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Cecilia's Tips on Sourdough Starters

Cecilia's Tips on Sourdough Starters

By: Cecilia Buyswheeler-Gunther (Read Bio)

Cecilia's Tips on Sourdough Starters
Let’s talk Sourdough Starters.

The name of my starter is Godzilla. Sometimes I call her Godzilla the Great but not in her hearing as I don’t want her to get a big head. She has travelled the world with me and in every country she and I live, I feed her with different flours and different water and each time she has quietly adapted her flavours and behaviours to her environment. Sourdough starters are chameleons. My starter was begun almost 20 years ago now and she is testimony to the fearless resilience of starters. And you can make one too, just a little flour and water and some attention and you can create a natural levain.

Here is my simple no-frills method to start a sourdough starter followed by tips. Many bakers like to weigh the flour and water but I actually never have, because when Godzilla and I travel we seldom find scales on hand so we have gravitated to one heaped 1/4 cup of flour and one 1/4 cup of water for every feed.

TIPS on starting:

  • Keep in mind that air is important to the development of a starter so choose a tall glass jar with straight sides and place the lid on top after each feed but don't screw it down.

  • Choose your flour. You will need a medium protein flour preferably at 90 -100% extraction. My favorite Janie’s Mill flour to create and maintain a starter is the Artisan Blend Bread Flour. Many bakers will use the Janie’s Mill Dark Rye. Both have just the right amount of fibre and protein (medium) for a starter.

  • You need the sourdough to be a little heavier than a pancake batter so the bubbles can rise through the mixture. The batter needs to be thick enough that you can see the bottom of the jar when you stir. Too runny and the bubbles cannot rise.

  • I stir with a long spoon or a chopstick. The chopstick is good because I can clean the sides well.

  • Never use treated water. I only use filtered well water or filtered/distilled water. Minerals and bleaches are anathema to fermentation.

  • For this exercise we will use Dark Rye to start, then segue into Artisan blend, but you can begin with any medium protein high extraction flour.

  • Each of these steps is at the same time every day.

Cecilia’s Sourdough Starter

Day 1. In a tall clean glass jar mix a heaped 1/4 cup Dark Rye flour and 1/4 cup of room temperature water - stir - pop the lid on, don’t screw it shut. Sit it on the counter in a warm spot for 24 hours.

Day 2. Add heaped 1/4 cup of the rye flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir. Cover. Sit.

Day 3. The mixture will be a little bubbly today. Discard 1/2 the starter and add heaped 1/4 cup of rye flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir. Cover. Sit.

  • Put a rubber band around the jar at the top level of your mixture so you can watch for the rise.

Day 4: Your starter should be quite active this morning. You may even see where it has risen up and fallen. Now we are going to begin to transition it to Artisan Blend to slow the activity down a bit. (If the starter is eating the starches too fast it runs out of food and begins to create alcohol.) In a bowl: whisk together 1/2 cup Dark Rye with 1/2 cup Artisan Blend. You will be feeding with this blend for a couple of days.

If you are making a RYE STARTER just continue on with 100% rye - you will not need to transition your flour over to the wheat.

If you began with Artisan Blend just continue with 100% Artisan Blend - you will not need to transition as you are already using the right wheat flour.

Discard 1/2 the starter and add a heaped 1/4 cup of the blended flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir. Cover. Sit.

Day 5: Discard 1/2 the starter and add heaped 1/4 cup of blended flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir. Cover. Sit.

Day 6: Discard 1/2 the starter and add 1/4 cup of the blended flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir. Cover. Sit. Your starter should be rising and falling in a healthy fashion every day now. (If not then email me - cecilia@janiesmill.com so I can troubleshoot for you.)

Day 7: Discard 1/2 and feed with heaped 1/4 cup of Artisan Blend and 1/4 cup water. Stir. Cover. Sit.

Day 7: From now I only use Artisan Blend to maintain my starter. Let's get ready to bake. Instead of discarding, split the starter into two jars. One will be your Mother starter (feed and store her in the fridge). The other jar will be your levain, feed it twice a day with Artisan Blend and water and do not bother with discarding - this is the one you will bake with, so you are going to feed her up!

SEVEN TIPS FOR SOURDOUGH STARTERS:

1. Relax. Organic stoneground starters are very resilient. So just mix that flour and water together and see what happens.

2. My favorite flour for daily forever feeding is Artisan Blend Bread Flour. It has just the right amount of protein and bran for maintaining a starter. You don’t want to feed your starter with a High Protein flour every day because she will eat her food too fast and turn to drink.

3. At Day 3 or 4 or 5 your starter might go into a sulk. Don't worry. She is in her tween years, get her into a routine, make sure she gets lots of sleep, keep her out of drafts and just feed her through it, good food, twice a day. Feed her and she will come out of it. Don't give up. If she still will not bubble up; double her food. But just keep pouring off and feeding, 99% of the time she will come out of it.

4. Often it is nice to use a starter that is fed with the flour you are baking with - it adds another level to the taste profile, like layering a scent. Start with a new labeled jar. Add 1/4 cup of your existing starter and 1/8th of a cup of your maintenance flour (Artisan Blend) and 1/8th of a cup of your new flour (maybe Red Fife). Use this blend for a couple of days then switch to 100% new flour (e.g., Red Fife). Keep bulking up the starter with your new flour until you are ready to bake. This is how I create an Einkorn starter.

5. If it smells like alcohol - it needs food. If it smells like ripe bananas it needs food.

6. Keep it simple. I use a heaped 1/4 cup Artisan Blend Bread Flour and 1/4 water to feed once or twice at the same time every day. When I am baking often, the starter is always on the counter. I feed her twice a day.

7. If you are taking a break from baking, store your starter in a covered jar in the fridge. When refrigerating; feed the baby (using a little less water to make a stiff starter) then put her straight to bed. Your starter can sit in the fridge for over a week with no attention at all, the cold will reduce the time it takes her to eat through the starches and sugars.

Posted on February 19 2021