Start with scales

A sourdough Starter is an active yeast culture that you need to feed on a regular basis to keep alive (as opposed to a dried yeast powder from a supermarket). The process to begin your own Starter involves concentrating and strengthening the natural yeast that already exists with your flour and the air in your kitchen (it’s a bit of a mind-bender really).

A word of caution: this process takes plenty of patience and even more flour over a number of weeks. After all that effort there’s also the chance that this doesn’t work the first time and you might need to start over! If you’re more interested in getting to the baking part then try the Shortcut method instead.

What you will need

  • Container that your Starter will live in – the container needs to hold at least 1 liter and will spend plenty of time in your refrigerator so make sure it’s something that will fit in easily. Also, consider having more than one of these containers available as it’s helpful to transfer to an alternate container every x weeks so you can clean the container that’s been in use. Clear glass preserving jars work well.
  • Electronic kitchen scales – even if you decide not to go ahead with sourdough starters and baking you should have a set of electronic kitchen scales.
  • Adjustable method to mark the height of the contents of your container – This could be a whiteboard marker but a large rubber band works really well (this is also another vote for using a clear glass preserving jar container)
  • Measuring spoons or similar for adding flour to your Starter – you’ll be doing measurements by weight, not volume so the most important detail about this part is to make it easy to add the flour into the opening of your container. If you always spill a little flour onto the lip of the container opening, it will quickly get to the point of needing a proper clean.

Overview of process

  1. Place your Starter container onto electronic scales and zero the reading.
  2. Add 100g of lukewarm water to the container (The first time that you do this add another 50g of water)
  3. Add 100g of flour to the container (The first time that you do this add another 50g of flour)
  4. Mix contents well, a bread knife works well
  5. Mark the height of the contents on the container
  6. Leave container to sit on the kitchen countertop for around an hour with the lid off.
  7. Place the lid on and leave the container for 4 -6 hours (if your kitchen is a little cold then it will be closer to the 6 hour mark.
  8. If there are a bunch of bubbles and the mixture has doubled in size then your starter is established! (this won’t happen until you’ve repeated this process at least 20 times). Otherwise, continue to the next step.
  9. Leave on counter for another ~20 hours or so (this process will repeat many times so get into a daily rhythm)
  10. Open the container and tip or spoon out 200g of starter into the bin
  11. Go back to step 1

Important points

  • Water by the gram? I know it sounds weird to describe a water measurement as 100g as opposed to 100ml but your mindset here is to do everything by weight)
  • Don’t tip starter down the drain – starter can be like concrete in your pipes, put it in the trash!
  • Do I have to throw so much away? – Sorry but yes. Once your starter is established there’s a bunch of great recipes that can use this waste but in these first few weeks, there really isn’t any other option.
  • I’ve been doing this for weeks, how do I know if I’m making progress? – It’s natural to have moments of doubt when you’re cycling through this process for many days and nothing seems to be changing. An early indication of progress is small bubbles appearing a few hours after each feed (easiest to spot no the side if you have a clear glass container). The smell of your Starter at step 10 will start to change many days before your Starter is fully established. To start it will smell a bit funky but at some point, it will smell like a deep dark red wine (might require a little imagination but it’s generally that type of smell). Be strong – you can do this!