How to make sourdough starter (from wild yeast!)

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How to make sourdough starter (from wild yeast!)

Sometimes I learn a new skill and I get so excited about it I want to tell everyone.

“I caught wild yeast from my the air in my kitchen and baked bread out of it! And it actually worked!!!”

You caught wild yeast?

“Yeah!  You just make this flour & water mixture and leave it out for a couple of days and it starts bubbling…”

And that’s when I lose them.   I forget that for most people, if you leave food on your counter for a couple of days and it starts bubbling, you throw it straight in the bin and disinfect your hands.  I forget about this reaction when I get so caught up in my new discoveries.

But that bubbling yeasty mix is amazing stuff. It’s your very own homegrown sourdough bread starter.  Every sourdough starter tastes different because it’s using yeast from your local environment.  Some famous bakeries keep their sourdough starters going for years because it has their signature sourdough taste.  If you’re doing Vintage Summer Camp with us, I really think you should try making some.  We’ll bake bread out of it in a couple of weeks.

Ready? Here we go!

How to make sourdough starter from wild yeast

What you’ll need:

Flour (any kind of wheat flour)

Water

A quart sized jar

Cheesecloth, a dishtowel, paper towel or lid to loosely cover the jar.

 

A tip before we begin:

Sourdough starter is like a pet.  It’s needy, especially in the beginning.  You have to feed it every day and pay attention to it to make sure it’s healthy.  It takes about 2 weeks to get a really bubbly, strong starter going, so start this project at a time when you’ll be at home (not right before vacation!).

 

Method

Catch some yeasties

Make sure your jar is really clean.  We’re trying to grow good yeast here, not bad bacteria, so give the jar a good soap-and-hot-water scrubbing before we start.

My starter immediately after stirring

Put 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water in the jar.  Stir really well for several minutes.  We’re trying to incorporate air into it (because yeast are in the air, and we want them to get into the starter).  Now just cover loosely (I cover with a cheesecloth and then leave the lid ajar) and put in a warm area out of direct sunlight, but somewhere you won’t forget about it.  My starter lives on the end of the kitchen counter.

My starter lives on the counter. Normally it’s also covered with cheesecloth.

It won’t do anything for awhile.  Sometimes you’ll see bubbles after 12 hours, other times it takes 2-3 days to get going.  But be patient, and check your starter at least every day.  Give it a good stir or shake if you think about it.  Once it starts bubbling you won’t be able to stop checking it, because it’s so fascinating (or maybe that’s just me…)

The very first few bubbles after 12 hours or so

The first time you see it creating little bubbles, smell your starter and remember the smell … you may not like the smell but getting familiar with how the starter looks, smells and acts will give you clues in the future about when it’s ready to be used, or when it needs to be fed.

 

Keep your starter happy

Every day, check your starter and see how it’s doing (look & smell).  It should look bubbly and might get some clear, brownish liquid on the top.  That’s ok, just stir the liquid back in.

Every day you need to feed your starter.  The first time you feed it, just add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water.

After the first feeding, throw away (compost!) about one cup of your starter, and then add in equal parts flour and water (say, 1/2 c. of each).

(Once your starter gets really bubbly, you won’t need to throw it away – you can use that one cup to bake bread!  But in the beginning we need to get rid of some or we’d end up with a HUGE batch of very hungry starter.)

When your starter looks really active and bubbly, after about 7-10 days, you’re ready to bake some bread.  Now you can slow down your starter by putting it in the fridge, and then you only have to feed it every 2-3 days.  Or if you want to bake regularly with it, leave it out on the counter and keep feeding daily.

Make sure to pay attention to how your starter looks and smells everyday.  If the smells changes and starts smelling bad, or if it grows mold or otherwise looks unhealthy, you’ll want to throw it out and start again.  But as long as you use a clean, loosely covered container, and check/feed it daily, you really shouldn’t have any problems!

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Making Sourdough Bread gets you the baking badge at Vintage Summer Camp.

 

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  1. Yeast are NOT floating around in the air. This is a huge myth. The bacteria are already on the flour to do their work. How do you think people begin a starter in a sealed zip lock bag? Some even put cling wrap over the top of a container. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are getting yeast from the air. YOU ARE NOT. It is why all the great bakers say to use wheat flour to begin a starter. Because the critters are ALREADY in the flour.

