The basis of all sourdough is the “starter” which is nothing more than a small batch of fermented water + flour. You can either get a supply of starter from a friend like I did OR develop your own.
How to create a sourdough starter from scratch:
- Mix together equal parts tepid water (approx 74°F) + unbleached flour (must be unbleached to protect the wild yeast), stir, and leave at room temp overnight. A basic ratio here would be 50g water + 50g flour.
- The next day, in a fresh bowl, mix together 50g of your starter + 50g water + 50g flour. The leftover starter is called “discard” and can be tossed in the trash. Leave your refreshed starter at room temp overnight. This is what is referred to as “feeding.”
- Repeat for 4-5 more days until your starter smells lightly vinegary and has visible bubbles throughout.
Now that you have an active sourdough starter (either by inheritance or by the process above) you are ready to start baking! Well, almost. You’re a few days out, so be patient. Before we move onto the baking process, you’ll need to know how to maintain that active starter now that you got it going.
I maintain 150g of starter in my fridge and feed it weekly, usually on Thursday or Friday. The leftover starter is also fed and left to ripen for baking during the weekend. This is my preferred method because it’s less wasteful and honestly just a little easier to keep track of if you’re not baking every couple days. Here’s how…
Feeding Your Sourdough Starter:
- Mix 50g sourdough starter + 50g water + 50g unbleached flour = 150g total.
- Cover and place back in the fridge.
- Ta-da! Now you can just repeat the process to “feed” your starter weekly or refresh it anytime you need to take some out to bake.
What About The Leftovers?
- The leftover starter that you didn’t “feed” is called your “discard“.
- At this point, you have a few options:
- Toss it in the trash (boo!)
- Feed the discard and leave out overnight to ripen for baking (yay!) This will be your “levain.”
Preparing Your “Levain” For Baking:
- Feed your leftover starter with equal parts fresh water and unbleached flour. 100g unfed starter + 100g water + 100g flour = 300g levain.
- Cover and leave out at room temp overnight to ripen. This is what you will use in your sourdough recipes when they call for “starter” or “levain”.
- Your levain is ready to use for baking when it’s doubled in size and you can see bubbles throughout the mix. There should also be a faint vinegar smell, but it shouldn’t be offensive.
- If at any point, your starter smells rotten or decayed, throw that shit out. Period.
What to read next:
- Intro: My Sourdough Journey
- How to Maintain a Sourdough Starter
- A Guide to Baking with Sourdough
- Recipe: Classic Sourdough Bread