27 May, 2020
The Basics Of Sourdough
As quarantine and stay-at-home orders have dragged on, I decided to join the bandwagon of bored bakers looking to try something new and start my own sourdough culture. In theory, it’s not a terribly difficult task. You put some wet flour in a bowl and let it have some fresh air. In practice, however, it turned out to be a little more complicated.
Instead of rewriting the entirety of the guide I used to start my sourdough, I’m going to point you all directly to King Arthur Flour’s website and then expand upon their instructions with what I learned through trial and error.
Now for my notes:
• When it tells you that any non-reactive container will work, I found that wasn’t entirely true. I tried to grow my first starter in a large glass jar and I kept the discard in a glass bowl (because there was lots of it, and I strongly recommend that you keep yours because you can make some AMAZING snacks with it). Long saga short, the culture in the jar just didn’t take off. The discard, however, was way more active. Eventually, I deemed the main culture in the jar to be DOA and I scooped out a 1/2 cup of the discard and started growing that in the discard container (I moved the rest to a different bowl). That starter grew like wildfire.
• Another important thing to keep in mind when trying to grow your sourdough is temperature. We had a thermostat that was on the fritz when I started my sourdough culture, and it kept the temperature in the mid- to upper 60s. Sourdough needs warm temperatures to flourish (between 70 and 80), and all that time in the cold didn’t seem to do that already struggling starter any favors. Once I replaced the thermostat and kept it between 68 (at night) and 73 degrees, it seemed much happier.
• If strictly regimented schedules aren’t your jam, not to worry. I’m a hot mess about 67% of the time, and my sourdough went from an 8 AM feeding schedule to a noon one by the time I stuffed it in the fridge for the long haul. As long as you’re within a few hours, it doesn’t seem to mind too much.
• DON’T WASH YOUR CONTAINER UNLESS YOU HAVE TO. I had a hearty starter going until I washed out the container. After that, the culture’s overall activity level tanked. Keep the rim clean and wipe down the edges when they get gunky, but don’t wash your container unless it starts growing things you don’t want. The culture did not seem to like having housekeeping.
• Sourdough smells weird. It might smell kind of like fermenting fruit, and that’s totally cool. It might also smell like a hard cider. Also not a bad thing. If it smells like gym socks, that’s not great, but it’s probably also fairly early in your culture and it’ll level out in a few days. If it smells like cheese, that’s also not right, but give it a few days. If it smells like cheap nail polish remover, you need to feed it more.
• Don’t throw out your discard! As I mentioned earlier, you can bake some awesome snacks with it (recipes to come). Just be aware that there will be a lot of discard. King Arthur Flour has a whole bunch of discard recipes linked in the starter recipe, and their waffle recipe (which you don’t have to prep overnight if you’re not willing to plan that far in advance) is amazing… Also, waffles freeze pretty well. Just saying.
Stay tuned for discard recipes and, eventually, actual sourdough recipes!