The Sourdough Chronicles

I made sourdough for the first time in my life – here is how it went, the top 5 tips I learnt, and whether I will ever do this again…

Yup I did it. I made sourdough.

Like literally millions of other people jumping on the quarantine sourdough bandwagon, I figured now is as good a time as any to babysit a bit of flour and water and turn it into bread.

About two weeks into my sourdough journey, I now have a whole new appreciation for that sourdough loaf I buy for $5 at my local bakery. Worth every penny. The amount of time, and patience it takes to nurture that sourdough starter is crazy!

I relied on a few different sites to gather all my sourdough knowledge, they explain it so much better than I could so if you are just starting out I would highly recommend them to you. Melissa over at Bless this Mess has a great blog post on making your own starter. And she will totally help you out if you have questions. Halfway through I was about to give up, I sent her a quick pic and she assured me I was on the right track. (She was right! – Thank you Melissa!) I also compared notes with this post by the Kitchn and this one from King Arthur Flour to make sure I was on the right track.

All had slightly different tips, but the general method is the same. You need equal quantities of water and flour, allow the wild yeast to do its thing, then discard and feed regularly till it starts producing bubbles and approximately doubles after a feed.

I did learn a few things along the way. So I am sharing my top 5 tips I learnt from my experience as a sourdough starter newbie in the hopes that it might help you too.

Good luck on your sourdough journey! Godspeed!

1. Name your starter

This is apparently a thing. You must name it. I guess this is because it is almost like taking care of a pet. And once you have a good starter going, you can pretty much keep it going forever. I did a poll over on my IG on what to name my starter, and we decided on Gizmo. Which I think is quite appropriate, since the Gremlins (80’s movie) character of the same name would multiply when it touched water, and had very strict rules for feeding – like don’t feed it after midnight… its a great movie if you haven’t seen it. :p

And yes, I did attempt to draw a Gizmo on the sourdough starter jar. I know – I shouldn’t quit my day job.

2. Use the right ingredients- and have plenty of them!

You only need two things to make sourdough starter: flour & water. Technically, any flour will work for sourdough. The key ingredient, wild yeast, is in everything, even in the air, so if it is fed and maintained properly you should be able to create sourdough with any flour. But through trial and error, I found that the best feed for my starter was a mix of 50/50 whole wheat to rye flour. Also try to feed with unbleached flour, it has more wild yeast in it. And make sure you have a lot of it! I burned through a few kilos feeding the starter daily in the first week alone. Now that it is mature enough (after about 7 days) I am reducing the feedings to once a week, but you will need a lot of flour to start out.

3. Measure carefully – be precise

I was a bit lazy about feeding my starter in the beginning. I measured by cups not weight, and I think I over watered it. You need to make sure you are feeding it equal quantities of flour and water by weight (not cups). Once I got the hang of how much 4 oz (113g) of flour and water was, then I got a bit lazy again and would just scoop it in. But I do recommend measuring if you are doing this for the first time, just so you get the hang of what the sourdough starter likes. Once you get to know your starter better, then you can probably wing it a bit and it won’t mind as much.

4. Starter is picky – cater to it.

Starter is like that high maintenance plant or pet you got that you thought you could keep alive, but then you realize you have no idea how to take care of it, and are now terrified of killing it. The first few days was rough for Gizmo and I.

I found out that even though the temperature in our place hovers between a balmy 22C to 24C that was still too cool for my starter to sit on the kitchen counter all night. By day 3 and 4 it seemed to be pretty lazy, not really producing bubbles, not doubling and it had this weird liquid film on top (called hooch – its there to protect the bacteria – just pour it out and keep going!). All of that is pretty normal. I just had to find a warmer spot for it. The oven, with the light on, seemed to do the trick.

After feeding, I would leave it in the oven with the light on for a few hours, then turn the light off. It seemed to absolutely love that! It was doubling and bubbling in no time! So if things are not looking so great, try to change things up a bit. It might make all the difference.

5. Don’t discard that discard!

I know crazy right?! But I could not bring myself to throw away all that perfectly good water and flour (and good bacteria!). Sourdough discards, even if they are just a few days old, are still good to cook with. I did not throw away any of it. I kept trying different ways to use it. My favourite by far is sourdough pizza dough, but I also tried, and loved, buttery sourdough biscuits, and sourdough waffles.

Just pour out your discard into a separate air tight container and refrigerate till you want to use it (I’d recommend using it within a week). Or just feed it, and make more starter and give it away to a friend.

Overall I think this was a very interesting experience. And well suited for this season of quarantine life.

I feel like I accomplished something huge, and all I did was bake a loaf of bread (and some other yummy things along the way).

Not sure I would do this again though. It takes a lot of time, patience and flour to make your own starter. But I will try to dry out what’s left of my starter once I’m done with it. I am told it will live indefinitely once dried out (like dry yeast – or sea monkeys – remember those?!) and I can revive it again with a bit more flour and water. I’m very tempted to do that because I don’t think I can give up eating that sourdough pizza dough anytime soon…

Have you tried making your own sourdough? Whats your top tip? Or recipe? Tell me! I’ve still got some starter that I’d like to use up!

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