Making and feeding a sourdough starter

Josh Sherman
4 min read
Food

Not sure what it is about a quarantine that has people itching to bake.

The interest in my sourdough starter has exploded over the last few weeks. Ton of inquiries on how to get one started, how to care for one, and/or how to procure some of my starter.

My starter, named Mother Theresa, was created around a decade ago. She sat in the front seat of my car with my SCOBYs as we made the trek from Florida to Texas.

She was started on a whim after watching the wife try and fail a handful of times at making a starter.

“This can’t be that hard”, I thought.

Not to humblebrag, but I was absolutely right.

Thing with sourdough and wild yeast in general is that you really can’t over think it. When I started our starter, I did it as wrong as you possibly can.

I started by mixing a bunch of flour with some tap water and a packet of dry yeast. Fast forward 10 years and I still have the same starter, even if I did it all wrong.

As I’ve learned over the years, the active dry yeast is a weak strain of yeast and it can’t even hold up against the power of the wild yeast in the air. Even though I started with the packet, those yeast babies are long gone at this point.

The gist of making a starter is to mix flour and water (preferably something other than tap water, since it has chlorine in it that in theory is harmful to the yeast). Around the consistency of some pancake batter, you let that sit out for a few days until the wild yeast invades and the whole thing starts to bubble.

Once you got yourself a starter, you need to feed it.

Over the years, I’ve fed the starter by mixing some flour and water with some starter. How much? Who fucking knows. I always aimed to have that pancake batter consistency and just eye balled everything.

Spoiler alert, I’ve wasted a ton of flour by feeding the sourdough too much.

The more technical explanation of how to feed a sourdough starter is as such:

  1. Mix 100g of all purpose flour (or 2 parts)
  2. with 100g of distilled water (or 2 parts)
  3. with 50g of your starter (or 1 part)

This will all live nicely in a regular sized mason jar and won’t bubble over.

Yes, you will have left over starter with those ratios. I usually throw it out. If you feel bad about it, give it to your neighbor or something. Since you need to repeat the feedings daily, you will get over the whole waste aspect of it pretty quick, or will start baking on the regular.

Do you really need to feed it every day? Actually, nah, you can feed it every couple of days and it will probably be fine.

What about the fridge, can I put it in there? Certainly, just feed it as per the above instructions and stow it in the fridge. I’ve read that it’s recommended to leave it in there for a month at a time, but I’ve successfully left it in the fridge for the better part of the year.

When you pull it out, make sure you feed it again. Any of that nasty black liquid on the top can be mixed back in or thrown out, your call. Just don’t drink it, pretty sure you’d go blind.

At this point you have a starter and are feeding it regularly. Most recipes I’ve encountered require 1 to 1.5 cup of starter. If you are following the ratios above, then you probably don’t have that much starter, or if you do, you would deplete your entire mother and have nothing left.

To grow your starter so you have enough for a recipe, I just follow the same ratio of 1 part starter to 2 parts flour and water. I start by measuring my starter first, and then adding the 2 parts in relation to how much starter I have.

Now that you’ve grown the starter and rad a bunch of recipes, you’re probably wondering “what the heck does well fed starter mean?”.

That’s when your starter is somewhat mid-cycle on it’s meal. It’s usually bubbled up in your jar and when you poke at it with a spatula or something, it will be somewhat spongy. If it’s flat you waited too long.

This point in the meal is usually between 8-12 hours since the last feeding. That’s for me and my starter though, so your mileage may vary.

Even though I know a decent amount about making and feeding a sourdough starter, I kind of suck at baking. The wife’s since been picking up the torch and hopefully will start blogging about her favorite recipes in the near future!

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