In our quest to eat more healthily, I’ve decided to try making—and sustaining—sourdough starter. Again. This time, hopefully successfully. We’ve found that Jon’s stomach seems to be able to handle some homemade glutenous goodies, such as his tomato-basil bread. So we thought sourdough might also work because it’s fermented, and that’s supposed to be good for the gut.
I have learned A LOT since my first try at sourdough starter, which was a complete disaster. No exaggeration. I read up on a bunch of tips and tricks today, and basically I did everything wrong the first time.
My past mistakes:
- I didn’t feed the starter. Like at all. For a week. I’m sorry! I just didn’t know! Whatever website I read didn’t say anything about feeding it every day. I think the writers assumed readers had a general sense of what they were doing. I definitely did not.
- I kept my starter in a warm place. This is okay if you’re going to feed your starter like someone who knows what they’re doing. But if you keep your starter in a warm location, you might have to feed it more often because the warmth will make it grow faster. Again, I did not know this. I am a terrible starter caregiver. I gave no care.
- My starter had no airflow. I kept it in a cupboard, thinking I’d be saving it from airborne things that would be bad for it, but it turns out starters need air. I basically starved and suffocated this thing.
- I didn’t check on my starter daily. If I had fed it every day, I would have been checking on it. But I looked at it every two or three days, and the first check had me feeling confident. There was definitely bubbling and a nice sour funk to it. By day eight or so, I had nasty gray pools of alcohol (I think) at the top and it smelled like cheese. Which is bad, I’ve learned.
After we determined that our starter was a total loss, Jon and I bagged it up in a grocery bag and tossed it in our trash bin. Where it promptly exploded. We sprayed the bin and cleaned it out as much as we could. Nevertheless, I felt terrible for the sanitation workers who encountered the remnants of that mess. This experience had me a bit nervous to try a starter again anytime soon. But here we are.
I used three different websites to gather all the information I felt I needed. It was weird because it seemed to me that each website was missing some small piece of information: One blogger, whose post I really liked, used a scale, and I don’t have a food scale. Another blogger, whom I also liked especially because she had failed a couple of times with her starter (I definitely sympathized), didn’t talk about how tight she kept the lid on the jar she used. She also used only a quarter cup each of flour and water. The third site I found seemed to give lots of great information, and she used a cup each of flour and water. I wanted more starter (go big or go home?), so I mostly used her instructions.
The third site mentioned using filtered water to avoid chlorine affecting the yeast’s growth, so after almost adding my flour to some very chlorinated tap water, I swapped it out for delicious Brita water. (I watered a couple of plants with the tap water, so woohoo for doing chores and baking.)
So that was it! Now I just needed to loosely cover it and not abandon it this time. I knew we had a big piece of cheesecloth because we had used some recently. What I didn’t know was that Jon had cut the piece we used from the MIDDLE of the square. Like . . . I . . . What??!
Well then. Thankfully, Jon has more cheesecloth for brewing, so I nabbed a piece to fit over the bowl. I also decided to kind of drape the horribly cut cheesecloth overtop the first layer, just in case. You might think I’m being paranoid about my starter. And you’d be 100 percent correct.
I’m leaving this one in our dining room. It’s not too warm in there, and it’s not a cupboard, so I think I’m already doing a thousand times better than last time. I’m also setting an alarm on my phone so I remember to feed it. All I want are delicious sourdough English muffins. So we’ll see how we do this week.