My current apartment doesn’t allow me to have pets and I haven’t gotten around to buying any house plants because I’m still trying to figure out where in they will get enough light. Without a roommate, this means I live well and truly alone without another living thing in my apartment. That was, until several weeks ago when I decided it was time to give making a sourdough starter another shot.
During grad school, one of my friends had shared with me a portion of her sourdough starter at the beginning of our second year, along with a very simple, no-knead bread recipe. For the rest of the year, it became my weekly habit to make a loaf of fresh bread to have around the house. So, when it came time to move, I packed up my starter in a tupperware container and nestled it carefully alongside me in the front seat of my car. It felt great to know I could continue making fresh bread while living with my mom and even share some of the starter when I finally moved out.
My plans were dashed, when, for whatever reason, the sourdough starter did not survive the trip. Whether it was the shock of the 10 hour drive (highly unlikely, but if anyone were going to have high maintenance sourdough starter, it’d be me) or the well water at my mom’s place, which is treated with chlorine (a far more likely cause, as the chlorine would kill off all of my living yeast). But I wasn’t ready to give up, so I tried several methods to make a starter from scratch, but it just never seemed to last (more proof it was probably the water) so I decided it was time to stop trying.
Then I moved back to D.C. and the first thing I bought myself was a faucet mounted filtration system. Is D.C. water going to kill you? Not at all. But this way I actually want to drink it. A few weeks after settling in, I was pouring myself a glass of water when I realized my filtration system would ensure I had chlorine free, “fresh” water that would be perfect for keeping a starter alive. So I did some research, and then some more research, and finally collected my supplies. It’s been almost 2 months now since I made my sourdough starter and it is still going strong. I’ve even used to make a really awesome sandwich bread (check back for the recipe on Friday). Confident that my starter is around for the long haul, I’ve given him a name – Bob (did I mention I live very very alone…). Below are the ingredients and method I used to make my sourdough starter and the method I have been using to keep my starter alive.
2 cups lukewarm water (about 100ºF)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup unbleached white flour
2 packages instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1) Dissolve the honey in the warm water in a large plastic or glass container and sprinkle yeast on top. Make sure the container is large enough to allow your starter to rise and bubble without pouring over the sides of the container.
2) Let the yeast and honey mixture sit until it begins to bubble then stir in flours. Cover loosely with a towel or loose lid. Make sure air can escape.
3) Let rest for 2-4 days, stirring daily, until a sour yeasty smell has developed. The starter may separate with a layer of liquid forming on the top of the mixture, this is fine, just mix that back in.
4) For about a week, feed and nurture the starter so that it has a strong foundation. Once a day, remove about 2/3 cup of mixture and replace with ½ cup flour and ½ cup warm water.
5) At this point you can pour it into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator, either using it or feeding it at least once a week.
Maintaining the Starter
Keeping your sourdough starter alive is pretty simple. One method has you keep it on your counter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and feeding it 2x a day. This was how I kept my starter in Michigan, but I was going through so much flour it became impossible to maintain. So I was thrilled to learn that you can put your starter to “sleep” in the fridge for long periods of time, removing the need for daily feedings. This is the method I suggest and give instructions for below. I try to take my sourdough starter out every weekend, but you can also do it every other week with no ill effects.
1) Every Friday I take my sourdough starter out of the fridge and pour off the liquid that has formed at the top.
2) Stir it really well and let it sit for about 30 minutes to warm up a little.
3) Remove approximately 2/3 of the starter and do one of 3 things: (A) pour it down the drain, (B) set it aside in a non-metallic (tupperware or canning jar) to gift to a friend, or (C) feed it for use in a sourdough bread recipe.
4) Add to the remaining starter 1/2 cup warm filtered water and 1/2 cup unbleached white flour or whole wheat flour (I like to mix it up, using whole wheat one time and unbleached white the next). Whisk together well and let sit loosely covered on your counter. You will know your sourdough is still alive and kicking if it gets bubbly and frothy after you feed it.
5) Leave the sourdough starter out all weekend, feeding again on Saturday and Sunday before putting to bed Sunday night in a sealed container.