Author Notes: I think the most encouraging and discouraging statement I've read in all of my bread research is "Bread baking is as much of an art as it is a science." Someone's proven method may not work so swimmingly for you. It's really all about trial and error. There are a seemingly infinite number of factors that can affect your starter, so don't put yourself down if a certain method isn't working. Try another. This method works for me and hopefully will do right by you. —Samantha Ardry
Makes: sourdough starter
White bread flour
Whole wheat bread flour
- For convenience, make a bulk mix of half white bread flour and half whole wheat bread flour to use for feedings. 2 1/2 pounds of each, totaling 5 pounds of flour works well.
- DAY 1: In a container that will hold heat well, such as high grade plastic or glass, combine equal parts flour and water: 4 ounces of flour mix and 4 ounces of water. The water should ideally be 78 - 80 degrees F. But if your house is very cold, you can use up to 90 degree F water. Mix the flour and water until a thick, lump free batter forms. Cover the container with a cloth and let is sit in a dark, warm spot for at least 24 hours.
- DAY 2: Your starter should be dotted with bubbles, maybe even foamy and visibly aerated. The smell will be more acidic. Feed it again with equal parts flour and water, stir, cover and let it be for another 24 hours.
- DAY 3: When you check your starter today, it should be even looser than the day before, webbed with more bubbles, frothier and more acidic in smell. There may even be signs that it rose and fell overnight. Feed it the usual equal parts flour and water, stir, cover and let is sit another day.
- DAY 4: Your starter should be dramatically foamy and webbed with bubbles, or show signs that it doubled in bulk and fell since you check it last. When you stir the starter, it will feel more liquid-like. At this point, bulk feeding is over. From now on, discard about half of the starter, and feed it the usual equal parts flour and water. Stir, cover and put it to bed.
- DAY 5: The starter should look similar to the day before, with lots of vigorous activity. You can bake today if you'd like. After using some of the starter to bake with, be sure you feed the remainder, stir, cover and put away until tomorrow.
- DAY 6 + Beyond: If you plan on baking multiple times a week, continue to use what you need of the starter, and then feed it equal parts flour and water as usual. If you are only going to bake with it intermittently, cover your starter tightly with plastic wrap or a fitted lid and store it in the fridge. Once a week, remove the starter from the fridge, discard half, and then feed it equal parts flour and water. Leaving your starter out overnight before putting it back in the fridge; this will give the yeast some time to recuperate.