Sourdough bread and baked goods rely on sourdough starter for leavening. Starter is a combination of flour, water and wild yeast from the environment. While making your own sourdough starter is not difficult and can be a fascinating way to spend time, it is not a requirement. You can purchase starter from many sources like King Arthur Flour or GEM Cultures.
Purchased starter will come to you with particular traits, yet the magic of sourdough is that, over time, this starter will become populated with local wild yeast and take on characteristics unique to your own environment; the starter will become yours alone. What this means is that if you buy a batch of famous San Francisco sourdough starter, it will soon become Chicago or Colorado or Indiana starter as it adopts traits unique to your own locale. Sourdough starter is the quintessential local ingredient.
For a decade, I made bread with a starter I received at a class before ever attempting to make it on my own. If you do decide to take the leap, you can make starter with nothing more than flour and water—and, a crucial addition, mild outdoor temperatures.
I used to make my starter from whole-wheat flour. I had known that whole wheat has the potential to be unstable in starter, but I felt this was “the real thing,” starter in its most traditional form. I found, however, that the frustration of maintaining and reclaiming an unstable starter was not worth the heartache. So I have returned to a white-flour starter, which doesn’t elevate blood sugar to the same degree that ordinary white flour does, and I can easily convert it to whole-wheat or rye for the baking of a particular loaf.
To make sourdough starter, click on these two links:
If you have questions, please email me using the “contact” page of my website and I will do my best to help you.
Next Up: Taking Care of Sourdough Starter
Copyright 2014, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul