Sourdough Starter

I get this request often enough and my way is different enough from the original that I think it’s worth posting as its own thing. I’ve always used the Joy Of Cooking’s sourdough starter recipe (you can find it here) as a base, but with my own little changes that have worked awesome for me in the past, and I always feel the need to add my own caveats because it’s how it’s worked for me.

I start with:

  • 1 cup (128g) flour
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) water
  • 1 small red potato

Make sure the water is at least room temperature. Yeast doesn’t like the cold and you want to encourage the little bastards as much as possible. Warmer is better (if you have an instant read or candy thermometer, aim for 110° to 115° F (43° to 46° C). Cook the potato until it’s soft enough to mash with a fork. If you have access to a microwave, pierce it a few times then zap it for around 3 minutes, or for an additional 30 seconds at a time until you can squish it. Let it cool some, then peel the skin (it’s weird running into potato skin in your bread).

If you don’t have a microwave, steam or boil it until it’s fork-tender. Then cool, skin.

Okay, now use a fork to mash the potato into the flour, preferably in a mixing bowl. Then add the water. Get your hands in there and mix it up. You can skip the hands in the future, but this first time is important because the natural yeast infecting your grubby palms is going to provide leavening along with whatever happens to be floating around in the air and on your counter. Yes, it’s everywhere, and you’re going to eat it.

So, knead it until it starts to become stretchy, even kind of stringy looking. That is gluten forming. If you don’t have Celiac or certain forms of irritable bowels syndrome, IT WILL NOT HURT YOU. Chill the fuck out. Throw it into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and poke some holes in it. Now set it in a place where it won’t get wet or dry and pets won’t get into it.

The next day, around the same time of day if you can (apparently yeast enjoys consistency, like children), add 1/2 cup (64 grams) of flour (any kind) and 1/4 cup (60ml) water and mix it in to the starter, cover, set aside.  That’s it. Do that every day for a week or two and you will start seeing bubbles.  Congratulations, you’re the proud parent of a bubbling baby yeast culture you can now use to make everything from bread to pancakes and biscuits.

Fun fact: The process of allowing sourdough starter to ferment breaks down many of the more volatile compounds in bread by pre-digesting it, making it easier on you IBS sufferers than regular bread. So if you have a “gluten intolerance” (which you don’t, it’s IBS. GI isn’t a thing) using sourdough starter will likely decrease your suffering.

That said, if you’re afraid to risk it (I get it, this is the internet), this recipe should work fine with no-gluten forming grains. However, gluten is what traps the bubbles of gas and makes the whole leavening thing work, so you’ll need to add something to hold the yeast-farts in. I think some recipes use gelatin, but I have no idea. I’m sure the internet is chock full of suggestions though.

I have a whole wheat sourdough bread recipe that I’ll post soon that uses this as a starter. Stay tuned and be ready to impress the shit out of people with your fungus-wrangling skills.

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