Creating a sourdough starter is, in essence, a simple process: you mix flour and water in a glass jar (with a loose lid), and put it in a warm place for a few hours. Then, take away half (or more) of the mixture, add more flour and water, and repeat.
The wild yeasts and lactobacilli bacteria that make up a sourdough culture are already present on the grains, your hands and in the local environment. All you are doing is creating the optimal environment for them to thrive.
While this is the basic process for making a starter, each step can (and has been) endlessly refined to meet your own intentions and needs. The method we share here is just what works for us. Try it, and if it doesn’t work, try something else!
There are two ways to begin making a sourdough starter. One is to begin from scratch, with just flour and water. You will feed and stir it often, as the optimal balance of yeasts and bacteria begin take over. It is a labor of love, and the results are well worth it.
The other way to begin is with a small amount of mature starter. Using either fresh or dried mature stater, you simply build it up with successive feedings, and it will quickly (more quickly than starting from scratch) grow into a healthy, delicious starter in just a few days. This method tends to save a whole lot of time and energy, and usually prevents problems before they can start. There are myriad yeasts and bacteria present in the flour, water and local environment, and we have tossed many a young starter because the right bacteria and yeasts couldn’t get a foothold. Beginning with a bit of mature starter gives your culture a head-start, which highly increases your chances of success, as well as speeds up the process. Both methods will give you the same results, and there is no ‘right’ way to do it – you will have delicious bread one way or the other!
Links to both methods are below, after a few general (but important) notes. Enjoy, and feel free to contact us with any questions.
The temperature that you culture your starter at will determine two things. First, the warmer the temperature, the faster your culture will ferment. Second, there are many different yeasts and bacteria present in a sourdough culture, and the temperature that you culture your starter at will determine, to some degree, which yeasts and bacteria thrive.
Generally, sourdough starters prefer 70f to 80f, which is usually room-temperature in most kitchens. In our experience, gluten-free sourdough starters prefer slightly warmer conditions at 75f to 85f. In our kitchen, we culture our starters and bread dough at 80f. This seems to strike a nice balance for both yeast and lactobacilli, as well as significantly speed up fermentation time.
If you don’t yet have one, now is the time. Baking bread, especially sourdough, is as much of a science as it is an art. A scale will help you make great bread every time, either following a recipe or developing your own.
We have noticed that gluten-free sourdough starter is more finicky and less stable than it’s glutenous counterpart. Sourdough cultures needs flour to eat and grow in, and they behave differently depending on what you feed them. After many trials and errors, we have found that brown rice flour gives the most stable, supportive and economical gluten-free environment to grow in. Our brown rice starters seem to find a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria more quickly, and consistently out-last the others grains we have tried. Our methods use brown rice flour, but feel free to experiment with what you have on hand. If you have trouble with other flours, try brown rice and see how it goes.
The hydration level of a sourdough starter is the ratio of water to flour. A 100% hydration starter would be, for example, 50g water and 50g flour, or equal parts flour and water.
Starters can range from liquid (100% hydration and up) to firm (75% hydration and lower), and each will impart different flavor profiles and culture behaviors. Also, each kind of flour absorbs water differently, which effects the overall consistency and character of your starter.
Our methods use a 100% hydration level, or equal parts water and flour.
If you do want to start your new culture with a mature starter, ours is available here: Sourdough Cultures