  2. Hi Amanda. This is an unusual one, but I am a bread maker and also a university lecturer in footwear design. I had the idea of using the gathering of wild yeast as a metaphor for having an open mind when designing shoes. So many students look at other designers work for inspiration and that’s just like buying in bakers yeast. To really be a designer you have to open your mind and let all the ideas that are floating around come into your mind and see which one really likes the design brief you that is in front of you. You then let them sit there and play around with them to see which ones really grow. When you find a really good one, that’s when you cover the jar of your mind add more flour/water/thinking and start to develop the fully risen and ultimately well baked idea. I hope you don’t mind but I have lifted some of your pictures to illustrate my lecture on being open to the wild ideas in design!

  3. Can we do this with other kinds of flour? I’m gluten intolerant, and can’t use wheat. I am VERY interested to know!

    1. Looks like you can use gluten free flours although I’ve never tried it myself. If you do a google search for gluten free sourdough starter you’ll find some recipes. Let me know how it turns out!

  4. ok, so it’s been 2 days and a half.
    Current status:
    – water slightly separating from the mixture regularly (I stirr it when I see it).
    – no sign of brown color or of any kind of bubling
    – smell is a bitter, not totally unpleasant, otherwise the color looks very healthy so far
    – the boyfriend is intrigued, slightly impressed and suspicious, which is all goog
    – I moved the whole thing into a jar, to feel like a good pupil
    – I’ve been feeding it once so far, only once because I wasnt sure if I had to wait for the starter to bubble to feed it
    What is your feedback? Good, just a lazy starter I have?

  5. I started a proper fire in my kitchen this morning (not harm done, small material damage, but our toaster is definitely too old). Too compensate and balance my kitchen karma,I decidede to do something creative in my kitchen today. Whent to Amanda’s blog, and found this recepe that sounded right in my skills: less than 1 minute stirring, and little ingredients – I was only missing a jar (I barely have forks in my kitchen) and a cheese cloth. First the jar: I figure, if the point is to collect yeast from the air of my kitchent (probably quite toxique at the moment thinking of it, with the fires smoke – anyway)so I decided a large tuperware should do the trick. Now, second, a cheesecloth, what’s that? Internet helped me by sending me on a religious miracle website that I quite enjoyed:
    http://www.incrediblemiracles.com/_IMAGES/cheese_cloth.jpg
    From what they were saying, “A demon has a much less density and power then their counterpart of light. Consider this comparison: Light (God and His heavenly angels) is like a 1200 thread count bed sheet and darkness (the devil and his fallen angels) is like a piece of cheesecloth.” Interesting.
    No cheesecloth at home (not sure about the demons). I had a roll of absorbant paper that I decided would do the trick, based on the answer to Laurie, paper tower would work.
    Last but not least: Im not normally welcome in my kitchen, and tend to leave things that rot. My boyfriend through them away. So I had to make sure it would not be the case this time. A little note on the kitchen towel would do the trick. Hop! Done. Dead easy.
    I subscribed to the Vintage Summer Camp, in case my list of initiatives and issue solving would allow me to receive my Baking badge!! Wait and see…
    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/OfV1dWccEJV-GlFTaYfNGyhWfj_fvc3Vj28NA-uO3IY?feat=directlink

  6. Oooh! I can’t wait to try this. I thought I freaked everyone out by making yogurt by leaving milk in the oven overnight….this ought to be just as crazy! Thanks!

    1. Oooh Jen, I’m glad you’re trying it, it’s the coolest thing when your bread rises from only using the wild yeast. Amazing! The only downside is that it takes a long time to raise (several hours) instead of 1 hour with commercial yeast, but the fascination factor and taste are worth it. Keep me posted!

  7. What type of flour did you use, as it interesting brown spots? And where can I get a cheese cloth? No Walmart in Amsterdam.

    1. Hi Laurie, I used malted wheat flour which I’m obsessed with at the minute for breadbaking, it’s yummy! But any kind of flour is fine. I read in one book that whole wheat flour might work more quickly than white … but I’ve used white in the past and it was fine. Don’t worry about cheesecloth, just use a clean thin dishtowel or paper towel to cover the top. Let me know how it goes!

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