I’ve tried a few sourdough bread starters over the years but this one has been the easiest to start and produces a great sourdough bread. The only reason I’m starting it again is that I managed to kill my last one. As it turns out, sourdough starters that contain dairy don’t like to be left out of the fridge long term.
This recipe is from one of our favourite bread books – Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible. It’s definitely in the “if you only buy one…” category.
2 cups of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast or fresh yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup of plain yoghurt
2 cups of bread flour
Feed for the starter
1/4 cup of water
1/3 cup of bread flour
You’ll need a medium sized glass bowl with a loose-fitting glass lid (or gladwrap is fine). Pour the warm water into the bowl and sprinkle the yeast, sugar and milk powder over the surface. Stir with a whisk until dissolved then stir in the flour and mix until well blended.
Loosely cover with a glass lid, gladwrap or a double layer of cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature for at least 48 hours, whisking the mixture twice a day. You can leave it for up to four days, depending on how sour you want the starter to be. The mixture will start to ferment and bubble with a clear liquid forming on top – just stir that back in.
On day two to four (depending on when you want to stop) it’s time to feed the starter. Mix in 1/4 cup of water and 1/3 cup of bread flour, cover again and let it stand overnight. Store it in the fridge, loosely covered and feed it again every two weeks.
Using the starter
Bring it to room temperature before using. Remove the amount of starter you need then add one cup of flour and 1/2 cup of non-fat milk to the remaining starter. Mix well and let stand at room temperature for a day to start fermenting again, then refrigerate. I’ve found that if you are using and replacing the starter regularly (once a week or more) you don’t need to feed it as well, unless you want to grow the starter to the point you can split it in half and give some away to another keen baker.
The starter will improve with age (my last one was nearly a year old when I killed it). It should smell of pleasant fermentation – yeast and alcohol. If it starts to smell foul or develops a pink colour it has probably succumbed to an airborne pathogen – discard it immediately and start again.
It helps to leave yourself a note for the first few days’ activities so you don’t have to keep diving back to the recipe.