I have been making homemade bread regularly, as in nearly weekly, for about 25 years. For many years, I mostly made the bread using active yeast, but my husband has had a strong interest in sourdough, especially after he made his backyard brick oven. He has tried many starters, including some he made and some he purchased, but he has never been quite satisfied.
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About 16 months ago, I decided to surprise him by making some starter following the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It turned out wonderfully and now I’ve been making him sourdough almost exclusively since then!
Here is a workable summary version of how I applied that recipe for making sourdough starter, but I strongly recommend the book if you like to bake bread. It is full of fascinating and useful information, as well as many recipes.
Day one –
Mix until all flour is hydrated:
- 1 cup of freshly ground rye flour (you can use dark rye flour or store bought, coarsely ground rye flour) and
- 1/2 (4 ounces) of unsweetened, room temperature pineapple juice. I mixed up some frozen concentrate, but supposedly it can be canned. The pineapple juice is thought to keep the wrong type of bacteria from taking hold in the first couple of days.
- Compress this dough into a glass something, like a 4 cup measuring cup. Mark the level of the dough on the outside, probably with masking tape, cover it with plastic wrap a put it on a counter somewhere to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day two –
The dough, or sponge, probably will not have risen much, but there are still things to do with it at this point. Put it in a mixing bowl and add:
- 1/2 cup of unbleached high-gluten flour. I just used the regular unbleached white flour that I use for all my baking, which is the Wheat Montana brand. Walmart has started carrying it, which is convenient.
- 1/4 cup the same sort of pineapple juice
- Put it back in the glass container, push it down and create a level surface, then reposition the masking tape to mark the top of it. Recover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for another 24 hours. You might be able to smell a distinctive odor, but that is okay and will become more pleasant.
Day three –
The starter will have risen some, but maybe no more than 50%. Now, divide it in half. Mix one half of it with:
- 1 cup of unbleached, high-gluten flour (see note on day 2 for flour) and
- 1/2 cup room temperature water
- And back in the glass container it goes! You should be able to press it down to about the same height it was before. Adjust the tape to mark the top, cover with the plastic wrap, and let it sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You can throw out the second half of starter or give it away or make way too much starter…
Day four –
It should be more sponge than dough now and filling at least twice the space.
- If not at least doubled, set it aside for another 12 – 24 hours.
- When it has at least doubled, divide it in half again, and to one half add 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of room temperature water again (discard other half?).
- Cover and wait another 4 to 24 hours for it’s volume to at least double, though tripling is okay. If it collapses when the container is tapped, it is ready for the transformation into The Mother Starter.
To make The Mother Starter –
- Measure out 1 cup of the prepared sourdough sponge culture(that you just spent the last 4-5 days making),
- add 2 cups of room temperature water, and
- 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached, high-gluten flour (same as above)
- Make sure it is stirred to uniformly distribute the sponge culture and get all the flour wet. It will still be a relatively sticky sponge. Put it into a non-metal container that is at least twice the volume of the sponge.
- Cover this with plastic wrap or a lid and keep at room temperature for about 6 hours, during which time The Mother Starter, sometimes also called the barm, will become bubbly. The plastic or lid may swell. Simply let the gas escape, but you may not want to breathe it.
- Recover and keep in the refrigerator overnight. Now, the starter can be used for any recipe that calls for sourdough starter. It is active for 3 days, but after that it will need to be refreshed by dividing and adding equal parts flour and water, as I show in my video.