I'll be very honest, I'm not exactly a seasoned baker and started off learning how to make shortbread. That quickly developed into other biscuits like cookies, then cakes, now bread, which provided me with a steep learning curve. And I'm still learning! If you already have a working system for your sourdough, great, stick to it. This article won't provide any revelations of wisdom but hopefully, it'll provide insight on how easy it is to do.
So, if you are just starting but want to venture into sourdough baking territory, welcome! If you are an experienced bread maker, your positive feedback would also be welcomed!
Which flour is Best to Make Sourdough?
If you've done your Googling and YouTubing like I, you'll have seen lots of varied advice. You'll also hear or read of others referring to their starter as a culture. Both are correct, they are the same. The most important thing is the flour is UNBLEACHED.
That is right. Unbleached flours contain more natural yeast and good bacteria, which is used to germinate the sourdough starter. Natural yeast is in the air, all around us as well so natural yeast is key in the development of your starter.
I use rye flour because easy to control and you get consistent results with your starter.
In short, rye, wholemeal, hard flours are best but don't worry if you don't have those, you can use any unbleached or organic flour. And you can feed your starter with different flours over time, just be aware that different flours taste different, meaning your starter will also.
Again there are lots of advice available here, but the easiest I found to apply is to mix 1-1-1 measurements. It's easy to remember when everything is generally the same. Meaning the same for everything - equal measurements and keep it small, meaning low waste. Bear in mind that depending on the flour you use, you may slightly need to tweak things a bit and add a bit more water. As you get more confident and start trusting your ability, you'll play around with the measurements to a point where you are happy with your starter composition. I'll explain further into the article.
You'll also want to invest in a sturdy glass jar like a Kilner for example (as per the photo, available on Amazon) or similar with an airtight lid. The airtight lid is vital for when storing in the fridge. If you intend bake often, then a medium-sized jam jar works fine because you'll leave it out in the open and you'll never need to seal it.
- 50g unbleached flour
- 50g water
It's that simple to start with (1-1). If you prefer you can go 25g for everything.
What else you'll need
- A glass jar (Kilner or similar or a jam jar to begin with)
- A spatula
- Measuring scales (digital is easiest, although you can use manual scales which is how I started)
- A post-it note or similar re-usable marker
Mix your desired equal measure in the jar thoroughly (25 or 50g). If you are using a rye or hard or dark flour or even seeded, mix in an extra 20% - 25% water. For example, 50g flour and 60g-65g water. The composition should not be too runny but smooth and liquid enough to level off in the jar.
Once mixed, clean of any mess made from the outside and inside of the jar/container. For scraping of the inside, use the spatula and scrape back into the jar so nothing is wasted. I use a damp kitchen tissue to further wipe the inside of the jar (above the sourdough line) clean. This helps to remove the possibility of bad bacteria growing - the kind of bad bacteria that is furry for example.
Apply the post-it note to your jar level to the line of your starter mixture. You'll need this to see how active it gets over time. Do it from day 1 so it becomes good practice.
Now cover with a thin cloth or kitchen tissue/towel and put a rubber band around the top. Store it on your kitchen countertop or in your cupboard if there is space. If your kitchen is generally colder than most, on the kitchen counter but if it's warm a kitchen cupboard is fine.
Step 1 complete!
Tell me more about the Post-it note
I use it to work out how active my sourdough is. Having it double in size (as pictured), is when it's ripe and ready to use. At around 10 days in, this is the kind of activity you'll want to see.
Growing/Feeding your Starter
I stuck to the feeding of my starter/culture every 12 hours and I recommend that you do the same. First of all, after about 12 hours get your starter from where you stored it. Then apply the steps I use:
Using the scales, discard enough of the starter until you are left with the same measure you began with (25g or 50g - remember the lower the gramme the less the wastage).
Then apply the "Instructions" again.
You'll do this every day, for at least 7 days. At around day 7 is when I started to see consistent activity (as pictured - that is day 6). You want to do the above for 10 days, in my opinion, to get your starter going properly.
Storing in the Fridge
- Follow the "Instructions" again and feed your starter
- Close the lid and ensure it is airtight (so it doesn't dry out)
It took me a while to understand how this works but the lack of natural yeast and low temperature massively slows down the activity of the starter. Don't worry it is still alive! Storing it in the fridge helps to conserve even more flour, especially if you bake once a week like me. If you bake more than once a week, keep your starter on the kitchen counter, if you plan to use your starter all the time.
Storing it in the fridge AFTER you've established your starter (7 days minimum or at least until you see the above-pictured activity). To keep your starter alive in the fridge and you can do this for as long as you want if your not using it - months - simply feed it as per the "Instructions" once a week. That's it.
Preparing for Bread Making
Again there are varying opinions on how to use your starter from the fridge. Here's what works well for none-master bakers like me:
- Remove your starter from the fridge the day before (or evening), open the lid and let it warm up to room temperature
- Follow the "Instructions" again
- Feed again after 12 hours approx but this time discard all but 100g of starter
- Add 1-1, equal parts of flour and water following the "Instructions" once again
You now have at least 250g of starter for your sourdough loaf! Most loaves vary when it comes to how much or little starter you use, but I find that this calculation is simple and covers most baking needs. You will also have enough to keep, feed and grow for your next loaf.
When to use your Sourdough after preparing for Bread Making
Essentially you want to get two feeds in before using it, to activate your starter so it's at its peak for baking. Again here is what I do:
- After the second feed, wait about 3 - 4 hours
- Your starter will double (or close to) in size (as pictured)
At the 3 -4 hour mark, when you see this rise, that is when it is most active and time to make your bread without delay!
My starter isn't doing anything after 4 or 5 days
Keep feeding as instructed. Your culture will activate. Give it time. Also, be aware that if you are using a different flour to what is pictured (rye) then the activity of your starter maybe sooner or later than my advice.
I hope that this is helpful and if so, it would be great to hear from you and please give my first recipe some gold stars!
Happy bread making!