Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sourdough Starter - A Quick Start Guide

Since so many of my posts lately have included a starter, I thought I should include a quick guide to starting and maintaining a starter, mainly to show how easy it really is. This post is not an all-inclusive sourdough starter resource, but rather a general overview which includes links to other websites and blogs that can fill in the gaps. 

This is my starter and when I am using it, it sits right here on my stove.   

Here are the steps you will need to take to have a fully functioning starter in your kitchen (Yes, you can do this)!! Recipes included below too, see Step 3. :)

1. Buy/ obtain a starter
2. Activate/ Store Your Starter
3. Feed/ Maintain Your Starter
4. Put Your Starter to Sleep
5. Revive Your Starter

These steps are elaborated upon below.

1. Buy/ Obtain A Starter
You can either buy a starter, obtain one from a friend, or catch one yourself (yes, seriously)! I have tried buying a starter and I also obtained one from a friend who lived halfway across the country from me (thanks Mrs. Scratch.Love!). She just dropped it in the mail and I had to revive it a bit. I have also given a starter to a friend locally and I just stuck it in a spare glass jar and gave it to her.

Where to Buy: If you don't have a friend who will give you a starter, then you can buy one online. There are lots of resources, but I purchased mine from Cultures for Health and it has worked out wonderfully. At the recommendation of Nourished Kitchen, I bought the Parisian Starter and I am very happy with it. I think it's a good starter starter. Ha Ha.

Make Your Own: If you are feeling really adventurous, you can make your own starter. I have not tried this method, but Nourished Kitchen has a great tutorial here that I did read and then decided to buy my own. It does sound easy, but it also seemed like it may yield unpredictable results so I decided I would try a wild starter after I felt more comfortable with the overall process and could determine what was generally "normal" or "weird".

2. Activate/ Store Your Starter
What to Put It In: If you buy a dry starter, you'll need to rehydrate it. And, in any case, you'll need a place to store your starter. I use this Anchor Hocking Half Gallon Jar to store my starter (shown in the pictures), which I purchased from Amazon. Nourished Kitchen recommended the gallon jar, but that was a bit too big for my needs. However, either would work well as would other glass receptacles. Really, you just need something that has a loose cover or you will need to cover it loosely (but securely) with a cloth. Also, keep in mind that your starter will double in size after every feeding so that should be a consideration when choosing a container size.

Activate: In order to activate my purchased starter, I literally just followed the directions that came with it. It was an easy process and it all worked out with no glitches. When I received my starter from a friend, I simply had to feed it a few times and was then able to use it. You will know it's ready to use if, after three feedings, it approximately doubles in size between feedings (see more information about feedings below).

A Note About Clean Utensils: You will want to make sure that your utensils are all clean and that you don't stick your fingers into the starter, your dog doesn't stick his nose in there, or a dirty spoon doesn't wind up in there. I am pretty meticulous about using a clean spoon or measuring cup, just to play it safe, and I have never had any mold or other weirdness. 

3. Feed/ Maintain Your Starter
How to Feed: This is really the easy part. Feed your starter, depending on size, twice per day. If you buy a starter, simply follow the directions that come with it and you'll soon realize you've stopped looking at the directions. Some great resources include Sourdough Home, Cultures for Health, and Nourished Kitchen. There are, I am sure, a ton of other great resources out there, but these are the three I used.

What To Feed/ How Often To Feed: You want to keep in mind that you will feed your starter depending on the size of your starter. So, when my half gallon Anchor Hocking Jar has about a quarter of a cup of starter in it, I feed about a heaping 1/4 cup of organic, unbleached white flour and 1/4 cup filtered water twice per day. I dump the flour in, add the water, then stir using a spoon. I have tried a fancy dough whisk, and it's pretty cool, but totally unnecessary in my experience. When you stir it during feeding, you'll want to scrape the sides as much as possible.

