Editor's Note: Whether you're a bread baker or a pizzamaker (or you want to be), we thought you'd enjoy following our own Donna Currie as she grows a new sourdough starter. She'll show us every step along the way, but it'll be even more fun if you roll up your sleeves and join her! Today is Day Zero, i.e., your materials list. Read this, gather your supplies (most of which you probably already have), and come back tomorrow!
A container (a canning jar with lid works well)
Something to stir with
See you tomorrow for Day 1!
A sourdough starter is a simple concept—let some flour and water hang around for a while, and almost magically, the correct combination of yeast and bacteria will take up residence. And that same combination, when healthy and happy, create an environment that's unfriendly to unwanted organisms.
But now that every grocery store stocks dry yeast, why bother with sourdough? The simple answer is flavor. You'll never get the same results from dry yeast that you will from sourdough. Another reason is uniqueness. Sourdoughs cultivated in different areas will result in different breads. Not only will the flavor be different, but the crust, crumb, and rise will be different. It's as far as you can get from the concept of nationwide mass-produced industrial bread.
There are so many questions about how to grow a sourdough starter, and so many different methods. To me, some of which seem awfully complicated and technical considering sourdough is as old as the pyramids. I forgo the chemical soups and stick with basic flour and water.
Over the next many days, I'll be posting daily updates on a new sourdough starter that I've got growing. I hope you'll join me! If you'd like to follow along with your own bubbly new pet, there's not a lot of pre-planning required. All you really need is some sort of reasonable containment vessel, like a canning jar with a lid (you won't use the lid while you're growing the starter, but you'll use it when you store it), some flour, some water, and something to stir your mixture. Oh, and a measuring device. A scale is nice if you want to be precise, or you can use volume measures, or just eyeball it as best you can.
I use plain tap water for starters, fresh from the faucet. If your water is highly chlorinated, you might want to leave the water sit overnight so the chlorine dissipates. If your water is otherwise nasty tasting, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be bad for sourdough, although it might be. If you're worried, buy a bottle of water. Tomorrow, we'll get started.
Your Next Steps...
Day 1: A Half-Ounce Flour and an Ounce of Water »
Day 2: No Feeding, Just Stirring »
Day 3: Feed Me More Flour! »
Day 4: 100% Hydration »
Day 5: Keep Feeding and Stirring! »
Day 6: Keep Stirring and Feeding! »
Day 7: Feed and Wait »
Day 8: Getting Close! »
Day 9: First Harvest »
Day 10: Second Harvest »
Day 11: Time for Storage »
What Happens If You Neglect Your Sourdough Starter »
About the author: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. She launched the blog Cookistry and has now joined the Serious Eats team with a weekly column about baking.