Well, I did it. I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about, why everyone was going nuts for sourdough. My friend Sarah, whom I met through my Buy Nothing group, offered me some sourdough starter, and I was off and running.
And I have to admit, there is something really exciting about creating a beautiful loaf of bread with nothing but flour, water, and salt. After all, the starter is just flour and water that has fermented. I find myself feeling excited about getting up in the morning to see how much my starter has risen, examining the bubbles and smelling the tang. Magic!
And the thrill of pulling a loaf out of the oven and seeing how much it has risen, and what the design ends up looking like.
And of course, cutting into the loaf and admiring your handy work.
One of the things that made me nervous about sourdough was the idea of having to feed a starter every day, and then have a lot of discard to either throw away or have to use with sourdough discard recipes. That sounds like a lot of work!
But oh, the beautiful loaves of bread!
So I needed to figure out a way to be able to make sourdough bread and have a very low maintenance starter. VERY low maintenance starter. I played around with amounts of this or that, and finally came up with a great solution for me – a starter with NO discard that I can keep in my fridge, and don’t have to feed it! And it turns out that it’s already a thing. It’s called the “scrapings” method. Or at least that’s what Jack says. I really enjoy watching Jack’s videos, and highly recommend checking them out. Don’t get me wrong; I will sometimes purposefully make extra starter so that I have discard to make fun recipes with.
But it’s really the traditional artisanal loaves of sourdough I am excited about.
Okay, so are you ready? Let me preface what’s about to come with this: I am not an expert. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I just have come up with something that works for me. And my schedule. Maybe it will work for you too.
I use a 16 ounce wide mouth canning jar, straight up and down, no curves, to store my starter. And my starter is from 6 to 10 grams or so (between a teaspoon and a tablespoon) at any given time. Yep. that’s right. And I keep the jar in the fridge. Lately I’ve been making bread a couple of times a week, but I’m sure the starter can go longer in the fridge, like at least a week or two. And the jar with starter in it looks like this.
When you look at sourdough bread recipes, they can call for hundreds of grams of starter. So how do I go from six grams of starter to 300 grams of starter? It requires a bit of planning, but here is what I do. And this is for my latest favorite recipe. I take my jar of starter scrapings out of the fridge in the late afternoon or evening the day before I want to make my recipe.
I add 60 grams of room temperature filtered water and 60 grams of all-purpose flour.
And I mix it very well.
If I put 62 grams of water by accident, no big deal, I just put 62 grams of flour. It’s important that you put the same amount of flour and water. (And by “amount”, I mean weight. I strongly suggest measuring by weight. 60 grams of flour is about a half cup of flour, while 60 grams of water is about 1/4 cup of water, so it’s confusing. A kitchen scale will make all of this much easier, I promise.) I put a rubber band around the jar at the level of the starter (about 126 to 130 grams) so I can keep track of how much it rises. I put a lid on the jar, but just lightly, and leave it on my kitchen counter overnight.
The next morning it might look something like this, just about doubled in size.
Now I might want my starter to be a bit more vigorous, so I could wait until it has almost tripled in size, which might take a few more hours.
At this point, the starter will be bubbly all over, and will have a dome on top. This is perfect – ripe starter. It’s important to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go too far. When it has gone too far, the starter begins to collapse. No more dome. And every starter goes at its own pace, so mine might rise quicker than yours, or vice versa, and it also can depend on the temperature in your kitchen: warmer kitchen = quicker rise blah blah blah… so just keep an eye on it. You will have the best luck if you catch it somewhere between doubled and tripled in volume. Just doubled is fine too. You just want to see an increase in volume and bubbles. Lots of bubbles.
