How to Make a Sourdough Starter

17 Sep 2014
3 min read
Making a sourdough starter for a sourdough loaf is tricky work. Expert on sourdough and wild yeast, Vanessa Kimbell, shares her ‘how to’ notes…

Sourdough is a funny thing, isn’t it? It starts off as a simple mixture of water and flour and by around the tenth day of cultivation it’s a bubbling, breathing pot of active yeast, which can live in your fridge for years. The result is of course one of the most delicious loaves with a tangy flavour and superior texture. Well worth the time and effort that goes into it, making sourdough bread is nevertheless tricky work…

Cue Vanessa Kimbell of Bakery Bits who is a real whizz when it comes to making sourdough. She shares her expert “how to” notes…

“To create your own sourdough starter you just need some basic ingredients — wholemeal flour and water and some basic equipment and conditions.

The conditions necessary to make a sourdough starter are: a warm room; not hot, not cold, just a room that is pleasant to be in; a non-reactive container (a starter is acidic and will react with certain metals,) to make and store the starter (I prefer stone jars butplastic is fine too); a whisk to incorporate air; a breathable cover or a lid such as a clean tea towel or coffee filter, or a loose fitting disposable shower cap; a space to catch your wild yeast with no other cultured foods nearby, or there will be a cross over and you might not get the yeast you need.

The easiest way to start is to put 200gof organic stoneground wholemeal flour and 200ml cold filteredwater in a large jar. I prefer to stone jars day to day as they insulate the starter.

Whisk the mixture vigorously to incorporate air and cover with your breathable lid. Allow your mixture to sit in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours.

At the 12 or 24 hour mark you might be lucky enough to see some bubbles, indicating that organisms are present. If you don’t then don’t give up! Repeat the feeding by removing a cup full of the mixture and replacing with ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of water at 28C. Stir vigorously, cover and wait another 12 to 24 hours.

From now on you will need to remove half of the starter before every feeding and discard it so that the starter you do have can multiply in organisms without your jar overflowing.

After about 10 – 14 days the sourdough starter should be beautifully bubbly (it will be quicker that this in warm weather) and will have enough yeasts and bacteria to be active enough to bake with. On the rare occasion you may have a good go at making your own starter only to find that it smells or tastes horrible or that the bread and other baked goods it produces isn’t all that pleasant in flavour. It means that the bacteria that has occupied your starter is not the right kind, and the lactic acid, which makes the starter inhospitable to other organisms hasn’t got going. You will need to discard this, start over and move the location of your culture to a different room.

I most often find that people who are having difficulties have meddled with the process. Please just be patient. You don’t need hot water, live yeast, grapes, rhubarb or any other extra thing to get yeast going. Yeastis naturally present in the grain that you use and for the best results use stoneground organic wholemeal flour.

An established culture is easier in that the process of getting your own started and so when people first get going I recommend using this as an option. It is faster and simpler to get an established starter and also more reliable in that it already contains active yeasts that have been populating the dough over a long period of time and therefore are stable, active, and resilient. It is because of its established bacteria and yeast that in the first attempts of making sourdough bread you will be guaranteed a more pleasantly flavoured sourdough.”

Vanessa Kimbell is the lead judge of the sourdough category of Tiptree World Bread Awards, and teaches people to bake with sourdough from her kitchen in Northamptonshire; she is also the resident baking expert for the leading supplier of artisan baking equipment in the UK, Bakery Bits –|