Getting Started with Natural Yeast

What we call “sourdough starter” can also be called natural yeast. Basically it’s a leavening (or raising) agent for making baked goods. A good sourdough starter can be used instead of powdered active dry yeast that you buy at the store. While store bought yeast definitely has it’s place, having your own starter on hand, or at least knowing how to make one, can bring a lot of satisfaction and comfort.

Start with a clean pint jar that has a lid. I use canning jars and plastic lids, but there are lots of options. Just be sure your jar has a wide mouth to make it easier to work with. You’ll also need something to stir with. I use a straight silicone spatula, but you can also use the handle end of a wooden spoon, etc. There is some belief that using metal to stir your starter will have a negative effect on it. But I’ve seen people use metal spoons with no issues.

A word about ingredients: Technically, the higher quality flour you use, the stronger your starter will be. If you can and have access to a high-quality organic flour, I would recommend it. It gives your starter a better fighting chance, so to speak. But use what you have; in the long run, what you have is better than what you don’t.

Also, the amount of flour isn’t necessarily important. I’ve seen people create starters with as little as one teaspoon flour or as much as 3/4 cup. I’ve developed a method that works for me and that’s what I’m sharing with you. I add one tablespoon at a time because I don’t like the waste that comes with larger quantities. There is a way to use larger quantities and make what is called “discard”. I’ll tell you more about that soon. But for just getting started, I like to start small.

We’ll also use water to create our starter. Try to use purified or filtered water. If you want or need to use tap water, just be sure to leave it on the counter for at least 20 minutes before using it. The chlorine in most tap water can have a negative effect on the starter’s development.

Now for the good part…

Take a clean jar and add one tablespoon flour to it. Then add about 3/4 tablespoon water and give it a good stir. Make sure there is no dry flour left. The starter will look similar to thick pancake batter; a little lumpy and not too wet. If you need to add a little water or a little flour to get that consistency, just take it very slowly. At this point, drops will go far. This is called a “feed”; we are “feeding” the starter so it can activate.

After incorporating the flour into the water, scrape the sides of the jar and mound the starter up in the center of the jar bottom (see photo). Then put the lid on, tighten it, and then back the lid off about half a turn; just enough to let the starter breath as it creates the gases that form the bubbly starter. You can also lay a light plate on top. If you have a jar with a glass lid and metal clamps, you can lay the glass lid on top and not use the clamps. Then leave the starter on the kitchen counter.

For the next two – three days, give your starter some extra attention. If you created your starter in the morning, the schedule would look like this:

  • 1st morning: Create starter
  • Before bed: Feed and stir well (same quantities/method as above)
  • 2nd morning: Feed again and stir well
  • Before bed: Feed again and stir well
  • 3rd morning: Feed and stir
  • Before bed: Stir only
  • 4th morning: Feed and stir
  • Before bed: Stir only
  • 5th morning: Feed and stir
  • Before bed: Stir only
  • And so on until about the 10th day

You should see bubbling and growth by the fifth through tenth day. After the fifth day, you may start to see the starter outgrowing it’s jar. At this point, you can either discard the “extra” or you may want to create a discard jar and save it for other uses. I’ll talk more about discards in the next post.

In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions either here or on my Instagram. I love to help!

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