Making and Nurturing a Sourdough Starter

There seem to be as many recipes for sourdough culture starters as there are bread books. The sourdough culture I have nurtured and used since 1992 is based on a recipe by natural foods author Meredith McCarty. While it initially takes a week's commitment, making the base sourdough culture is very easy. And, like mine, it can last for years and years if properly maintained. Likewise, the basic bread recipes based on this sourdough culture are so easy that you'll likely find, as I do, that making sourdough bread can be a regular rather than an occasional adventure.

Mix together flour and 1 1/2 cups water until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup of water, if necessary, to make thick batter consistency. Transfer mixture to a glass jar, filling it no more than 2/3 full.

Cover jar with a cotton cloth and place in a cool area. (Do not refrigerate.)

Once a day for 6 days, transfer starter to a large mixing bowl and mix in 1/4 cup water. Then add in 1/3 cup flour and mix thoroughly. Wash and dry the jar before refilling with the starter. Then cover the jar again with a cotton cloth, returning to the same cool place. After a couple days, the starter will look bubbly and spongy and smell slightly sour.

On the 7th day, cover jar tightly with a lid and refrigerate starter until ready to use or replenish.

Keeping the starter active

Once the starter is made, it needs to be refreshed every 7 days to keep it active. Additionally, the starter should be always be refreshed the day before you plan to use the sourdough culture in baking.

At least 1 cup of starter should always be kept on hand to ensure viability of the starter is maintained. If, between feedings of the culture, a dark watery substance appears at the top, looking like a separation between the thicker culture below it, just stir the water back into the culture.

It is a good likelihood that in the process of keeping the starter refreshed you will accumulate more starter than you use. Just give some of it to a friend to let them try sourdough baking or discard what you don't need.

The basic sourdough starter replenishing formula is to add 1/2–3/4 of the amount of water as sourdough starter and equal amounts of flour. For example:

Transfer the sourdough starter to a mixing bowl and add in the water, mixing well. Add in the flour, mixing well again to create a somewhat thick batter consistency. Wash and dry the starter jar. Then put the starter back into the jar. Cover the mouth of the jar with a damp cloth and let the starter set on the kitchen counter at room temperature for 3-4 hours to activate the fermenting process. Then return the replenished starter to the refrigerator until you're ready to bake or until it is time to replenish it again.

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