Sourdough 101: Getting your starter started

I love sourdough. Wait, scratch that, I'm IN love with sourdough. I can't get enough of the stuff. There's just something about that chewy, soft, sour bready stuff that gets me every time. I don't know where or when my addiction began, but that's the San Francisco treat with a strong hold on me.


Now, get this. I've never made my own sourdough. Not since I was a kid, anyway, and my mom's friends passed around jars of "Friendship Bread" starter. I've baked a ton of other types of breads, from long-rising, multiple knead yeasty boules to quick breads and sweet breads and rolls and muffins and biscuits galore. But I always thought sourdough was too much of a challenge since nobody was handing me a jar of sourdough starter and I couldn't justify the expensive of ordering it online.

And then something really funny happened. I was reading through a bread machine baking book (because there's a bread machine in my vicinity now! What what!) and came across their sourdough starter recipe. It even had a whole wheat sourdough option. It looked easy enough, so I tweaked it a bit and went for it. And now I'm convinced that you should too!

There are only 2 things you need to know about making this starter (well, aside from what's in it).
1. You have to be patient. You'll need to wait at least 3-4 days after mixing your starter before you can bake your first loaf of sourdough.
2. You can't go and forget about it. Like a houseplant that needs watering, a sourdough starter must be either used or "fed" every 7 to 10 days. I'll get into that more in my next sourdough post.

First things first, let's get this starter started!

That jar was WAY too small. Choose one at least 48oz in volume!
 Sourdough Starter

Hardware
Glass jar at least twice the volume of your mix
Wooden or plastic spoon (not metal!)
Cheese cloth, wax paper or plastic wrap
2 Rubber bands

Software
2 cups unbleached bread flour OR 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat)
2 Tbsp agave nectar (or honey, if you're into it)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
2 cups very warm (105-115°F) water

You'll want a wide mouth glass jar for your starter. It needs to be large enough for the starter to double in volume, so choose wisely. You may be able to recycle something from your kitchen, like an old tomato sauce jar, but look for something at least 48 ounces for this baby. If you need to buy a jar, check your local thrift store for large Mason jars.

Combine bread, agave and yeast in your glass jar. Pour in water a little at a time, mixing with non-metal spoon until just combined. Cover container with cheesecloth, wax paper or vented plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band. Find a nice warm (80-85°F), dark place for your starter to live and grow, like an unused corner of your kitchen that is not on an outside wall.

You may also want to place a second rubber band around the body of the jar, level with the top of the flour mixture. This will come in handy later, because this is what it'll look like in under an hour!


Once it looks like this, stir it down with a wooden spoon and then allow to rest. Stir 1-2 times per day for three days. I'll check back with you in three days to let you know how my starter is doing!

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