People are flexing their “making-from-scratch” muscles while stuck inside, which has caused a rise in bread baking! There are a number of ways to make homemade bread, with the most common method using storebought active dry yeast. If this is the kind of yeast you have on hand, check out our Easy Instructions To Bake Bread From Scratch!
Another delicious way to make homemade bread is by using a sourdough starter, which is a fermented dough with wild yeast and lactobacilli bacteria. Many people get a starter from friends or family (some families have a starter that’s been passed down from generation to generation!), but it’s actually fairly easy to make your own from scratch with a few ingredients and a little bit of patience. It’s worth the process to get this chewy, flavorful, and easier-to-digest bread, right in the comfort of your own kitchen.
In most flours, there is wild yeast that, given the chance, will activate through the process of fermentation with the addition of water, feeding on the sugars in the flour. However, the starter needs to be “fed” additional flour and water every day, so make sure you’ve got 5-10 minutes (around the same time) every day to do this, otherwise, your starter may not turn out. To help you get going, we’re going to walk you through the process from start to finish!
To make the starter you will need all-purpose flour, water, a small glass bowl or mason jar, an elastic, and a porous cloth covering. You can use tap water, but make sure that whatever water you’re using is chemical and chlorine-free.
At the 24 hour mark, it’s time to feed your starter for the first time! If you notice some bubbles in the starter, that’s great! This means the fermentation process has started. However, if there aren’t any yet, don’t fret. Sometimes it takes longer to get the mixture going depending on what your conditions are. Regardless, these are the next steps in the process to make a sourdough starter from scratch.
As days pass, it will start to smell sour. This is normal and exactly what you want to see happening, so don’t be concerned. After all, it is called sourdough. Additionally, if you see brown liquid (called hooch), don’t worry! Just drain it right before you feed your starter the next time. This is also completely normal and usually indicates that the starter is ready to be fed.
Day 7 or 8 is usually when the starter is ready to be used in baking, but ensure it meets these four markers first. It should (1) be twice its original size, (2) be fluffy and filled with bubbles, (3) smell sour, but not stinky, and (4) have a vinegary taste. If it doesn’t have all of those four things, feed it and give it another 24 hours before checking it again.
Once your starter meets those markers, it’s time for the final test – the float test. Drop a teaspoon of the starter into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to be used in a homemade sourdough bread recipe! You can find many sourdough bread recipe variations in cookbooks and online, but one of our favorites is The Clever Carrot’s Sourdough Bread Beginner’s Guide.
If making a sourdough starter was a one-time, fun thing to do, then you can discard it. However, since you put so much time into it, we recommend keeping and maintaining it! To do this, transfer the starter into a clean glass jar or bowl, secure the covering, and place it in the fridge. About once a week, pull it out, discard half the starter, transfer the remaining starter to a clean glass container, and feed it with a 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water, mixing well to combine before covering it and putting it back in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake with it, remove the starter from the fridge and feed it at room temperature to wake it back up.
If you bake bread more frequently, store the starter on your counter, continuing to feed it every 24 hours. If you maintain it properly, your sourdough starter can last years, giving you yeast for homemade bread time and time again.
The most foolproof way to create a sourdough starter from scratch is with all-purpose flour, however, that doesn’t mean that other flours won’t work.
You’ll see a surge of activity in the first few days for many starters and then a period of little activity. Don’t become concerned and throw it away! Keep to the feeding schedule and ensure it stays warm and wait. Patience is your friend during this process.
If you forget a feeding, don’t panic and throw your starter out! It may look ugly and smell a little funny, but it generally just needs a couple of feedings to perk back up.
You can also check out these other great substitutes for yeast when you’re in a pinch!