Sourdough bread would have to be my favourite. If it were available to me, I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the cost of it can be inhibiting, along with the fact that it doesn’t have any preservatives in the ingredient list; making its shelf life shortened, when compared to the other breads I’ve made.
I had in past years attempted to make my own sourdough, however the need to feed the starter every day for a minimum of 14 days prior to any attempts at bread, had left me with nothing more than a putrid jar of goo, nothing ever suitable for baking with.
It wasn’t until my dad was recently diagnosed as diabetic that I tried to make my own sourdough again. Sourdough is considered to be a better bread to be consumed by diabetics, when compared to the normal off the shelf supermarket options. But again and again, I failed miserably at my attempts to start a sourdough culture. I’ve learned now that when making a sourdough starter, there are no shortcuts, precision is necessary and YouTube is both my friend and my enemy.
Fail Fail Fail
Attempt 1: Flour and Water
Initially I tried a starter recipe I had seen online, measuring out one part of plain flour to one part of tap water. Repeated every day for four days, before voila, a sourdough starter strong enough to bake with. FAIL… I’ve since learned that no sourdough is strong enough in four days to bake with, and in this case, nothing came about within four days, let alone the few more I gave it.
Attempt 2: Starchy Water
My second attempt was from online again, using the water reserved from boiled potatoes, I added it to plain flour along with some other ingredients and left it for four days. This time I did have the froth I was promised, but again a few days later the starter died, this time a nasty smell like nail polish permeated from the jar. Fail!
Attempt 3: Pineapple Juice
My next attempt I tried to using pineapple juice and some Thermomix milled wheat grains. Using the knowledge (or lack of) I had gained from my previous fails, I attempted to modify the process slightly, almost winging it, in an attempt to combine a few of the things that had seemed to work in other online forums and videos. FAIL!
Attempt 4: Daily Tutorials
Determined not to give up, I trawled YouTube. Watching video after video. Eventually I came across one where an instructor tested three different methods of creating a starter. Documenting the progress, as well as describing the look and smell of the starter.
Watching a day by day breakdown in a short five minute movie meant I could copy the steps taken. As the instructor was not only building on her starter, she was also comparing the smells and look of the starter, giving out advice at the same time. I was finding my starter was looking stronger and surviving beyond the period of time others had failed. In fact, I had managed to get my starter to survive a full fourteen days, which tends to be the line in the sand where a starter is usually strong enough to be baked with.
Why The Failures?
So where did I fail previously? The errors I had made were apparently the same that most other amateurs make when attempting their own starter, the following are a list of things I found that were either the reason I failed previously, or helped get my last starter over the line.
The Internet Doesn’t Lie!
Yes, the internet can lie. Despite what some instructorials online suggest, four days is not long enough for a starter to be strong enough to bake with. In fact the first four days the bubbling seen in the starter is not yeast, but another bacteria fighting the yeast for dominance. It’s not until the other bacteria dies out, that the yeast takes over and a starter has begun to build.
Measurements are Crucial
Apparently measurements are crucial, going by eye to measure will create a starter which is not balanced correctly (or so I am told). Measuring cups are also not recommended. Instead scales give a precise measurement to ensure the same amount of liquid vs flour is used.
No Froth Equals Death
Initially there are multiple types of bacteria in the starter, which creates a lot of froth and bubbles. This competing bacteria dies down once the acidity increases, giving the yeast dominance and for a short while the froth and bubbles will disappear. Many people including myself give up at this point thinking they have killed their starter, however continuing on feeding daily will result in a starter (or so I’m told).
Filtered or Bottled Water
Chlorinated water and other types of tap water will kill the bacteria in the starter, so using filtered or bottle water is necessary. Previously I had used our fridge filtered water, but as I was determined to have a no fail starter in my last attempt, so I purchased cheap bottled water.
Maturing Starter Gets Hungry
As the starter gets more mature, it also starts to get hungrier and needs more frequent feeding or, fed larger amounts. In the instructional videos I watched, from day ten onward, the instructor discarded more than the regular half most others recommend. By using only a generous 1 to 2 tablespoons of starter and feeding a greater amount of flour and water.
Why Success Now?
Overall I cannot put my failures down to one specific thing, the combination of being in too much of a hurry, winging it with measurements, and underfeeding led to my previous failed attempts at making a starter. The daily update and description on a tutorial video, helped me get across the line and am now baking my own sourdough.
How to make your own sourdough starter – day by day
This video was essential to getting my latest starter over the line and to the point of baking.
This page provided me with a great page to ask questions and test out theories.
The Fresh Loaf
This website has some great information in its blogs, forums as well as recipes to try.