These are the questions I am asked most frequently.
It sounds like really hard work, I’m not sure I can be bothered. Is it worth it?
Making sourdough is as easy or complicated as you want it to be. The principles are the same whether you making one loaf a week or one loaf a day. Your starter’s behaviour will depend on the feeding cycle and the environment it is stored in. Generally speaking I make one or two loaves a week. It takes me around 24 hours from starting off the loaf to taking it out of the oven. Each time I feed my starter I use bread flour or plain flour and I discard around 50%. This cycle works for me but yours might be different.
I think my starter is dead. What should I do?
Sourdough starter is pretty resilient so try discarding half and then feeding it with a couple of teaspoons of water and flour (too much can overwhelm it)and leaving for a few hours. If there are no signs of life it might be dead and you will need to create a new one. Its always a good idea to have a back up stashed away dried or in the freezer somewhere just in case this happens.
What’s special about sourdough from San Francisco?
It was originally thought that a particular strain of bacteria in San Franciscan dough could only be found there (its still called L. sanfranciscensis). Scientists later realised it can be found all over the world. Sourdough is actually one of the oldest types of bread and dates back to ancient Egypt. You could invest in a starter from San Francisco but as soon as you start feeding, it will become a product of the naturally-occurring yeasts in your location.
I’m bored of loaves, what else can I make?
You can make sourdough versions of most recipes – there are loads of recipes online. My favourites are sourdough muffins, sourdough bagels and sourdough pizza. You can also use sourdough starter in cakes.
Does it matter what flour I use to replenish the starter?
No. You can use any flour as long as it is from a grain. Whatever flour you use will impact the product you make with it. I normally use plain flour to feed mine. I might use strong white bread flour on the last feed before making a loaf.
Where should I store the starter?
If you always need an active starter, store the starter at an ambient temperature so it peaks a few hours later. If you’re more of an occasional baker, store the starter in the fridge and feed it a couple of cycles at ambient temperature to it bubbling again.
How do I know my starter is ready to use?
Each starter is unique with its own mix of yeasts and bacteria. Once the starter is established, you’ll notice the level in the jar rises as the starter gets more active after each feed. Try to use the starter at its “peak” (mark the jar if that helps) unless your recipe suggests otherwise.
What should I do with excess starter?
If you’ve got too much starter and aren’t sure what to do with it, try using it instead of flour in any recipe. Flatbreads, American pancakes, pizza and banana bread are all quick and easy recipes that use up sourdough. If you really can’t face anymore cooking, toss it onto the compost heap rather than throwing it away.