Sourdough Starter – Beginner’s Guide
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What do I need to know before making a sourdough starter? How long does it take for a sourdough starter to be ready to use? Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it? What happens if you use sourdough starter too early? All of these are great questions I get asked often, so I hope today’s post is a help to you!
So my journey with sourdough starter began over six years ago when I met my sweet friend Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone. Lisa and I became friends over on Instagram, and her all natural lifestyle intrigued me.
I went on the Whole 30 diet shortly after having my third son, Caleb, and after those thirty days I decided that it was time to make some serious changes. I became very interested in sourcing better food for my family, moving towards a whole food diet, and transitioning over to an all natural lifestyle.
I started small, swapping out my chemical cleaners to natural ones. Beauty products came next and then kitchen tools, but food and diet was probably the longest transition of all. I spent so much time looking up ingredients, learning about toxins and additives, and reading articles and blog posts about the importance of gut health.
Lisa’s blog helped me so much, and my desire to feed my family nutritious, nourishing food grew tremendously. I had always loved to cook and bake, but I became more mindful of the ingredients I was using, as well as the process.
Homemade milk kefir was one of the first things I incorporated into our family’s diet. Lisa was sweet enough to send me some grains, and we have been making kefir for close to two years now.
For the longest time, however, sourdough intimidated me. I first tried making my own starter in 2020 during the pandemic. Since I don’t tolerate gluten well, I was determined to make one that was gluten free. I was successful, but unfortunately we just didn’t like the way that it tasted.
I tried several recipes from pizza crust to bread, but for whatever reason we just didn’t like the taste and consistency. I believe I fed my starter with both buckwheat and millet flour, so I’d like to try making a starter again with sweet rice flour to see if we like that better.
I gave up on sourdough for a while after that, but in 2021 I decided to give it a try again with regular organic wheat flour. There are so many wonderful benefits of eating sourdough, and even though I would have to avoid eating a lot of my creations, I knew that my husband and boys would be better off eating fermented grains.
What do I need to know before making sourdough starter?
I followed Lisa’s simple instructions which I will link here. Honestly, guys – don’t over think it. I promise it’s really so simple. Equal parts flour and water, stir, cover. That’s it.
There’s a bit of a process that first week, yes. You’ll have to discard starter every day before feeding it again. But after that first week, it’s the easiest thing to manage.
I use organic wheat flour, but I’ve also used freshly milled Kamut flour. You also need to be careful about the type of water you use. I have a Berkey water system which I highly recommend, but any type of filtered water should do.
For storage, I like to use a quart size mason jar with a plastic lid that I set on the jar loosely to allow air in. Every week and a half to two weeks I like to pour my starter into a clean jar and wash the one it was in. After a while, the top of your jar starts to get goopy and hard and I tend to like things clean and tidy, which is why I switch mine over often.
How long does it take for a sourdough starter to be ready to use?
If you make a starter from scratch, it is typically ready to use in 7-14 days. You want your starter to look active and bubbly, rather than flat with little to no bubbles. People often worry after day 7 or 8 when their starter doesn’t seem to be taking off.
Don’t worry or throw it all out! Keep feeding it and have some patience. Maybe change your water source or location of the starter. I find that my starter seems happier near my stove during the cold winter months, but during the summertime it does well no matter where it is.
What happens if you use sourdough starter too early?
If you use your sourdough starter too early, it won’t have leavening power. Remember, starter is a live, fermented culture. It’s what makes your dough rise. When you use sourdough starter in your recipes, you no longer need to use commercial yeast.
What is “fed” sourdough starter?
Once your starter is active and bubbly and ready for baking, you’ll start to notice that recipes call for “fed” starter. Fed starter basically means that you’ve fed it flour and water 6 to 8 hours prior. In the summer months when it’s warm in my kitchen, I can feed my starter as little as 4 hours ahead of time and it’s usually ready for use.
Conversely, unfed starter means that it’s flat with little to no leavening power. But you can totally use both fed and unfed starter in recipes! Another name for unfed starter is discard, so if you are researching recipes to use unfed starter with, keep that in mind.
Do you have to discard sourdough starter every time you feed it?
Once you have an established starter, you do not need to discard some of it every time you feed it.
I never throw starter away or keep an extra jar for discard like I see so many people doing online. That’s too complicated! If I have unfed starter that I need to use up, I will just make something that calls for discard. Flatbread is one of my favorite recipes for unfed sourdough starter.
After I’ve used some of my starter – whether fed or unfed – I always make sure to feed it afterwards. I’m never meticulous when it comes to feedings. I roughly stick to a 1:1:1 ratio, but I never measure.
So if I have a half cup of starter in my mason jar, I’ll feed it (roughly) a half cup of flour and a half cup of water. If I’m entering in a busy season or a vacation where I know I won’t be using my starter regularly, I simply store it in the fridge until I’m ready to use it again!
Can you purchase Sourdough Starter?
Yes! There are many places you can purchase sourdough starter. The most popular one I come across is Etsy. You can find active starter and dehydrated sourdough starter options!
Some of My Favorite Sourdough Recipes
- English Muffins – Farmhouse on Boone
- Waffles – Little Spoon Farm
- Flat Bread – Raspberries and Kohlrabi
- Sandwich Bread – Farmhouse on Boone
- Pancakes – Farmhouse on Boone
- Blueberry Sourdough Muffins – King Arthur Baking
- Cinnamon Rolls – Farmhouse on Boone
I will be sharing my favorite sourdough bread recipe with you very soon!
And that is all about my sourdough starter, friends! Sourdough has so many amazing health benefits, and having a starter on hand at all times for baking is now a must for me! Don’t let it intimidate you, it’s actually a lot easier than it seems. If you have any questions or if there’s something I didn’t cover in today’s post, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!