Wild yeast and bacteria exist all around us: on our hands, on fruit skins, on your kitchen counter, and in flour. A sourdough starter is a process of cultivating and harvesting these microorganisms that create a process of fermentation when they eat sugars and carbohydrates. That fermentation releases alcohol and gases, which leaven bread.
If you have been following my work for a while or baked from Cannelle et Vanille, you likely will have created a gluten-free sourdough starter already. Since that book was published, I have been troubleshooting and coaching many of you through this process on social media, which has been such a community of support and learning. The recipe for the starter I am sharing here is similar to that one, but I wanted to include some new ideas about how I manage mine these days. The main difference is that I have reduced the hydration level and introduced a discard process while building the starter to help maintain even fermentation.
What is hydration level, you may ask? It is the ratio of flour and water in a starter, which is noted as a percentage. My original starter recipe was approximately 135 percent hydration, meaning that for every 100 grams of flour, there were 135 grams of water. For context, most wheat starters are around 100 percent hydration, so my starter was, and still is, much wetter. But this version is less so at 120 percent hydration, which results in a slightly more acidic flavor profile in the final bread. If you already have an established starter, there is no need to start over, but you may want to experiment with reducing the hydration level to see if you prefer the resulting texture and flavor.
Each starter is unique. Yours will be a result of your own blend of yeast and bacteria that has evolved based on your environment, feeding schedule, and type of flour. It will change throughout the seasons, and most definitely when you feed it a different kind of flour. As delicate as this seems, sourdough starters are hardy—it takes a lot to kill them. Be sure to read the
troubleshooting tips below.
My favorite flour continues to be superfine brown rice flour because it is mild in flavor and suitable for many different recipes, but you can also make a starter with teff, buckwheat, sorghum, millet, or quinoa flours.
Sourdough Starter Troubleshooting Tips:
Your Starter Falls Flat
If your starter was initially very bubbly and then suddenly falls flat and collects water (also called hooch) on top or sometimes the bottom, the starter is typically hungry. Don’t be alarmed: it is normal for starters to collect hooch. Unless the hooch is dark brown—in which case discard it—I stir the hooch back into the starter when I am about to use it and feed it. If your starter falls flat during the building process or because it has been neglected for weeks, discard one-quarter of the starter and feed it again. You are trying to reduce a bit of the yeast and bacteria population and increase the amount of carbohydrates. Ideally, use your starter twice a week, but you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks without feeding (possibly longer, but try to discard and feed it before then!).
Your Starter Doesn’t Bubble
If your starter isn’t bubbling after the first two feedings and your room temperature is colder than 75º F, put the bowl in a lukewarm water bath to aid fermentation. Also make sure the filtered water you add to the starter is around 75ºF and not any cooler.
©2021 by Aran Goyoaga. Excerpted from Cannelle et Vanille Bakes Simple: A New Way to Bake Gluten-Free by permission of Sasquatch Books. —Aran Goyoaga
- Prep time 64 hours
- makes 1 starter
Superfine brown rice flour
Filtered water, at room temperature
- First Feeding: In a medium ceramic or glass bowl, whisk together 1 cup (140 grams) flour and 3/4 cup (170 grams) water until the mixture forms a pourable paste. Cover the bowl with a clean linen towel and set aside at room temperature for 16 to 24 hours, until you see some small bubbles form on the surface. Ideally the room should be around 75 degrees F.
- Second Feeding: Add 1/3 cup (45 grams) flour and 1/4 cup (55 grams) water to the bowl and whisk to combine. Cover again with the towel and set aside at room temperature for another 16 to 24 hours.
- Third Feeding: By now the mixture should bubble up slightly and smell sour, like yogurt. Discard 1/4 cup (75 grams) of the starter, then add 1/3 cup (45 grams) flour and 1/4 cup (55 grams) water, whisk, re-cover, and set aside at room temperature. As the starter becomes more active and larger in volume, it will eat through its food much faster, so you might have to feed it sooner than 16 to 24 hours. Check it after 12 hours and then every 2 hours from then on. When it bubbles up really nicely and begins to deflate, feed it—otherwise it will become watery.
- Fourth Feeding: Discard another 1/4 cup (75 grams) of the starter. Whisk in 1/3 cup (45 grams) flour and 1/4 cup (55 grams) water, re-cover, and set aside at room temperature again to ferment until it bubbles and puffs up. Because it might be ready for a feeding sooner than 16 to 24 hours, depending on the environment, keep an eye on it. As before, check it after 12 hours and then every 2 hours from then on.
- Fifth and Final Feeding: Discard 1/2 cup (150 grams) of the starter. Whisk in 1/2 cup (70 grams) flour and 1/3 cup (85 grams) water, cover with a clean linen towel, and set aside at room temperature until it bubbles up nicely. This can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. At this point, you have enough established starter to begin making recipes. I store mine in a lidded 1-quart glass mason jar and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.