Sourdough Starter 4.000

Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Mar 16, 2020

Sourdough starter, an alchemy of flour, water and the terroir of your very own kitchen, becomes richer, more flavorful, and more fermented and bubbly with time. It may seem daunting, but creating your own starter is straightforward. All you need is water, flour, time and a bit of instruction, which we’re providing here.

Build a starter in a week or so, keep it alive with a feeding every week and in a surprisingly short period of time the starter becomes a nuanced, rich, flavorful base for bread, rolls, pancakes, waffles, crackers, English muffins and more. Use all-purpose flour initially to build a bubbly, fermented starter and once it is reliably rising, add any other grain that inspires -- whole wheat, rye, spelt, einkorn -- when feeding. Plan a week for the fermentation to happen. The temperature in your kitchen can affect how long this takes.

If you’ve been given a sourdough starter, or if you’ve started one yourself, it’s something you must keep alive. Like the Tamagochi toys of our childhood, with minimal effort, this is not insurmountable. Sourdough starter may be kept on the kitchen counter, which is a good place for it if you are making bread every day. If you are a bake-bread-once-a-week (or less) kind of baker, keep your starter in the refrigerator and feed it weekly. If you are only making bread occasionally, you will still need to feed the starter weekly. It is not unusual for the starter to have some liquid around it. Stir it well before using it in a recipe or before starting the discard-and-feed cycle.

If the starter languishes for months, it may be possible to reinvigorate it with regular feedings. If it turns pink or smells spoiled, throw it away and start again.

EQUIPMENT: You will need a kitchen scale and a 2-quart storage container with a tight-fitting lid. Opt for glass as it is nonporous and won't attract/absorb smells.

NOTES: The flour used to feed will have a direct influence on the flavor of the bread, so feel free to swap up to half the flour by weight with whole-wheat, rye, spelt, einkorn or any other milled grain. Whatever kind of water you drink -- tap, filtered or bottled -- use it for your starter.

Make Ahead: This process generally takes 7 to 10 days. Start the process at a time during the day you are always in the kitchen. The feeding takes no more than 20 minutes. The final day or two will be more demanding, checking on and feeding the starter every few hours.

Storage Notes: Store refrigerated in an airtight container, indefinitely. Feed once a week.


Servings:
4

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4 servings; 339 grams active sourdough starter

Ingredients
  • 1200 grams (about 2 pounds) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed to feed the starter (see NOTES
  • 1200 grams (about 5 cups) water, plus more as needed to feed the starter (see NOTES)

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Directions

DAY 1: Into a 2-quart storage container, add 113 grams (4 ounces/scant 1 cup) of flour and 113 grams (4 fl ounces/1/2 cup) water. Stir together: This is your starter. Place the cover but do not seal. Set the container aside for 24 hours, out of the sun and off any cool surface. If the counters are cold, place the container on a wooden cutting board or a stack of towels.

DAY 2: Stir down the starter. Into a medium bowl, weigh 113 grams (4 ounces) of the starter, discarding the balance, known as discard, castoff or spent starter. Clean the storage container.

Into the starter, stir in 113 grams (4 ounces) of both flour and water. This is feeding. Scrape the fed starter back into the storage container. Place the cover on top, but do not seal. Set the container aside for 24 hours. Repeat on DAYS 3 and 4.

DAY 5 (Or when the starter is both actively bubbling and increasing in volume): The bubbles will begin to get larger and there will be strands of gluten evident when stirring the starter. Discard all but 113 grams and then feed with 113 grams of both flour and water. Scrape the fed starter back into the storage container and use a piece of tape to indicate its level in the container. In 12 hours, evaluate the starter. If it has doubled, feed the starter again (discard all but 113 grams and stir in 113 grams each flour and water.)

THE NEXT 2 OR 3 DAYS: Feed the starter every 12 hours until it begins to reliably double in 4 hours. Feed once or twice to reassure yourself that it is indeed doubling in 4 hours. Cover the starter tightly and refrigerate, or use the starter to bake bread or crackers, leaving 113 grams to continue to feed your starter.

Feed the starter once every week or when baking bread. If you're planning to bake bread and your starter has been ignored for more than 1 week, feed the starter first, letting it ferment on the counter for about 4 hours to confirm the leavening strength (doubled in size and topped with big, lazy bubbles).

If your starter has been ignored for more than a month it may take up to 4 feedings at 12 hour intervals to revive it.

TO FEED OR MAINTAIN YOUR STARTER: Stir down the active starter. Into a medium bowl, weigh 113 grams (4 ounces) of the active starter. Clean the storage container.

Into the starter, stir in 113 grams (4 ounces) of both flour and water until fully incorporated -- this is feeding. Scrape the fed starter back into the storage container. Place the cover on top, but do not seal. Set the container aside for 4 hours, at which point it should have doubled in size. When ready, the starter should be topped with large bubbles and have a strong wheat scent.

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Recipe Source

From food writer Cathy Barrow.

Tested by Ann Maloney and Olga Massov.

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Email questions to the Food Section at food@washpost.com.