all about starters
At its most basic, a starter is a mixture of flour and water that contains live wild yeasts and bacteria and is used to naturally leaven bread. If you want to make sourdough bread you will need to acquire or make your own starter.
AN ACTIVE well-fed starter, otherwise known as a “mature” starter, should show lots of bubbles at both the top and sides and have more than doubled in size.
Caring for Your Starter
BAKER’S PERCENTAGES for starter and dough always refer to the proportion of liquid relative to flour. Starter that is made up of equal parts flour and water is called a 100% hydration starter.
DO KEEP YOUR STARTER IN
A CLEAN JAR. Washing the jar every time you weigh and feed your starter will keep only beneficial bacteria in the mix.
FOR MOST PREDICTABLE
RESULTS: feed your starter with the same flour every time. Different flours contain different bacteria and will make your starter’s behaviour inconsistent.
feeding Your Starter
HOW TO FEED YOUR STARTER: Weigh out what you have (keeping in mind how much you want to end up with for your baking) and add, at the very least, an equivalent amount of both flour and water. You can increase your starter by up to four times its quantity in any given feeding. Always remember to keep some starter aside to feed and use for further baking projects.
FRESHLY FED STARTER will begin by looking like a lump of dough, but will look aerated and mature after 4 to 6 hrs at room temperature. It should smell pleasantly sour like overripe fruit and not too much like vinegar. If you drop a portion of mature starter in lukewarm water it should be full of enough air to float.
FEED YOUR STARTER AT LEAST
ONCE A WEEK. If you aren’t planning to bake, feed it and let it begin to rise, then cover loosely and place it in the fridge. The starter will feed very slowly and after several days a grey liquid will form on top. This liquid, affectionately called “hooch” can just be stirred into the starter at the next feeding. If you pour it off you will change the hydration level of your starter and impact the ratios of any recipe you use it to bake with.
IF YOUR STARTER STAYS IN
THE FRIDGE UNFED for a period of a few weeks or more it has become dormant and may require several feedings to activate it again. If you plan to leave it for an extended period of time you can freeze or dry your starter. See resource section on page 82 for good places to look for this information.
THE ONLY TIME you should discard your starter is if it begins to grow mould. Throw it out and begin again.