In my book Sourdough, I detailed how to begin a sourdough starter culture using a yeast water method whose vigor I find encouraging to many beginning bakers. However, all you really need to get a culture bubbling is some quality flour and pure water to farm the microbes responsible for fermentation. Set it in a warm spot (70 to 75°F is ideal), and in about 1 week, you will have a responsive culture that is ready to leaven bread.
From Toast and Jam by Sarah Owens ©2017 by Sarah Owens. Photographs ©2017 by Ngoc Minh Ngo. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO www.roostbooks.com —Sarah Owens
Test Kitchen Notes
Making sourdough bread from scratch can seem a bit mysterious to the beginner baker. Starters, yeast, feedings, discard—there's a lot to unpack. Luckily, in this recipe, Sarah Owens—expert bread baker and author of the book on sourdough (yep, it's called Sourdough)—breaks down the steps you need to follow in this very simple sourdough starter recipe.
So, what is a sourdough starter, anyway? Taste Cooking does a nice job of explaining it: "A starter is just a mixture of flour and water that has absorbed the yeast and bacteria from the air rather than a packet." When making sourdough bread, this naturally fermented mixture not only adds tangy flavor, but also a fluffy rise and springy texture.
You'll need only two ingredients to get your sourdough starter going: flour and water. Just stir them together in a small bowl, cover it with a towel, and let sit in a warm spot (this is key! cold temperatures aren't great for yeast) for a few days. After two or three days, you should have a bubbly little concoction that gives off a slightly boozy, yeasty scent (that means it's working). From here forward, take care of your sourdough starter as you would a pet—in fact, many bakers give their sourdough starter a name. Fluffy? Snowball? Meredith Grey? You tell me.
Feeding is where things can get a bit complicated, but don't worry—Owens walks you through how to discard a portion of your sourdough starter and nourish it with more flour and water. And if you get stuck, or aren't sure whether your starter is still alive (it most likely is), leave a question in the comments or in our Hotline and our community will give you a hand. —The Editors
- Prep time 24 hours
- Makes 1 starter
(1 ¾ cups) freshly milled stone ground all-purpose flour
(¾ cup plus 4 tablespoons) filtered water
- In a small bowl, stir together 60 g / ½ cup flour and 60 g / 6 tablespoons water to form a thick and sticky mixture with no dry lumps remaining. Cover loosely with cheesecloth or a clean towel and set in a warm location for 2 to 3 days or until you detect a light, boozy scent and see bubbles breaking the surface. Discard half and add another 60 g / ½ cup flour and 60 g / 6 tablespoons water and stir to combine. Replace the cheesecloth and allow to ferment at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. The mixture should be bubbly and active after this time.
- Discard half of the mixture and add another 90 g / ¾ cup flour and 90 g / ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of water. Allow to ferment again for 8 to 12 hours. Once it is fragrant with a creamy, yeasted scent, perform the float test by dropping a dollop of the starter into a cup of water. If it floats, the wild yeast is active enough to produce carbon dioxide gases as a by-product of fermentation. If it sinks, perform one or two more feedings or extend the feeding time before trying again.
- Once your new culture passes the test, feed it daily with equal parts flour and water to the weight of the starter. (For example 90 g starter + 90 g water + 90 g flour = a 1:1:1 ratio.) This will produce a starter that is 100% hydration for the recipes in this book. Feed it daily if kept at room temperature, or store it in the refrigerator and feed it weekly, always discarding (or using!) some, but not all, of the original starter before each feeding. I like to keep at least 2 heaping tablespoons of starter (about 50 to 60 g) on hand at all times.
- Store your starter in a jar with a loose-fitting lid to prevent it from drying out. Mason jars with a flip top lid are excellent, as the rubber gasket can be removed, allowing the lid to be fully closed but still loose.