Creating your own sourdough bread starter is a romantic notion, and actually it turns out to be not that hard. All you need is the right type of flour, a warm room and some basic equipment.
Let’s start with a warm room to get the sourdough bread starter going. You don’t want this room too hot and not too cold; basically a room that is pleasant to be in for a few hours. Then we need a non-reactive container, to store your sourdough bread starter in. We recommend stoneware jars or glass jars, however food grade plastic will work as well.
Please remember that sourdough starter is acidic in nature, so it is wise to keep it away from metals.
You will need a good kitchen whisk to incorporate air into the starter, as well as one breathable cover or lid, this can be a clean piece of cotton or loose fitting disposable shower cap.
It’s very important to ensure that you keep your starter in a place where it will not catch wild yeast, i.e. with no other cultured foods nearby. So keep it far away from any cheese, beer, mouldy fruits and the like. If you don’t, there will be a cross over and you might not get the kind of yeasts that you need.
Now let’s get cracking! Put 200g of organic stone ground wholemeal flour along with 200ml of water at 30C in a large jar (as per above). You should whisk the mixture vigorously and incorporate air, and then cover the mix with your breathable lid. Afterwards, you need to just allow your mixture to sit quietly in a warm place for the next 48 hours.
After approximately 48 hours, you may be lucky enough to see some bubbles, which is a good indicator that organisms are present. If you don’t see them, it’s ok, don’t panic – they can take a few days to get going. Repeat the process again by feeding by removing half the mixture and replacing with 100g organic stone ground white flour and 100g of water at 28C. Once again, stir the mix vigorously, cover and again wait another 12 to 24 hours.
Ok, so from here onwards, you need to remove half of the starter mix before every feeding and then discard it. This way, the starter can multiply in organisms without your jar overflowing.
In roughly two weeks time, your sourdough starter should be beautifully bubbly (it will certainly be quicker that this in warm weather) and should have enough yeasts and bacteria to be active enough to bake with. On the very rare occasion you might find that it smells or tastes horrible, or that the bread and other baked goods it produces are not at all pleasant in flavour.
If this is the case then it means that the bacteria that has occupied your sourdough starter is not the right kind, and the lactic acid, which is what makes the starter inhospitable to other organisms hasn’t got going. You need to discard this, start over and move the location of your culture to a different room.
In my experience, people who are having difficulties with growing starter, have somehow meddled with the process. You need to be extremely patient. You don’t need hot water, rhubarb, grapes, or some ten year old special beer or any other crazy thing to get yeast going. Yeast is naturally present in the grain that you use and for the best results use stone ground organic wholemeal flour, because the grain has not been sprayed with any nasty chemicals.
In so many ways getting hold of an established culture is easier than the process of getting your own started. When people first start trying to bake sourdough bread I recommend using this as an option. It is simply faster and simpler to get an established starter and also more reliable as it already contains active yeasts that have been populating the dough over a long time.
A long established starter should be stable, active, and resilient and because of its established bacteria and yeast. This way your first attempts at making sourdough bread will be guaranteed to produce a well flavoured sourdough bread. Enjoy!