I didn’t choose the simple life. The simple life chose me. Which is exponentially better than the thug life choosing me. And tbh, I really, really dig the simple life.
Working with my hands and DIY-ing fills my heart and soul and gives me rest. It’s a way of recharging for my introverted spirit and being able to slow down in a world that can’t move fast enough.
I first heard of trapping environmental yeast with a sourdough starter about six months ago. Up until then, the thought “where does yeast come from?” had never crossed my mind. I happily bought the packaged or bottled stuff and called it good.
But it turns out there’s quite a difference in man-made, isolated yeast and wild yeast.
What is Wild Yeast?
Wild yeast is a type of fungus found in our everyday environments. In our home on surfaces, in our grains, all around.
What Is A Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is simply
- A yeast trap. It is appropriate to sing ‘Yeast in the Trap’ to the tune of click here whilst tending to your starter, FYI.
- A rational combination of flour and water combined in a glass container, fed, and tended to regularly.
- The oldest leavening agent known to mankind.
- Something that lasts for years and years, improves with age, and can be passed down from generation to generation. David Lee Murphy’s original draft of “Dust on the Bottle” was actually titled: “Dust on the Sourdough Starter.” Jk.
Why Make A Sourdough Starter?
Back in the 1850’s Louis Pasteur became the first person to isolate a single strand of wild yeast, thus leading to the mass production of man-made yeast – the stuff we buy at the store.
Before that time, the only way to leaven bread and baked goods was by harnessing the simple power of the air and grain, a.k.a. keeping a sourdough starter.
Wild yeast converts natural grain starches and sugars into CO2 which makes air pockets and rises the dough, the cultures also contain healthful lactobacilli that convert proteins such as gluten into lactic acid and make it easily digestible and the many beneficial nutrients bioavailable.
Man-made, isolated, single strand yeast doesn’t do any of this, which is why most modern bread and grain recipes call for added sweeteners such as cane sugar. (My favorite Amish Bread Recipe does!) The added sugar feeds the yeast to give it rise, meaning that the natural starches and sugars in the grain don’t get broken down. Leaving us to consume fully intact, non-bioavailable, difficult to digest grain proteins.
Ring a bell? (mass gluten intolerance) which is becoming more prevalent as grains continue to be genetically altered to withstand chemical application during the growth and preservation periods.
A Quick Note About Flour
This is one reason I’m moving toward using more ancient grains, like Einkorn flour. Einkorn is the original wheat. The word ‘Einkorn’ literally means: single grain. We have evidence of the earliest gathering of wild Einkorn wheat in the fertile crescent some 12,000 years ago, with Einkorn also being one of the first plants to be domesticated and cultivated about 10,000 years ago.
Einkorn is a diploid wheat, containing two sets of seven chromosomes, with the modern, modified Durum wheat we consume in large quantities being comprised of 42 chromosomes. This chromosomal modification can be attributed to lots of digestive & health issues. I do hope to gradually switch to using all ancient grains in my kitchen, but I know health is a journey and I trust the process of making one or two simple changes at a time. We don’t have to do allllll the healthy things at once!
It may seem like healthful, natural, and traditional foods and living are the trends these days, but I don’t see it that way. I see the last 160-200 years of developing quick and cheap food-like substances as a trend that has left us undernourished, overfed, and searching for solutions.
And as we’re on the subject of trend and tradition, it would be downright negligent to continue without noting the longevity of a well-kept starter. Back in the olden days, starters were passed down from generation to generation and a mature starter was often divided and shared with friends or neighbors. I’m a sucker for anything pass downable and heritage related, so health benefits aside, I’m pretty jazzed to have one.
Instructions – Building A Sourdough Starter
What you’ll need
- A large glass bowl or container
- A wooden spoon. The acids that develop in the fermenting process can react with stainless steel having a potentially negative result. The factuality of this is debatable, but use wood to be safe.
- Flour – any variation of wheat will work such as all-purpose, whole wheat, Einkorn, Emmer, etc.
