As long as it is fed regularly a sourdough starter can live indefinitely and become an heirloom passed on from one generation to the next. The starter is not designed to be eaten raw and should only form anywhere from 10-20% of the total loaf. Starters were and are essential to traditional baking since it contains the wild yeasts and LABs needed to leaven the loaf. Packets of commercial, packaged yeasts are a relatively new invention developed on a commercial scale at the end of the nineteenth century only. Prior to that loaves could only be leavened through wild fermentation.
For more information on the nutritional benefits of sourdough baking see here.
The starter-culture smells sour as a result of the fermentation process. Once baked the sourness diminishes considerably leaving natural flavours and aromas in the baked bread. The result of microbial activity on the grain as the loaf leavens results in a loaf of bread that has more flavour, is more satiating, has a more pleasing texture and is a lot more nutritious than the average commercially prepared quick-rise yeast loaf.
Sourdough baking may seem daunting to begin with but once started the home baker will soon realise how simple it actually is. Having nurtured a starter it is hard to let go!
Rye Sourdough Starter
Take 1 cup of rye flour and 1 cup of water and mix in a non-metallic bowl.
Cover with a cheese-cloth or a tea-towel and store on an open shelf in the kitchen.
Add one cup of rye and one cup of water to the same bowl for seven days.
By the seventh day (if not earlier) bubbles will have begun to form in the mixture and it will have developed it’s characteristic sour smell. The flour has fermented and will be brimming with LABs, wild yeasts and enzymes that live naturally in the air and on the grain. They will help transform your daily loaf into a culinary, nutritious delight.
Give your starter a name and get ready to bake!
White wheat sourdough starter for the Kaiser Roll and Brioche recipe.
1 cup of white wheat flour, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of fermented rye sourdough starter.
Mix together in a bowl and leave to rest for two to three hours before baking the kaiser or brioche rolls.
Handy Tips and Trouble-shooting
Any whole-grain flour can be used to create a starter – wheat, spelt, emmer or rye. Rye sourdough starters are recommended since rye contains more of the enzyme amylase than any other flour and is excellent at kick starting both the LAB and wild yeast fermentation. That all said a sourdough starter can be made from just about any flour so long as it contains some bran. A white sourdough starter without any bran (where all the wild things reside) will not be as effective as a whole-grain starter in leavening the loaf.
If you want to keep up sourdough baking – and really why wouldn’t you? – don’t forget to add one cup of rye and one cup of water at least once a day or every other day to your fermented culture. If ignored for too long the starter will, quite literally, turn miffy and develop interesting smells – sweaty socks springs to mind or over-ripe cheese. Do not despair and do not throw away your starter if this happens. It will not have “gone off”.
In cases where the starter becomes “too ripe” discard most of it but keep at least a cup over – and simply add fresh rye and water. Your starter will be right as rain in no time.
Do not despair if the starter develops a brown liquid on top. This is perfectly fine and can be stirred back into the main batter. In fact it is a sign that the starter is healthy and full of all the right kind of bacteria/yeasts that you need to bake that great everyday loaf.
If you’re not planning to bake for a few days the starter can be placed in the fridge where the microbial activity will be slowed down but not destroyed. A sourdough starter can be frozen and defrosted for later use – handy if going away for a two-week holiday
Also, remember warmth speeds up the fermentation process considerably so in the summer it may be worthwhile putting your starter in the fridge rather than on a shelf to prevent it from becoming over active and ripening too quickly.