When my starter gets bigger, I feed it more. Cultures For Health recommends feeding, by weight, equal parts starter, water, and flour. Using measuring cups, it's about equal parts starter and water and nearly twice that single part per measuring cup of flour. Twice per day. That's it. ***If you are looking for more detailed feeding directions, they can be found online (see links above) and will also come with your starter, if it's purchased. You will get a feel for it after doing it for a little while (I promise).  
A Note About What to Feed: Also, I use white, unbleached organic flour to feed my starter and that's it. I have had great success with it and will continue to use that. I have seen other recommendations to use whole wheat and/ or rye (at least to start), but they all sound much more complicated and so I just use white. However, when baking, you can mix your starter with any kind of flour: white, wheat, rye, etc.

What Your Starter Will Do: Between feedings, your starter will grow (approximately double in size), and then shrink again. This rising ability is what makes your dough rise when you use your starter. If your starter does not grow between feedings (if you're not home to watch, you'll see the evidence on the sides of the jar), then it's not ready to use yet. After reviving, it should be ready after three feedings.

Discarding/ Using Part of Your Starter: The only other thing you'll want to do is to remove part of your starter if you are not using it often enough so it doesn't grow too big. You'll just pull out about 1/2 cup to a cup or half of what's there before feeding, discard (or use), and then feed as normal. If you don't do this, your starter will get too large to store reasonably. If you find yourself needing to throw away your starter on a regular basis, then you probably aren't using it much and should consider storing it. I don't throw away much because I use my starter nearly every day when I have it out making sourdough pancakes, cinnamon rolls, rolls, crepes, bread, pizza crust, monkey bread, hamburger buns, biscuits, croissants, and bierocks.

One word of caution, the only problem I ever had with my starter was when it started to have an acetone smell to it. YIKES. After some research I realized I was starving the little bugger by only feeding once per day (yeah, I got lazy) and not feeding enough each time. So, I simply removed nearly all the starter and started feeding consistently twice per day and within a few days it was back to normal. There are lots of reasons why your starter may be off in smell or color, so if you experience anything out of the ordinary with your starter then definitely do the research to figure it out (see the websites above for a good start) before using it again.  UPDATE: I actually had another problem occur that resulted from not feeding enough. I was not following the equal parts by weight rule and my starter died after about a year. I was really bummed out! I did a lot of research and just realized that I was not feeding it enough and it unfortunately died. I have a new starter now and am a lot more cautious about feeding the correct amounts and this version is stronger than ever. Since both of my problems occurred as a result of not feeding enough, I cannot stress how important it is to ensure you are following the feeding directions that came with your starter (or the equal parts by weight rule of thumb).

4.  Storing a Starter
When you are out of your sourdough baking "kick", it's time to store your starter. This will need to be at least 30 days after rehydrating a purchased starter. This is really great because you can keep a starter for a long time with very low maintenance by storing it. Simply stick your whole jar with the starter into the refrigerator and feed once a week or every two weeks. That's it. If you buy the starter, there will be instructions for storing in the package. If you want detailed information, you can easily find it by Googling how to store a starter. There are lots of various opinions, but they are all about the same - Refrigerate and feed occasionally.
Picture of my starter after a day in the refrigerator.
5. Revive Your Starter
This is also simple - just take your starter out of the refrigerator and start feeding it, as indicated in Step 3 above. That's It. After three feedings it should be doubling in size and you can start using it.
Note the starter is a pourable consistency, but I don't usually pour it. I will just stick a clean measuring cup into the jar and fetch the amount needed out. You can read online about the pros and cons of maintaining a thinner or thicker consistency and then decide for yourself what you prefer. 

So, that's really it. I hope you will try keeping your own sourdough starter for baking and cooking. We really love ours and I cannot imagine my kitchen without it now.

Follow me on Facebook or Google+!
This post was shared at Fight Back Friday, Busy Monday, Titus 2sdays, Fat Tuesday, WFMW and Real Food Wednesday. Please follow the links for other great recipe ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please say hello and let me know what you think! I read all my comments and would love to hear from you.....

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...