I first read about sourdough starters in my Cooking Alaskan cook book. The cookbook said: don’t worry about making something from your starter every day. Sometimes you just have to throw away the discarded starter and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. So I don’t!
In case you’re not familiar, sourdough is a wild strain of yeast that is kept alive with regular feedings of flour and water and kept under control by a symbiotic relationship with a strain of bacteria (lactobacilli). King Arthur Flour has a lot of great info about sourdough. (You’ll find that every source tells you different things! Pick and choose and find a system that works for you and don’t worry too much about finding a “right” way. Similarly, what I’m posting here is what has worked for me– I’m not claiming to be an expert on sourdough starters, but I have done a lot of research!)
I first started the starter with commercial yeast. (I know! Sacrilege!) The thing about sourdoughs is even if you have a starter from, say, San Francisco, eventually the wild yeasts in your area will win out anyway. So it’s cool to say your starter has been around for many many years and maybe over time they develop some extra depth of flavor… but it’s really not a big deal to start your own.
I was feeding my starter and taking care of it and all of a sudden it just stopped being bubbly. I have a couple theories: 1) I was feeding it according to my schedule and refrigerating it and not really understanding what was going on and 2) Perhaps the commercial yeast died off and the wild yeast wasn’t quite strong enough to take over.
Then I came across the Sourdough Start-along on Serious Eats. It’s got really great info mixed in with all the steps! The biggest takeaways I got from this site:
- Weigh your ingredients. I’m getting really consistent results with 1 oz of water and 1 oz of flour.
- Stir it! Especially if you suspect it’s sick.
- My bread recipe! (Day 9 and Day 10)
- No real reason to discard unless you just have too much starter.
Even if you get your starter from someone, the starter-along is worth reading. The only thing I don’t think they’re clear about is the importance of feeding the starter enough– they instruct you to just keep feeding it until you run out of room. But if you have 8 oz of starter and you’re feeding it just 1 oz flour, 1 oz water, you’re starving the starter. You can smell this– the starter starts smelling acidy and less yeasty and bready.
I took my “sick” starter and started following some of the principles (weighing my ingredients and more stirring!)… and it was bubbling away in just a few days. Anyway, a few months and mishaps later and I’m still keeping my starter alive! I’ll gather my favorite recipes, experiences with refrigeration and drying starter and share those in separate posts. There’s so much to write about! GOOD LUCK and have fun!