1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.
2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.
3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.
4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.
5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.
6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.
7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.
So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:
When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.
The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.
Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:
You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.
You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.
You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.
You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.
Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.
So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.