Sourdough Starter Culture Basics
Guest Author: Leah Hutchinson of Living Sourdough
A friend has kindly gifted you some sourdough starter, hooray! Or you bought some online, or you came home with a jar from my sourdough workshop.
But now what do you do??
Let me take you through some starter culture basics.
What is ‘starter’?
It’s a living colony of good bacteria and wild yeasts. It causes sourdough breads to rise and gives sourdough that characteristic flavour, nutrition and digestibility. Starter is made by simply fermenting flour and water. If you’d like to make your own, for fun and science, check out my ‘Living Sourdough’ Facebook page for a free day-by-day video guide and instructions.
How do I keep it alive?
Think of your starter like a little pet- not a dog, more like a goldfish...maybe even a houseplant? It needs to be fed the right thing, in the right quantity, at the right time and it will be active and healthy.
What do I feed it?
Your living colony’s food source is any unbleached flour. All Australian flour is unbleached so any of our flours will be fine. Organic, stone-ground wholegrain rye, spelt, heritage wholemeal, khorasan, emmer or white baker's flour, whatever flour you prefer will work in a starter.
But I usually advise beginners to stick with roller milled white baker’s flour at first. It’s easiest to work with; use it to feed your starter and also to make dough.
How much do I feed it?
Feed the amount of starter you have with an equal weight of flour and water. You want to have enough starter for what your recipe requires, with a bit left over for next time.
Here’s an easy example: if your recipe asks for 100g of starter, you’ll feed 50g of starter with 50g of water and 50g flour. You’ll use 100g in the recipe and have 50g leftover, which you keep to feed up next time, and so the cycle continues.
How often do I feed it?
You can either keep your starter in a lidded jar on the kitchen bench and feed it every day or in the fridge and feed it once a week (phew, much easier).
Now, what do I do with it?
There are thousands of ways to make a loaf of sourdough bread, which can make it a bit daunting.
As a first step, why not ease into the world of sourdough by using your starter to make sourdough crackers instead? Super easy and delicious and no bread-making skills required. These crackers keep extremely well in an airtight container in the cupboard, but also tend to be ‘more-ish’ so be prepared to make a few batches.
1 cup sourdough starter (does not need to be freshly fed)
1 cup flour
¼ cup vegetable oil (or butter, or your fat of choice)
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together to make a soft dough.
Rip off two pieces of baking paper to line two baking trays.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on the baking paper to a few millimetres thickness. Use a knife or a pizza/pastry cutter to trim the edges and cut the dough into squares, maybe 2cm x 4cm (cracker-size).
Bake for 15 minutes or so until lightly browned and crisping up. Check every 5 minutes that the edges aren’t burning and rotate the trays in your oven if needed. Cool on a rack.
Leah’s Hot Tips for Extra Tasty Crackers!
- Add a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds, nigella seeds, chopped fresh rosemary, cracked pepper or whatever flavours you usually like in crackers.
Mix straight into the dough.
- Fermenting the cracker dough (leaving it, covered) for a day on the bench or a week in the fridge before rolling it out adds flavour and makes it convenient to make fresh crackers whenever you like.
Founder - Living Sourdough
Leah Hutchinson is a sourdough obsessive who makes around 100 loaves a week. Her micro-business ‘Living Sourdough’ runs hands-on beginner and advanced sourdough workshops all over South East Queensland. Leah loves setting people up for a ‘lifetime of real bread’.