To make a sourdough starter, you should realize you are a farmer, not a cook! You are creating the conditions for your microscopic animals to live happily. If you keep that in mind, the process will go a little smoother. I use organic whole rye flour because it’s an especially active medium for fermentation. It has higher levels of sugar than wheat to feed wild yeasts; it also has more amylase enzymes to break down starch and create yet even more sources of sugar for these tiny organisms.
I also use raw (unpasteurized) honey, as a nod to Pliny the Elder from the 1st Century, who mentions it while writing about bakers and sourdough fermentation in the Roman Empire, and because it’s the most concentrated source of natural sugar found in nature. Plus, raw honey contains wild yeast. One word of warning: Avoid glass jars, unless you cover them loosely. If sealed, they can explode while fermenting.
Excerpted from In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey (Viking, 2014). Reprinted with permission. For more of Sam Fromartz' writing, click here. —Sam Fromartz