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Sourdough Chronicles: Making A Starter

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Wonderful things happen when you allow yourself to be vulnerable. When sourdough-starter buddies Lynnette Johns and Karima Brown documented their journey every step of the way, they took the Lockdown Recipe Storytelling Book (LRSB) group along for the ride. Everyone cheered them on, living vicariously through their mistakes and triumphs.

“After the world had gone into Covid-19 lockdown, millions took to baking at home, and making your own sourdough bread became a global trend. Sourdough bread originated in ancient Egypt and is African excellence at its best. Bread ninja Karima Brown and I also baked our own sourdough bread,” Lynnette Johns shared.

“I started on a Monday, making a starter from cake flour. It turned out to be an overachiever. On the Tuesday, I made one from bread fl our, but it was very slow. I put it down to the cold weather. Even though the cake-fl our and bread-fl our starters were both warmly dressed and lived in a small cardboard box, the ‘bread’ one simply would not thrive. Perhaps a little action

from a blow-dryer would work?”

Karima made the same mistake of using cake flour instead of bread flour and also ended up with two starters. “I have the same result. I’m calling mine Mother One and Mother Two!”

she posted.

Surita Riffel, who is well-known for her bread workshops, offered helpful advice: “I made my starter with one cup bread flour and half a cup tepid water. It was ready after seven days.

I also have two other starters named Babuschka and Miss Molly; one has been made from rye flour and the other from bread fl our. I keep them in the fridge.”

You need a sourdough starter if you want to bake delicious artisanal bread without using yeast. Take note – it’s a process that calls for dedication and patience. Karima decided to attempt baking the perfect ciabatta before attempting a sourdough starter. After fi ve attempts, she was finally happy with her ciabatta.

“Only then did I give myself permission to make my own starter and bake a sourdough.” It was a learning process and Karima asked Surita about discarding some of her starter – when and how much.

Surita advised, “I weigh out about 115 grams every time I feed mine and discard the rest. The starter is ready when you can see bubbles and notice a sour smell, and it has almost doubled in volume. Don’t be too hasty. Continue the feeding process and it will happen.”

(Feeding a starter with flour and water keeps it alive, but it also makes it grow bigger and bigger. If you don’t discard some of it, you will end up with much more than you’d ever need.)

A few days and many questions later, Karima’s starter was ready and added to the dough: “To report back to my sourdough starter buddy Lynnette, I mixed my dough with the starter and the required water and salt. It is now covered with a cloth and left to rest overnight. The dough is supposed to double in size. Thereafter, it’s all in the technique –folding, pulling and stretching.”

When it comes to the stretching and folding process, no kneading is required. It’s quite an intense process. Without yeast, the dough forms gluten, which calls for some elbow grease to kneed. Karima was is a little out of breath by the end. It was hard work.

The day finally arrived for Karima to reveal her results and she posted in the group: “Ta-da! My very first sourdough made from scratch, with my own hands, with my own starter. A bread with absolutely no yeast in it – no sugar, no milk, no additives.

“Nothing. Just flour, water and salt… and time and loads of love. Lynnette, I am one proud mamma; beyond happy. Thank you to everyone who reassured me. Surita and Lynnette, you were both so helpful. Lynette, I can’t wait to see what your cake starter conjures up for you.” 

I cheered her on, “You’ve been such an inspiration on this journey. I’m so happy for you. Can you believe it’s your first sourdough? I have to give my starter a few more days. I don’t think I discarded enough often enough.”

But the next day I realised why discarding some of your starter baby is important. I posted: “Karima, I understand now. I understand what discarding does. It gives what remains more access to food. Better late than never, that’s me. I’m going to do a good discard. A feed. Measure. Float test.”

Karima’s response? “We are learning. I am loving our journey, starter buddy. Ons is mos meisies van die Plein.”

Karima’s sourdough starter tips

Mix 60 gram white bread flour and 60 gram water in a glass or plastic jar (I use a big glass jam jar) and cover with a cloth. Muslin is great, but a kitchen towel will do.

Mix in 60 gram flour and 60 gram water every day, preferably at the same time (morning or evening). This is called feeding your starter. Do it for about a week until the starter starts to bubble and looks alive. In winter, it may take 10 days.

When the jar becomes too full, throw out half the starter and keep feeding the starter in the jar. It’s a good idea to throw out some of the starter from time to time, as the starter can get a bit heavy.

A great trick is to put a rubber band around the jar to mark the level of the sourdough once you have fed it. It should almost double in size (depending how much you have in the jar).

When the starter starts to bubble and looks as if it’s alive, it should be ready to use. To test it, drop a teaspoonful of starter in a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to use.

Keeping your starter going

If you are using the starter regularly, it has to be fed once a day with 60 gram water and 60 gram flour. Keep it in a glass or plastic jar covered with a cloth. If you put a lid on it, the jar could explode.

If you are not baking every day, keep your starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. If it’s been in the fridge, take the starter out the morning before of the day before you want to bake. Feed it and then feed it again the following morning. It will be ready to use that (second) evening. You can also freeze a starter for about three months.


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