How to Make a Yeast Starter

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The secret of making genuine, bakery quality sourdough bread at home is to cultivate your own wild yeast starter. Authentic sourdough breads are made without commercial yeast and rely essentially on wild yeasts that exist in the air all around us. Dried wild yeast starters can be purchased online, but you can capture your own for free simply by exposing a combination of flour and water to open air. Once you've captured the yeast, your new starter--given the right conditions--will grow and thrive. Many kinds of ingredients, including yoghurt, potatoes, apples, grapes, molasses, honey, milk and even cornmeal porridge, can be used in starters to create a variety of flavours and textures, The following method uses a basic formula of flour and water and is a great starting point for novice and experienced bread bakers alike. With proper care and maintenance, a single batch of homemade wild yeast starter will provide you with loaf after loaf of delightful, tangy sourdough bread for many years to come.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 227gr. unbleached organic bread flour
  • 227gr. organic dark rye flour
  • 473ml. filtered water, at room temperature
  • Medium ceramic or plastic bowl
  • Cheesecloth or another fine mesh cloth
  • Wide-mouth canning jars
  • 227gr. unbleached organic bread flour
  • 227gr. filtered water, at room temperature

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  1. 1

    Begin day one. Mix the 227gr. of unbleached organic bread flour and 227gr. of organic dark rye flour together with the 16 oz. of filtered water in a medium-size bowl until well incorporated. Stir mixture vigorously to beat in additional air. Next, cover top of bowl with cheesecloth or fine mesh cloth. Set bowl near an open window (or, preferably, outdoors) although wild yeast can be captured inside as well.

  2. 2

    Begin day three. Check to see if bubbles are appearing on the surface of the starter. If they are, congratulate yourself--you've captured a wild yeast! Next, add 227gr. of bread flour and 236ml. of filtered water to the culture and stir vigorously. Cover again. Bring starter indoors and place on counter. If room temperature is above 18.3 degrees C, refrigerate.

  3. 3

    Begin day seven. Begin feeding your starter with 113gr. of bread flour and 113gr. of filtered water three times throughout the day. By now, your starter should have doubled or even tripled in size and be bubbly with a thick, soupy consistency. Pour into canning jars and refrigerate.

  4. 4

    Begin day eight. The starter is now ready to be used to make bread. To reactivate the refrigerated starter, bring it to room temperature and give it three daily feedings one day prior to baking.

Tips and warnings

  • Don't be put off by the strong sour smell of your starter--it's supposed to smell that way!
  • Always keep your sourdough starter refrigerated when not being used.
  • Do not freeze your starter, as some wild yeasts will not survive freezing and thawing
  • Never add commercial yeasts to your starter, as they can destroy wild yeasts
  • Don't add leftover bread dough to your starter as it may contain salt and other ingredients that may inhibit wild yeast growth
  • Keep container tightly sealed to prevent bacteria and odours from spoiling your starter
  • If you want to save your starter but are not planning to bake bread for a while, you can keep it refrigerated for up to two months in an airtight container. When ready to use again, discard all but one cup of starter and build up from there.
  • It's normal for a starter to develop a brownish liquid on top if kept in the refrigerator for long periods. This so-called "hooch" is part of the fermentation process and can be poured out or mixed in to the starter. However, if your starter forms mould or develops an unpleasant odour, discard immediately and start over again.

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