Rise of the Sourdough Starter

Last year this time, I got my first taste of sourdough. 
Four ingredients, old-school methods, better than store bought insta-breads? I was already sold when I came across a local Sourdough Workshop. I had no idea the depth of bread-making, how much detail, control and fuss goes into good bread or how deep down the rabbit hole I’d go! Baking sourdough with wild yeast promise an audible crust, tangy, buttery center, and comes with so many health benefits. I absolutely fell in love with the science, the process and sharing my passion for naturally levained sourdough bread. Check out how you can make your own starter!

 

A Crumb of Bread Science

Traditional bread is made with flour, water, salt and yeast (which is also a wonderful beginners book I refer to often). Once mixed, yeasts and acid-producing bacteria, Lactobacillus, breaks down sugars and starch in the flour and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The rise of the dough is due to the gas trapped in the developed gluten; the small amount of alcohol burns off in the bake (and that’s actually where the intoxicating bread smell comes from). 

The superior flavour in sourdough lies in the activity of the yeast.

A young yeast starter, a shorter first rise, also known as bulk fermentation, or a same-day proof (as opposed to a long overnight proof) can yield a more buttery and mild bread. Ambient temperature also plays a huge role – the warmer the kitchen the faster the bread will develop.

Still with me? Sounds like a lot but these are all ways you can customize and find your sweet spot. All you need to start is your own starter and a basic sourdough recipe.

 

What is a Sourdough Starter/Levain/Leaven?

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter
100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

A homemade Starter/Levain/Leaven is only one type of “Preferments” used for bread baking. It consists of flour, water and wild yeast cultivated in the air. We’ve all seen those little packets of commercial yeast, this is the fresh and wild version with loads of benefits! Using a natural preferment makes the bread more digestible, strengthens the gluten structure and introduces the organic acids and esters which plays a huge role in the texture and taste of the end product. Different from the other Preferments, a Starter/Levain/Leaven can be feed and reused for months to years with proper upkeep. In a sense, a starter consists of a colony of living organisms that need food to grow and survive. Over time, the starter’s characteristics are defined by it’s environmental factors. I love the idea of people sharing starters from all over the world!

 

Getting Started

I was lucky enough to obtain a 10+ year old whole wheat starter. It doesn’t hurt to ask your friends or search your neighbourhood for an established starter (ie, craigslist, local baker). An old starter is typically more active and resilient but building your own is a fun and rewarding experiment all on its own.

A great bake always starts with a vigorous starter.

Print Recipe
Sourdough Starter - 100% Whole Wheat
Recipe builds a 100% hydration whole wheat starter (equal weights of flour, and water)
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 4-8 hours
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour or spelt, dark rye (amount per feeding)
  • 1 cup water room temp or luke warm filtered water (amount per feeding)
  • 1 quart mason jar wide mouth if possible
Prep Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 4-8 hours
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour or spelt, dark rye (amount per feeding)
  • 1 cup water room temp or luke warm filtered water (amount per feeding)
  • 1 quart mason jar wide mouth if possible
Instructions
  1. Beat air into flour, water in mason jar until it’s mixed well without any dried bits.
  2. Place lid on jar without tightening, allow air flow. Keep in a warmish place, between 70°F and 85ºF. I find my kitchen counter is perfect. Top of fridge or in oven with light on are also good options! You should see bubbles in 4-8 hours.
  3. If no bubbles or starter appear weak, discard 80% of the old starter and add another cup of flour and another cup of water. Stir well and cover.
  4. Perform a few feedings in 8-10 hour cycles.
  5. Depending on conditions, it could take from 3-8 days to build a new starter from scratch. Once your starter is bubbly and double the original size, it is ready to use!
  6. Storage: Add ¼ cup of flour and water, mix before putting in to the fridge. To reactivate from fridge, discard and feed.
  7. OR If you bake more than twice a week, consider keeping the starter out on the counter. Feed daily.
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I bake minimum twice a week at the moment, and I have several starters I rotate. When I revive my starter from the fridge, I sometimes have to feed 2-3x for the desired results. 

Patience and persistence, and still no bubbles?
Check out this post on Sourdough Starter Troubleshooting & Tips! [coming soon!]

Happy Baking everyone! Would love to hear about your starter or sourdough story below.
You can keep up with my crazy bakes on IG @thebadalchemist
Hungry now? Check out my Sourdough page to order schedule and seasonal specials 😋🥖

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