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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