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How to Make a Sourdough Starter: Day Six

Now we’re in business!  I woke up this morning to find that my starter had fully doubled in size and it’s really starting to smell pleasantly sour.  I fed it in the morning and watched it grow throughout the day.  I expect it to be fully doubled again by the time I feed it this evening.  That’s a good sign.  We’re getting close.

Now that my starter is becoming more active, I think I can safely say that I’ll be able to bake bread in a couple of days.  I want to continue the twice daily feedings through tomorrow (day seven) to help strengthen the starter and develop the flavor a bit more.  I’ll plan on baking bread on Friday (day eight) and document the process here for you.

So, it looks like the full culturing process will take exactly one week.  Things might be moving faster for some of you and that’s great.  There are lots and lots of sourdough recipes available online if you are ready to start experimenting.

Once you have a starter that is regularly doubling in size after feedings, you can move it to the refrigerator and slow down the feeding schedule to once a week.  To do this, feed your starter as normal and put it in the refrigerator immediately.  You don’t need to wait for it to bubble and rise.  When you are ready to bake with it again, take it out of the fridge, feed it as normal, and wait for it to bubble and rise a bit before proceeding with the recipe (this is for recipes calling for “fed” starter).  For bread, It’s actually best if you take it out of the fridge a day before you would like to bake with it and feed it at least twice before using it.  For certain recipes, like pancakes, you can just use a cup of your starter right out of the fridge.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a couple of sourdough starters that I have using for years.  I’ll introduce them to you tomorrow, but I wanted to share the latest loaf of bread I made from one them.

This bread was by far the best sourdough I’ve ever made.  It is called Norwich Sourdough and the recipe/formula can be found at Wild Yeast.  Although the formula for this particular bread is more complicated and precise than what I’ll be writing about on Friday, I wanted to show you what can come out of a home oven with some practice and a few basic supplies.  Anyone can make bakery-quality sourdough bread at home.

Health Benefits of Sourdough

Those of you who have been following my blog may be wondering what happened with all the dietary changes I made a while back to help with my hypoglycemia.  I was on a very low carb diet and cut out all grains, sweets, alcohol, and caffeine for a few months.  I did very well on this regimen – I lost weight that I have kept off and most of my symptoms are now under control.  I slowly started adding things back into my diet and for the most part I’m feeling good most of the time (a huge improvement).  I still have more weight to lose, but I’ve decided that for now I’m happy maintaining my current weight without dieting and I’m mainly focusing on controlling the hypoglycemia and feeling good.  I’ll get serious about weight loss again after the holidays.

One thing I’ve noticed while experimenting with adding different foods back into my diet is that homemade sourdough bread (even white sourdough) seems to affect my blood sugar much less than other breads.  I can eat a couple slices of sourdough french toast at breakfast (paired with a bit of protein) and I feel really good for a few hours.  This would not be the case if I did the same thing with whole wheat bread.  Whole grain sourdough seems to be even better – the whole spelt sourdough pancakes I made the other day kept me feeling good all morning.  Of course we’re all different, so I can only speak from my own experience.

I think one of the reasons that I’ve been okay eating sourdough bread is that it has a lower glycemic index than other breads.  During the fermentation process, the bacteria feed on the starch (sugars) from the grain resulting in a bread with fewer carbohydrates.  I’m not a scientist and I am really oversimplifying this, but lots of beneficial things happen during the fermentation process.  The end result is a bread that is easier to digest.  The fermentation process also helps to break down phytic acid, an anti-nutrient present in grains, beans, and seeds that prevents us from absorbing certain minerals.  So if you make and eat whole grain sourdough bread, your body should actually be able to absorb those minerals from the whole grain better than from homemade whole grain bread that is made with commercial yeast.

If you’d like to learn more about the health benefits of sourdough bread, here are some links with basic information:

For me, eating sourdough bread has never been about health.  It’s been my favorite type of bread for as long as I can remember because I just love the flavor.  The health benefits are just an added bonus.

Want to create your own sourdough starter?

Here are the instructions (click on the links for photos):

Day One: In a small bowl, mix one cup of whole wheat or whole rye flour with 3/4 cup (6 oz) canned pineapple juice (at room temperature) until all of the flour is hydrated.  Scrape mixture into a quart-size wide mouth glass container, such as a jar or glass measuring cup.  Mark the level of the starter with a piece of tape or rubber band. Cover the container with a paper towel, cheesecloth, or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Two: You probably won’t notice much change at this point.  Scrape the contents of the jar into a mixing bowl and add 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose or unbleached bread flour plus 1/2 cup pineapple juice (make sure juice is room temperature).  Mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed.  Wash and dry your glass container and scrape the mixture into the container.  Mark and cover the container just like day one.  Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Three: You may notice some activity at this point.  The mixture may have risen some and there might be bubbles.  Regardless of whether you notice any fermentation or not, discard half of the mixture (or give it to a friend to cultivate), and mix the remaining half with 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose or bread flour and 1/2 cup filtered water (make sure water is room temperature).  Wash and dry your container and scrape the mixture into the container.  Mark and cover as before.  Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day Four: The mixture should have at least doubled in size at this point.  If it seems to be sluggish and hasn’t doubled in size, allow it to sit at room temperature for another 12 to 24 hours.  Otherwise, repeat instructions for Day three.

Day Five: Feed the starter (repeating day three instructions) first thing in the morning and then again in the evening (about 12 hours apart).

Day Six: If your starter has been very active and always doubles in size (or more) between feedings, then your starter is ready to bake with.  You may also choose to refrigerate your starter at this point and slow down the feedings to once a week.  If you’d like to bake some bread, here is a basic sourdough bread recipe to get you started.  If your starter still seems a little sluggish, continue with the twice daily feedings as above.

Day Seven: Same as above.

If you’d like to play along, I’d love to hear about it.  Please feel free to share photos of your sourdough starter experiments on the Pinch My Salt Facebook page.  If you’re a blogger and decide to write about the process, please share your links with me so that I can share them with others.