Making your own Sourdough Starter

All you need to make a sourdough starter is this.

Sourdough consists of only two ingredients: Flour and water.
The most used are wheat and rye. I personally prefer rye because it has just so much more aroma than wheat.
If possible, use organic flour for your sarter. Organic flour hasn’t been treated and may contain more lactic acid bacteria than processed flour. The more lactic acid bacteria the flour contains, the better your sourdough will be.
My personal favourite is organic Rye-Flour type 1150.
Whole grain flour is great for baking but the bacteria have some trouble working through it. For a starter, that’s not what you want, therefore you should go with the standard Type 1150 for the starter, even if you want to bake whole grain bread.

Making your own sourdough starter is actually easier than you’d think, as long as you stick to some basic rules:

  1. Use a large glass-container which can be closed with a lid if required.
    You want to use glass so that you can also see the progress your starter makes from the sides where the bubbles develop. This jar should be heat proof so that it can be properly cleaned.
  2. Don’t use metal spoons for stirring. For some reason metal seems to irritate some of the lactic acid bacteria. I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven but I observed that my starters will develop far better if I use a wooden spoon instead of a metal one.
  3. Keep everything extremely, surgically clean. Any contaminations may give unwanted bacteria a head start, leading to mould and causing your sourdough to become a stinking blob of black goo. Trust me, I’ve been there. You don’t want that.
    Clean out the jar with boiling water. Make sure you pour boiling water all over it so that also the outside is clean.
    Pour boiling water over the wooden spoon. If possible, keep the spoon in the boiling water for a few minutes.
    As wooden spoons aren’t all that hygienical and can collect a lot of bacteria over time, this is actually something you might want to do with your wooden kitchen accessories every now and then anyway.
  4. Make sure your starter is kept at the right temperature.
    This chapter devloped into a bit of a chemistry-biology-class but it’s worth reading.
    Keeping to the correct temperature is vital for the sourdough to develop properly.
    Some recipes will tell you that you should keep your starter at a temperature between 20 and 30 degrees. This may work if you’re lucky but it might just as well fail.
    The proper temperature is in a window between 24C and 28C.
    The reason for this is that there are different kinds of bacteria as well as wild yeasts in the flour.
    Between 26C and 28C, the wild yeasts develop very well.
    Lactic Acid bacteria develop best in the lower spectrum between 24C and 26C.
    These will also keep unwanted bacteria at bay which would otherwise cause mould to develop.

    Below 24C, you give unwanted bacteria an advantage over the lactic acid bacteria, most probably spoiling your sourdough starter by turning it into mould.
    In my experience, the best temperature to keep your starter at is around 25C. This will give the lactic acid bacteria a good start, keeping mould at bay. Your wild yeasts will still develop, but you mainly get that great sour flavour in your dough.

If you bear these points in mind, the rest is easy.
Take your clean jar, put in 50g of flour, add 50g of 25C-warm water and stir with the clean wooden spoon.

Just mix flour and water

Make sure the sides of the jar are clean. wipe them down with a paper towel. All dough inside the jar should be in contact with the main dough as otherwise they might develop into mould if they contain too few lactic acid bacteria.

Now put it into a place with a constant temperature of 25 Degrees Celsius.
Leave the lid slightly open. It needs oxygen to ferment plus the gases must be able to go out.
That’s it. No big deal really. If you now stick to the proper temperatures, you’re fine.

Done. The first part of the starter is ready.

The biggest problem probably is to find a place with the right constant temperature.
Your heater isn’t the best place as it probably will drop its temperature during the night.
You may have to search a bit but a good place is usually the closet where your Wifi-router or internet-router is located.
These devices are a constant source of heat. Depending on the size of the room they’re located in, the temperature may be ideal.
If it isn’t quite warm enough, you might want to try putting a larger cardboard box over the router and the jar which contains your starter.
Be careful though, you don’t want your router to overheat if the box is too small.

24 hours later, again add 50g each of flour and warm water, stir and then put it back into the warm location again.

That’s basically it. You now have a good starter that already smells slightly sour.
To make bread out of this, you can use any flour, my personal favourite being organinc whole grain rye flour.

Adding flour and water every 24 jours will keep it alive and give you perfect dough for that incredibly bread you want to bake.

Preserving Sourdough
Sourdough is a bit like a pet. I wants to be fed ever day and it needs a pat now and then.
This means that you’ll need to be at home and can’t just go on a vacation if you want your sourdoug to survive. Well, you could of course take it along on your vacation but I’m not sure what the security people at the airport will make of that.
So, you’ll need to preserve your sourdough over a certain period of time.
To do so, there are two possibilites:

  1. Keep it cold:
    You just close the lid firmly to ensure it’s airtight, then put it in the fridge.
    This will preserve your sourdough for max. two weeks. Ten days if you want to be on the safe side.
  2. Dry it:
    This is my preferred way of preserving sourdough if I don’t plan to bake sourdough-bread for a longer period of time, e.g. because I’m traveling or I simply need a break from baking.
    To do so, just spread your sourdough very thinly on some baking-paper and let it completely dry.
    When dry, remove it from the paper and crumble it to turn it into a flour-like powder.
    This you can store in an airtight jar for basically as long as you like. I’ve sored some for a year and it was still good (as long as it’s really totally dry).
    To start it again, just mix it with it’s own weight in water and you’s sourdough is back. You can immediately start feeding it again to bake some new bread.

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