How can I start a starter from scratch?

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How can I start a starter from scratch?

Subject: 24. How can I start a starter from scratch?

I'm puzzled why starting a starter presents a problem to many people. It really is an extremely simple procedure. I often forget to hold back some starter from a dough, so I wind up baking the whole lot and I'm left with no starter to continue, and I have to regenerate from scratch again. This is an inconvenience, not a disaster! Perhaps I'm a little careless here, partly because it's so easy to do. In the hope that it might be helpful to others, here are my thoughts on the matter:

- Firstly, forget everything you ever heard about catching yeasts "from the air." Yes, there _are_ yeasts - and lactobacilli - in the air, but from a practical point of view it is important to note that there are far more of them already present in flour! In a cup of flour we're talking millions of them. So the good news is that you already have the yeasts and bacteria you need, right off the supermarket shelf, the bad news is that you also have mold spores and other bacteria which aren't so desirable. Fortunately, given the right conditions the yeasts and lactobacilli quickly dominate and the starter becomes too acidic for the other organisms to survive. The microorganisms are not destroyed (though they are probably diminished) by bleaching so can happily get a starter going from normal store flour. However, since they are more plentiful on the surface of the grain, a wholemeal flour is the easiest (quickest) to get going.

- Remember that the sourdough microflora require food, moisture and the correct temperature. You provide food from flour. Rye flour, because it contains more sugars than wheat, provides more quickly available food, so for this reason it is easier (i.e. quicker) to get a sour going. Also, whole grain flour contains more proteolytic enzyme and amylase (which exist in higher quantities just under the surface of the grain), so again the food source is richer and the sour is quicker to get going. The most important point to remember is to feed regularly. For a beginning starter you need to feed every 24 hours. At the first feed, you probably will not notice much or any activity, except perhaps a slightly winey aroma (especially if you use rye). Never mind: feed anyhow. I suspect this is where most people go wrong - figuring that leaving it a few more days will get it going! In reality, the yeasts are running out of readily available food so they are less active, while the molds and other 'off' bacteria continue to multiply, so you wind up with a slimy goo. By the second or third feed the starter will be bubbling nicely. By the fourth or fifth feed it will be adequate to bake with, but it will continue to develop for a few more days.

- Temperature should be 70-80F ( 20 - 25C ). You could go warmer than this, but you would then need to feed more often; also, the nature of your sour would be different, less desirable for a good loaf.

- Moisture comes from water which you add with the flour. I use 50/50 by weight, which by volume is approximately 1/2 cup water per cup flour. You don't need to be too precise, so volumetric measurement is fine, and simple. You can use a more liquid starter, but you will have to feed more often. [I've seen various discussions about tap vs bottled water, and tap water works just fine. I suppose if you live somewhere that has outrageously high chlorination it might be different, but in general if you choose bottled water you do so for your own health, not the health of the starter!]

To put it all together: Take 1/2 cup flour (preferably whole meal rye), mix to paste with 1/4 cup water in a 1 cup size container. Cover and leave for 24 hours at 70 - 80F. Throw away half of the mixture, and refresh with another 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water, cover and leave for 24 hours as before. Repeat. By now, the starter should show bubbles. If using rye, start using regular white flour after the third or fourth feed. Now you have a starter which you keep alive indefinitely by regular feeding.

Happy baking.


From: Date: Thu, 3 Aug 2000

I was just looking at your article about sour starters. Lots of hard to find Info. Just one thing I would like to add is the use of organic flours. Gold Medal has an organic white flour in most of the stores around here, Portland, Oregon. Try mixing 2 cups of this flour with 2 cups filtered water. This time of year the starter can used in about 8 hours, or less. It's almost unbelievable.



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