on every surface except highly processed foods. Given suitable conditions they start growing and dividing, a process we know as fermentation. To make your own starter from scratch all you need to do is harness this process in a medium of your choice – a mix of flour and water.
A good starter is the foundation of good bread. Other than to bake bread it can replace commercial yeast in any recipe. My starter Frothy is almost 4 years old. Over this time she has developed into a lively dependable starter that gives me consistently great bread.
Here is my method updated to include all that I have learned through maintaining it for over three years. You do not need a kitchen scale to get your starter going but invest in one if you want to replace yeast in your other bakes with sourdough.
Making your own sourdough starter from scratch
You will need the following:
500-750ml capacity wide mouth glass jar with lid
whole wheat flour (atta)
a tsp of gud (jaggery), preferably organic (optional)
a cup, to measure flour
a spoon to mix
Morning: Take 1/2 cup of water in a glass jar. Add jaggery and a 1/2 cup of atta. Give it a good mix – it should look like a thick paste. Close the lid of the jar and leave on your kitchen counter for 24 hours.
Feed the starter: Remove (discard) half the contents of the jar. This is your discard*. Add in 1/4 cup each of water and flour.
[* You may use the discard to cook with – knead it into a dough for rotis or use in pancakes. I have some recipes here (and whole lot on my Instagram feed!)]
Watch the jar for activity. By day three you may see bubbles resulting from the fermentation underway.
Morning: Feed the starter.
The starter will rise steadily and then start to fall. The magic is starting to happen. The starter rises as the yeast multiply and breakdown the sugars in the flour and give off gases as a by-product.
Night: Repeat feed if you see a lot of bubbles. Otherwise wait till morning.
Day 4 onwards
From Day 4, you will notice a lot of bubbles and increased starter activity. Continue refreshing your starter at 12-hour intervals till the starter begins to double in 4-6 hours. This can take between 6 to 12 days depending on ambient temperature. In warmer weather (but not hot!) the starter will stabilize earlier than is colder weather.
A few things to keep in mind before you start.
Fermentation is extremely temperature driven. Too hot and the yeast go on hyper-drive, too cold and they get sluggish. Between 24-26 C is what you want to shoot for. In our hot climate that is easier said than done. Follow the steps, adjust for your climes, and in 6-10 days you should have your own starter culture going.
- Whole wheat atta will work better than maida for initial feeds but you may use either or a 50-50 blend of the two.
- Our hot climate makes this process go much faster than whatever you might have read. After the first few days I found the yeast multiplying very fast and the batter rising and falling in a few hours signalling the exhaustion of available food. Under very hot conditions (such as our summers) it is advisable to refrigerate the starter during the day and allow it to rise in the relatively cooler nights after a feed.
- Your starter may exhibit a surge of activity on the very first or second day only to appear dead the next. Continue with the feeding schedule as described and it will come back as desirable yeast and bacteria begin to multiply while the undesirable ones die off in the now acidic starter.
- Missing a feed will not kill it.
- Every feed involves removing half the mix and supplementing with fresh flour and water. If, like me, you are not prepared to throw ‘edible’ food, be prepared for fresh cooked breakfast daily using this leftover slightly-sour starter.
- As your starter matures, you can refresh it using smaller quantities of starter. The ratio is determined by how fast fermentation is going under prevailing climatic conditions (summer or winter) and how long the starter will be left to ferment. The most popular ratio is 1:2:2, one part starter culture to two parts flour and two parts water (by weight). This is also referred to as a 100% hydration starter (flour and water in the same proportion). In warmer weather or if left overnight the ratio will need adjusting. For example, for an overnight feed in summer I may need to feed the starter at a ratio of 1:6:6. I typically take a very small amount of starter, 5 or 10 grams only, and feed it equal amounts of flour and water.
- Once the starter has stabilized (rises and falls at a predictable rate) you may choose to feed it just once a week and refrigerate between feeds. It can now be used to build a levain to bake bread with. At this point you can change the flour mix for feeding the starter as per your preference.
- You can also create multiple starters with different flavour profiles by using different flour blends but desist from switching back and forth. Once established, it is a good idea to feed your starter the same flour blend. I maintained two starters for some time – one was fed 100% whole wheat atta, and the other a blend of 50% atta and 50% maida. Now I have just one and I feed it a 50-50 blend.