There are few things better in this world than fresh sourdough bread with a little melted butter, IMO. On a low-FODMAP diet, sourdough or gluten-free breads are your only options, which is just fine with me! I have found that commercial varieties of sourdough are hit-and-miss as some breads are just flavoured with vinager to achieve a sour taste, since it is faster than the traditional fermenting which takes about 8 hours. I believe this is the case for “Sourdough” English Muffins from Franz, for example, as they set my stomach off faster than almost anything else I can think of (but my homemade sourdough english muffins don’t). It is the long fermenting process that allows IBS sufferers to enjoy glutenous breads without side-effects. So, to be safe, buy your bread from small, local bakeries where you can ask about the process, OR make your own!!!
Sourdough is probably one of the trickier breads to make, but once you work out the process, it can become very routine. In fact, now that I have it figured out, I find it even easier than breads made with commercial yeasts since sourdough is no-knead! The tricky bit comes from having an active, healthy starter. It took me three months to finally start producing bakery-quality bread, and it all came down to mistakes I was making with my starter. I will walk you through the steps of caring for your starter, and at the end of the article, I have included my top tips that I learned the hard way. Please feel free to leave comments about your starter experiences! I’d love to help you trouble shoot, and I’d love to hear if you have a different method than mine!
There are three ways you can get your own starter:
- Buy starter and follow instructions in kit
- Get some starter from a friend – either active, or dried flakes
- Capture your own yeast and bacteria
No matter how you obtain your starter, care is the same once it’s established:
Step one: Measure out 100 grams of organic, unbleached flour with 100 grams distilled water at room temperature. Mix together.
Step two: If you have flakes, stir flakes into mix and cover with cheese cloth. If you have active starter, mix in 100 grams of the active starter into the flour/water mix and cover with cheese cloth. If you are trying to catch your own, leave the flour and water mix uncovered for 12 hours and don’t start the feeding routine for 48 hours*.
Step three: Within 24 hours, repeat step one. Remove 100 grams of the mix from step two and combine with the new flour/water mix. This is called ‘feeding’ the starter.
Step four: Continue to repeat step three until the starter, when left at room temperature, quadruples (approximately) in volume at some point during the 24 hours of rest. You may not see it at its height, but you’ll see track marks where it receded after reaching the peek of its activity. Mark the highest point of the activity, so you know in future how active it is… as you always use the same weights it should always get to around the same volume.
Step five: Once it is reliably active, you can store it in the fridge and feed it, following step three, once per week. If you plan to use it more than once per week, store it at room temperature and feed it daily. If you store it in the fridge, take it out at least 36 hours before you need it and feed it at least twice before using it in your recipe.
*If, after a couple feedings, your starter does not show any activity, leave the cheesecloth off again for one night. You can also try leaving it uncovered by an open window. It may take several tries, don’t give up!
Top tips for success:
- Always use distilled or filtered water with no chlorine
- Your water should be room temperature, or slightly warmer
- Use organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
- Use a kitchen scale for accuracy
- Do the float test to see whether your starter is ready to go: Once your starter reaches what looks like full activation, drop a small spoonful of it into a cup of water. If it floats, it’s ready to go. If it doesn’t float, you made need to feed it again before using it.
- When you are first cultivating your starter, I recommend storing it on the counter and feeding it daily on a schedule for at least a week. This way, you will get to know how your starter works. Putting it in the fridge slows the activity, so you would not get a good idea of how your starter will work when it is in a recipe at room temperature.
- I have noticed that feeding twice in one day makes my starter incredibly active. So, when I am ready to bake, I feed once in the morning, then again as soon as it’s at the height of activity. Then I watch again for activity – usually this is higher than the mark I discussed making in step four (make another mark so you know your starter’s full potential). I use it in my recipe, only once it has reached peak activity for the second time.
- I usually mix the active starter into my recipe just before bed so it can bulk ferment over-night on the counter.
- Treat your starter like it’s a pet… after all, it is alive and needs daily feedings (some people even go so far as to name their starter!)