photo by Rebecca Perry
For more than two years, NYB gave away thousands of packages of sourdough starters to hundreds of customers and others who asked. Our free starter offer was a tangible expression of our belief that what starts out free - namely, the wild yeasts that live all around us -- ought to be freely shared.
We still believe that; unfortunately, the time and effort involved in propagating, packaging and sending out all those starters simply became impossible to manage, and as a result, many who contacted us asking for starters didn't get them or had to wait far longer than anyone should reasonably expect to wait - even for a free offer.
So we've discontinued our free starter offer, as much as it pains us to do so. On the other hand, it also gives us more time to devote to making nybakers.com an even better and more responsive to your needs. And if we can no longer provide you with those starters, we can at least give you the knowledge you need to propagate, feed, dry, and wake up your own.
How to Make Your Own Starter
Starting the Culture
There’s been a lot of mumbo-jumbo written about starting a sour culture. In fact, it’s no more complicated than creating the conditions in which the wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria present in grains and other produce can thrive and multiply – and to do that, all you need is some organic whole-grain flour, spring or filtered water, and patience.
Here's a three-day seed culture made from whole-grain rye flour, which is rich in natural yeast:
Day Culture Medium
Warm (90°F/32°C) Spring Water Day 1 0 2.50 oz/70g 2.00 oz/55g Day 2 4.5/125g 2.50 oz/70g 2.00 oz/55g Day 3 4.5/125g 2.50 oz/70g 2.00 oz/55g
- On Day 1, combine the ingredients in a plastic, glass, porcelain or stainless steel bowl to create a fairly stiff dough, cover with plastic wrap or a saucer and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
- On Day 2, it will not have shown much activity. Stir the warm water into the dough and blend in the flour. Let stand. You should begin to see fermentation activity within 5-6 hours.
- By Day 3, the culture will have doubled in bulk. Discard half the culture, which should have a spongy texture beneath the surface, and stir in the water. Add the flour and set aside for the final 24 hours.
- On Day 4, the culture will smell both yeasty and acidic, and will taste very sour. You’re now ready to build the sour.
Building the Sour
Once the seed culture is viable, the colonies of wild yeast and beneficial bacteria need time to strengthen. Building a proper sour, whether it be wheat or rye, generally takes a week to 10 days of regular feeding. You’ll find that as your feeding schedule progresses, the sour will show more vigorous activity and take on a cleaner, almost astringent smell. The sign of a robust and healthy sour is its ability to double in bulk within 4 hours of feeding.
While spending one or two weeks on building a sour may seem like a lot of time – and it is – the good news is that you’ll only have to do it once. Once the sour is established, feeding once or twice a week will keep it strong and healthy – and if you should miss a feeding or two, no worries: a healthy wheat-based culture will survive for weeks without feeding, but will weaken over time. Feed it twice in 24 hours and it will come back strong as ever. And remember: sours are at their best within three days of feeding.
Volume Ingredient Ounces Grams Baker’s
½ cup Sour 3.00 85 80% ½ cup Wheat or Rye Flour 2.50 70 100% ¼ cup Warm (90°F/32°C) Water 2.00 55 80%
Discard excess sour from previous PM feeding (There won’t be any on Day 1). Add water to sour and mix to a smooth paste, then add flour and blend. Cover loosely so that the CO2 can escape, and let rest at room temperature.
Volume Ingredient Ounces Grams Baker’s
1 cup Sour from AM Feeding 7.00 200 280% ½ cup Wheat or Rye Flour 2.50 70 100% ¼ cup Warm (90°F/32°C) Water 2.00 57 80%
Add water to the sour from the AM feeding and mix as above. Continue this routine for 7-10 days.
After your sour has matured, keep it refrigerated in a covered container and feed once or twice weekly.
Drying a Starter
Because starters tend to localize - that is, local yeasts replace the originals - drying your starters is the surest way to preserve the integrity of the original culture. To dry a starter, build a sponge with the consistency of thick pancake batter, pour it into a plastic wrap-lined sheet pan and let air-dry for 3-4 days. When it's completely dry, break it up in a blender and keep sealed in a jar or plastic bag.
That's all there is to it!
Waking Up a Dried Starter
- Dissolve 1 tsp. of dried starter in 1/2 cup (4oz/115ml) of warm (105°F/40°C) water;
- Mix well with 1 cup (4.2oz/120g) of wheat or rye flour;
- Allow to stand at room temperature until mixture doubles in volume (this may take up to 3-4 days. There may be some discoloration or dark liquid on top of the culture; this is normal. Just pour or spoon it off.);
- Add another 1/2 cup (4oz/115ml) of water to sponge, mix well and then add another 1 cup (4.5oz/130g) of flour;
- Allow to stand in a warm place. The sponge should have more than doubled overnight, and will be very bubbly./li>
- Feed the sponge with another 1 cup (4.2oz/120g) of flour and 1/2 cup (4oz/115ml) of water and let stand until doubled, which should be within 8-10 hours at room temp;
- Your sourdough culture is ready to use or store covered in the refrigerator.
- Feed every 4-7 days by discarding half the starter and repeating step 4, returning to refrigerator when the sponge has doubled in bulk.