When I first learned about sourdough starter and having to "feed" it every day, I was completely turned off. Nothing about having this jar of something sitting on my counter that would grow sounded appealing to me. Then I started learning more about sourdough starter and the discard that comes along with it, and I was intrigued by all the recipes out there you could make with said discard. Not to mention the health benefits that come along with it. Because it is fermented, proteins are broken down into amino acids, making it much easier for your body to digest and absorb the nutrients. Essentially, sourdough starter is an active colony of wild yeast and beneficial bacteria that when used to make bread, rises the dough and accounts for the lightness and fluffiness in the finished product.
So, I started looking up how to make starter. Almost everything I found instructed you to measure in grams when it came to removing any starter and adding any flour and water. It seemed like if you were off by 1 gram, your starter would never grow and you could never make bread. I kept researching and finally found a method that worked for me, using CUPS, not grams, AND is incredibly easy! If you want to make your own starter and want to keep it super simple, keep reading!
There are a few things to consider before diving into the sourdough starter world, however. For starters (pun unintended), all you need is flour and water. Yep, that's it. But, you want to make sure your flour is UNbleached, because using bleached flour will kill off the yeast you are actually trying to grow. Also, if using tap water, there is usually chlorine in it, which will also kill off the yeast. There are a couple solutions to this: you can use bottled water, or you can set out some tap water for about 12-24 hours before you want to feed your starter, and the chlorine will evaporate. It is best to use room temperature or lukewarm water - never use hot water, as that will kill the yeast as well. Now we can move into actually making your starter!
Day 1: In a jar, mix 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water until all the flour is incorporated and you have a thick, paste-like consistency. It should resemble pancake batter. If it is too thick, add a splash more of water. If it's too thin, add a sprinkle more of flour. Cover jar loosely with jar lid or paper towel and rubber band. (Sealing the jar air-tight may eventually cause the jar to burst once your starter starts growing).
Day 2: After 24 hours, add another 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup water. Mix until it is all incorporated. Again, adjust amounts of flour and water if needed.
Day 3: After another 24 hours, discard half of the starter (see section below on this), and add another 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water. Stir until combined.
Keep repeating the step for day 3 and you should see bubbles in your starter and it should start to double in size. Don't give up if you don't see bubbles after the first few days, it may take up to 14 days to start to see growth - so stay persistent!!! If you have yet to see any action after 2 weeks, I would then recommend starting the process over.
*The bubbles you will see are a result of the microbes in the starter feeding on the sugars in the flour and exhaling carbon dioxide. If you start to see a gray liquid accumulate on the surface of your starter, this is called hooch, and is perfectly normal. It just means your starter is hungry and needs to be fed. You can simple drain the hooch off the starter, or mix it back in. Because of the fermentation occurring within the starter, you will start to smell a tangy, fruity smell coming from it - this is a good thing! If it begins to smell sour in a bad way, such as dirty feet or vomit, then you will want to throw out your starter and start over.
Once you have an active starter, you can use it to make bread! If you're making bread frequently, or keeping a good amount of discard on hand for recipes, you should leave your starter in a warm location in your house, but out of direct sunlight (sunlight will kill the yeast). I keep my starter on the counter beside my stove. If you only plan to use your starter for bread occasionally, it would be best to keep your starter in the refrigerator until you plan to use it. If you decide to do this, feed your starter right before putting it in the fridge, then when you know you will be making bread in the next couple of days, take it out the fridge, discard half as usual, and feed it again. Do that daily until it is ready to be used in bread (bubbly and doubling in size).
Discard. It is so amazing and you can make SO MANY different things with it. I've made biscuits, pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, cornbread, pancakes, brownies, and more with it. If you decide to keep your discard (I highly recommend this), all you have to do is put it in a designated jar and store it in the refrigerator. You can add your starter's discard to the jar daily, but you shouldn't keep it for more than 2 weeks.
If you are still overwhelmed or intimidated by this whole process, I have dehydrated sourdough starter available for purchase in our shop! It is our starter, delivered right to your door - all you have to do is rehydrate it. Rehydrating starter is easier than making your own, and instructions are included with purchase.