- Filtered or Well Water
- Loose fitting Lid or Cheesecloth
- Day 1 – Let’s get started.
- In a glass bowl or container like this one I use, combine 2/3 cup pure water with 1 cup flour.
- Stir vigorously with a spoon, scraping sides and incorporating well. You should get a batter-like consistency that runs smoothly from your spoon when you lift it from the container.
- If your starter seems too thick or clumpy, slowly add water 1 Tablespoon at a time, up until a maximum of 1 cup of water added, until you reach the desired consistency.
- Cover with a loose fitting lid or cheesecloth. If air can’t get in, fermentation won’t occur. I simply remove the airtight plastic ring from my lid and place it back on the jar.
- Leave your starter on the counter or somewhere temps are 70-75F. Too hot or cold will interfere with fermentation.
- Some sources call for weighing flour and water, but this isn’t necessary, just personal preference. I don’t even measure, but I would only recommend that method of eyeballing it to seasoned bakers.
- Day 2 – Feed Your Starter
- Discard half of the mixture.
- Add 1 cup of flour and 2/3 cup water.
- Once again, use discernement to obtain correct consistency.
- Stir vigorously until well combined.
- Cover loosely and store on the counter just as on Day 1.
- Days 3-7 – Maintain & Grow A Mature, Ready to Use Starter.
- Repeat Day 2 instructions exactly.
- You should notice that your starter almost doubles in size every 24 hours when you feed it.
- You should also notice air bubbles on the top and that distinct sourdough smell.
- Why is it necessary to discard half of the mixture while building my starter? This ensures the correct amount of cultures are being fed and the mixture is maturing properly. Also, without this step, feeding a starter for six straight days would overflow your bowl. Once your starter is mature, you only need to discard some when you don’t use it frequently enough and it grows too large. A great way to avoid wasting is to give your excess mature starter to a friend! Just remove what you don’t need, place it in a jar, and now someone else has a ready-to-go starter that will last as long as its maintained, just like yours!
- Do I have to use filtered water? Not if you have well water on tap. But highly chlorinated city or commercial water will not react properly with the flour.
Feeding Your Starter
Your starter will need to be fed with the same amounts of flour and water used in the building process. 1 cup flour & 2/3 cup water at every feeding, making adjustments when necessary to achieve proper consistency. Feeding frequency will depend on how often you use and where you store your starter. Read on for storage details.
This is the best option if you’ll be using your starter every day or every other day. When left at room temperature, the fermentation process is most active so your starter will need to be fed every day.
Just as seasons change, so will your starter. In colder temps, if you notice a less active starter, you can get by with fewer feedings, perhaps every other day.
In extremely hot temps, you may need to feed twice a day.
For less frequent use, storage in the fridge is your best bet. Refrigeration will slow down the fermentation process and your starter will only need fed once a week or so. So for weekly use, this is the way to go. However, I caution against leaving it unfed in the fridge for longer than a week or two max, it will take a while to revive.
To do this, after use simply feed your starter a little more flour and a little less water to acheive a stiffer consistency, let it sit on the counter for an hour or so loosely covered so fermentation can begin, then seal with an airtight lid and place in the fridge for storage until you’re ready to use it again.
Reviving Your Starter after Refrigeration
Take your starter out of the fridge a minimum of two hours before you plan to use it and feed it 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup water, adding more if you want a looser consistency. Then let it sit on the counter and ferment until you’re ready to use it. If you can remove and feed it the night before or 8 hours before use, that’s best. Then use it and either leave it out on the counter and feed daily or prepare it for refrigeration again.
The Perfect Loaf was very helpful in getting my starter going.
Also, Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone has a great video, but I use slightly different proportions than she recommends. Also, updating with the fact that she now has an entire FAQ video dedicated to starters so go watch it you will be glad.
Baking With Your Starter
Check out these easy & fluffy sourdough pancakes! Look for Blog Post Soon!