There are probably as many ways to start and keep sourdough as there are people who make it. I, like most people, think my way is the best way. This is my sourdough, who has yet to be named. I’ve been
neglecting raising him for about 5 months now.
He’s like a pet that doesn’t mind being ignored. I feed him whenever I remember, and occasionally he provides me with a delightfully tangy loaf of bread. You know. Just a typical pet/pet owner relationship.
So what the heck IS sourdough, anyway? It’s weird, is what it is. You’re basically trying to catch and raise wild yeast and good bacteria. The bacteria creates acid as a byproduct (which gives it the tangy flavor), and the yeast makes bubbles that makes the bread rise.
Want to try it? There are a bunch of “recipes” out there for making a sourdough starter, but the easiest way is to mix equal amounts of flour and water (start with 1/4 cup of each) and then wait. I keep mine in a Tupperware container on the counter with the lid sitting on top but not locked in place. A starter is alive and it needs to breathe, and it also releases gases as it grows, so you don’t want it to be airtight. Give it a day or two, and take a look. You want to see some bubbles. If there are NO bubbles, you can add a pinch of yeast to speed up the process. Add more flour and water (equal amounts) again. Feed it like this whenever you feel like it.
Sometimes I feed it a lot, sometimes I feed it a little, sometimes I forget to feed it for days and days. I feed mine all purpose flour, bread flour, rye flour and whole wheat flour. Whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. The changing makeup of my starter keeps the flavor complex and interesting, but you can use whatever you want. Don’t forget to add an equal amount of water at each feeding (it’s ok to eyeball it once you get a good feel for the proper consistency). Feed it a lot the day before you want to use it to make sure it’s happy and ready to go. If it’s too active at room temperature, or you only want to use it very occasionally, you can keep it in the fridge and only feed it every week or so (though it can probably go quite a while longer between feedings if you forget). Just bring it back to room temp before using it.
How do you know when it’s “good”? Take a whiff. It should have a weird, yogurt-like, kind of boozy smell. If it smells BAD, throw it out. The bacteria we’re looking for don’t smell bad, which means you’ve grown something else. As far as consistency goes, you want it bubbly. It’s like a spongy, thick batter.
“I’ve heard you need to throw half of it away every time you feed it…what’s the deal with that?” I have literally no idea. I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, and it just doesn’t make sense. Apparently you’re supposed to keep the same volume of starter on hand at all times, and throw out a scoop when you feed it with a scoop each day. That’s silly. I don’t do that. Just keep feeding it a few spoonfuls every few days until you have enough to bake with. I usually use up 75% of my starter each time I bake, and then I begin the slow process of regrowing it.
You should give it a try. It’s weird, but good. Kinda like me.