The other day I was scrolling through a local buy nothing site and someone was giving away free sourdough starter. I had totally forgotten about sourdough and wondered what the maintenance was like. I had dabbled in kombucha last summer and it just wasn’t my style to have this thing growing this culture of slimy stuff that I had to move around to different vessels with specific soap. It was just plain exhausting and just wasn’t my thing at all. Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant about starting my sourdough journey.
I turned to one of my favorite baking sources, King Arthur, for advice. I don’t know exactly why I’m a King Arthur snob, but he hasn’t done me wrong yet, doesn’t make bleached flour, and generally, their recipes are spot on and easy to understand. Their store in Vermont is fun to visit, with large windows to see them at work and an interactive stand to show the kids what you grind to make flour.
Okay, back to the sourdough starter. I studied the recipe for a few minutes. It suggests you use either rye or whole wheat flour. I actually had whole wheat flour in my cupboard from a random sale and coupon deal that I couldn’t pass up and thought I’d torture my family with some extra healthy baking. The vessel suggested is, at the very least, a quart-sized mason jar. I had a 64-ounce mason jar which I picked for this. Make sure you have a long enough spatula because I had a hard time fitting my fist into the jar otherwise. Even if this didn’t work out as planned, I provided some quarantine entertainment for the rest of my family trying to get into the rhythm of shoving my fist into a jar trying to stir some goop.
It’s at least a 5-day process. Definitely wash your hands before handling it so you have a clean start. You will need to devote about 10-20 minutes a day to this venture. If your house is cold it will take a couple more days to get it rolling, so don’t lose hope. I happened to start this when my husband had our wood stove going so our house was typically 70-78 degrees (he loves a warm house).
If you’re not familiar with sourdough starters, read the recipe above before continuing on. If you are familiar, enjoy this recounting of my first attempt!
On the first day, I added one cup of whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup of water – warm if your house is cold and cold if your house is warm. Now, if you have a scale and want to be super fancy, measure in grams according to the recipe, otherwise if you are using a simple measuring cup, do a gently sweeping motion of scooping up the flour- don’t jam-pack it. I put these two ingredients in the jar and mixed it together. Instantly I was skeptical, it was a very stiff dough ball and it was hard to mix the flour all the way in. I covered it with a towel and squeezed the ring on top to hold it in place and called it a day.
I had no idea what I was doing. The recipe said no bubbling would be happening. I stuck my spatula in to scoop out a half cup. I gave up on that game and just grabbed a fist full of this really sticky dough and shoved it into a half cup. Did I mention I’m not Susie Homemaker (I’m sure a few of my friends would attest to that as well)? I was thankful at this point that I had a kitchen scale. I measured out 4 ounces to double check as well. Please note, this may be a frustrating day for you. I threw away what I had pulled out. It seemed worthless to me because it hadn’t bubbled yet or anything. I then fed it. Yes, you have to feed your starter. I fed it a “scant” cup of flour (aka not jam-packed or heaping) and 1/2 cup of water according to the house temperature as mentioned before. Stirred it the best as I could together and covered it again. Don’t lose hope. I was pretty skeptical this day as well.
This is when things might start to get exciting. The sourdough starter was actually bubbling and gave me an ounce of hope. I started out by pulling out 4 ounces or a half cup of discard. I set it aside, thought maybe I’d play with a recipe. I fed it again – still really hard to work with at this point it’s a tough dough ball. Everyone’s starters can be different consistencies too so don’t be bummed if yours isn’t a tough dough ball either but it shouldn’t be watery soup. I fed it the scant cup of flour and half-cup of water, mixed and covered it.
I turned to King Arthur again and found a super fast recipe for crumpets. Sounds great! I have a terrible attention span and even worse short term memory when it comes to baking and looking at recipes- I still use recipes for things I make every single day, just in case. I had already forgotten that I only had half cup of starter discard, not a whole cup! I foolishly mixed the recipe together and started cooking. I realized my mistake but kept going. This recipe suggests using canning lid rings or a special English muffin ring set. well, I’m not that fancy, so I slapped those gooey dough balls in the pan and waited. I flipped them over and smashed them down with a spatula and made them into a pancake shape. I didn’t mind not having one side bubble-less. They came out well, tasty and only a few bitter bites of baking soda despite my mishap of ingredients.
By the end of day three, you will need to discard 4 more ounces and then feed your starter one more time – all feedings are the same by the way. Try to space out your starter feedings as evenly as your schedule allows. This night is where I mess up. I only put half a cup of flour and half of cup of water but didn’t realize it right away. I knew instantly I did something wrong. My tough sticky dough ball was gone, it was a soupy mess. I had no idea what I did wrong. Defeated, I finished stirring it and covered it up for the night.
I awoke excited because I had realized what I had done either in my sleep or my waking hour. I rushed out to my soupy mess that was bubbling away and starting to get a good fermented smell to it. I discarded some. And then fed it. I didn’t know exactly what to do to fix my mess but I added the extra half cup of flour that was missing. Somehow it made my starter much easier to use and manipulate and I was super thankful for my original mistake. I made crumpets with the discard from the night before and me and two of my kids were practically fighting over who got to eat them. 2nd times a charm, I guess?
That night, I made sure to take away half a cup and feed it like normal and cover it for the night. I made popovers with the discard this time. I don’t think I cooked the popovers long enough as they were delicate creatures. My family however absolutely loved them and devoured them with jelly on top. My family, including my husband, were all mystified at how hollow they were inside. I counted that recipe as a success.
I started my day off discarding it and feeding it like normal. And this is when I got lazy. I neglected it that night. I did not take care of it that night. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. It looked fine. Just bubbling away in the jar. I was also supposed to do the final stages to get it ready for the fridge and it just didn’t happen.
I woke up to quite the little mess. It bubbled out of the jar and onto the counter. I immediately stirred it up and set aside all but 4 ounces of the starter. I put the main starter in a different container and fed it for the day. I took the jar I had been using through the week and washed it because it just felt icky from the whole week of feeding and discarding, but that’s a personal choice. The recipe does suggest transferring it to your crock at this point or for us less fancy people to just keep it loosely covered in the jar. I put my starter back into it’s home and let it sit on the counter for about 8 hours before finally tucking it into my fridge.
Along my journey, I made a couple of other recipes. I made sourdough waffles that involve an overnight process. The waffles had such a delicate and different kind of texture with minimal sourdough taste and paired really well with syrup. Amazing and I will be making this recipe again.
I made this amazing sourdough crumb cake. I was missing my dad and one of his favorite things is crumb cake. I almost felt like it was something you would find in a fancy coffee shop. My kids enjoyed it as well. My husband loved it the most and I think it made him excited to see what other yummy treats I might start baking as I typically don’t venture out of my normal list of baking things.
I also made chocolate cake using the sourdough. My initial thought was “ew what?” That was an interesting process to make. The cake had a good moist texture but not the rich chocolate flavor I was hoping or going for. I also didn’t follow the recipe for the frosting suggestion because I was adapting it to make a birthday cake. I made my own chocolate frosting instead and that was delicious. My sister-in-law agreed with me on the flavor of the cake and said it was merely the vessel to getting to that yummy frosting that I had made.
That sums up my week of sourdough starter and baking. My house and definitely my laundry pile is showing signs of neglect so I will need to set aside baking for a little bit. I look forward to trying other sourdough recipes- bread, pizza dough, tortillas, and a ton of other things.
About halfway through the week I discovered a bunch of friends also trying this out, I guess we all had the same thought- what else can we do while we’re safer-at-home?
Have you tried a sourdough starter yet? What have you been baking during these long weeks at home?