Ever since I posted the Sourdough Starter-Along series here on Slice, I've been getting a lot of questions. Based on some unscientific polling software (ahem, my memory) these were the six most commonly asked questions about sourdough starters, along with my answers.
'Sourdough Starter-Along' on Serious Eats
Once you've established a starter that's working well for you, how do you ensure that it stays alive when you can't tend to it? The simple answer is that you can dry it. Here's how to do it.
I talked a bit about taking care of your sourdough starter yesterday. But what happens if you don't take care of it?
Yesterday, since my starter was bubbling along the sides of the jar, I set aside four ounces of the starter and mixed it with some flour and water in a bowl. Today, that proto-dough in the bowl has risen and bubbled nicely. Time to make bread!
Give your starter a good long look. This might be the day of your first harvest. One thing to check out is whether the bubbles are just on top, or whether there are bubbles throughout the jar.
How are your starters? Mine is really getting active. Lots of bubbles, close together, and they come back quickly when I stir the mixture down. It also is starting to feel different when I stir. Before, it felt like stirring a cake batter, but now it feels frothy. Today, we'll add the usual ounce of flour and ounce of water and stir it occasionally.
We're pretty excited about sourdough starters around here, and it looks like you are, too. Here are a few snapshots that Serious Eats and Slice community members took of their starters, from Day One to, well, eleven years old!
Just like the previous few days, today we're going to add another ounce each of flour and water. Bubble activity is definitely increasing. One thing to look for is how fast the bubbles come back after stirring. It's one thing to see bubbles first thing in the morning, but it's not ready to bake until it's a little more lively.
You've got the hang of this. Today, do it again: feed your starter 1 ounce each of flour and water, and give it a stir when you think of it. Bubbles are looking good! Not all starters are the same, so if you aren't seeing the same bubbling I am, don't worry too much about it. I've seen starters that have a slow start, but suddenly burst into action rapidly and vigorously. That's part of the charm of sourdoughs—they're quirky.
From now on, it's all about feeding once a day and stirring whenever you think about it. Unlike some recipes that require each feeding to double the existing amount of starter, I feed the same amount each day. Just add one ounce each of flour and water. We won't try to double it until we're getting ready to bake with the starter.
Today I wanted to tweak the water-to-flour ratio in my starter, so I fed it one ounce of flour and half an ounce of water.
Since things were bubbling nicely today, it's time to start changing the water/flour ratio. I fed the starter with 1 ounce each of water and flour. I stirred the mixture a few times during the day when I thought about it, and left it on the counter as before. Bubble activity is increasing!
Many sourdough starter recipes require a lot of feeding, but if you think about it, yeast isn't running around the jar like PacMan, it's sort of floating around and eating what's nearby. Stirring is just as important as feeding.
My goal with this project was to come up with a method for getting a sourdough starter going that would be easy for anyone. I also didn't want to end up with an excess of starter that would have to be thrown away. So I started with a very small amount. I find that starters seem to work better if they're very wet at the beginning, so I started with 1/2 ounce of flour and 1 ounce of water. That's all.
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. Over the next many days, I'll be posting daily updates on a new sourdough starter that I've got growing. Today is Day Zero, i.e., your materials list. Read this, gather your supplies (most of which you probably already have), and then come back tomorrow!