Now, remember that for my recipe, I need 300 grams of starter, and I only have 145 grams, so here is what I do next. I scoop out about 105 grams of starter into a larger container. I have a crock that I use, but you can also use a larger jar or two jars. My original jar has about 35 grams of starter left in it. I scrape out most of that into another jar labeled “discard”, or you can put it in your compost bin. So I have my original jar of starter that now just has the scrapings, about 6 to 10 grams. I put a lid tightly on it and keep it in the fridge. I also put the discard in the fridge for another use. Now back to the crock that has 105 grams of ripe starter in it. I add 105 grams of room temperature filtered water and 105 grams of all-purpose flour. I always like to have a little extra just in case.
I mix it up really well, and put a loose fitting lid on it. The proportions of ingredients in this starter are different than the first starter, because now we have equal amounts of starter, flour, and water. This will rise much quicker than the first starter, so it should become “ripe”… somewhere between doubled and tripled in size, in about six hours. Because I can’t see the levels really well in this crock, I measure with a tape measure to get a better idea of the rise. But that’s just me.
Now about six hours later.
So here’s the deal. You have 300 grams of ripe starter ready to go for your sourdough bread recipe – hooray! And you have your jar of scrapings in the fridge that you can pull out next time you need starter for another recipe. Any extra (discard) can just go in another jar in your fridge, until you have enough to make something interesting, like sourdough English muffins, or sourdough maple walnut bread, etc. Or you can just throw out the discard, which isn’t much at all using the scrapings method. When you feel ready, check out my Sourdough: Part 2! post for my latest favorite sourdough bread recipe.
What if I need more than 300 grams of starter? If you need more than 300 grams of starter, just adjust your amounts of flour and water. For example, you have a recipe that calls for 450 grams of starter. For your first starter build, when you are using your scrapings, add 80 grams of flour and 80 grams of water. You will end up with 160 grams of starter. Now you have enough for your second build: 160 grams of starter + 160 grams of flour + 160 grams of water = 480 grams of starter. And so on.
You might ask what the difference is between the starter in the fridge and the discard in the fridge. Well, there is no difference at all. Except that the starter is the thing that you keep, and the discard is what you throw out or use in discard recipes. Or you can give the discard to a friend, and now they can start making sourdough bread. You still have your jar of scrapings. If you want absolutely NO discard, just be precise with measuring. In other words, you start out with 6 to 10 grams of starter (your scrapings), and you add 52 grams of water and 52 grams of flour. When it is time to scoop out starter for your second build, you will have about 104 grams of starter to mix with 104 grams flour and 104 grams water. Are you following? You now have fresh scrapings – about 6 to 10 grams of starter – close jar with a tightly fitting lid and put back in the fridge. And you end up with 300 or so grams of starter for your recipe. I like to have some wiggle room, so the extra 12 grams means some of the starter gets stuck on the spatula and some gets stuck inside the crock, and I still have 300 grams for my recipe. Whew!
So, hopefully this has been helpful. In summary, to maintain your sourdough starter (get some from a friend… just a tablespoon!!), and make enough starter for a bread recipe, you will need a 16 ounce glass jar that is straight up and down (with a tight fitting lid that can also just be put on loosely), a larger container for building starter (or just use two jars, but for me that got tedious), a kitchen scale that has grams, and a one-piece spatula for easy clean up. And of course, flour and water!
- Choose a good quality all-purpose flour, and stick with it for consistent results. For bread baking, I love King Arthur flour, and I also love our local Cairnspring Mills flour.
- If you have containers but don’t have lids, no worries. You can always lightly cover the top of your containers with a cloth napkin while your starter is on your counter. For tightly fitted covering in the fridge, you can use plastic wrap and a rubber band.
- For easy clean up, be sure to put anything that you need to wash in cold water right away to soak, since when starter dries, it becomes like glue, and is difficult to wash off. Using warm or hot water will only make the starter more gluey, so definitely use cold water.
- Don’t put discard down your drain. If you have discard, get as much of it in the compost bin as possible. A bunch of flour and water going down your kitchen pipes is not a good idea… remember, it is like glue.
- You don’t have to wash your original starter jar very often, you know, the one with the scrapings. Just scrape everything down to the bottom of the jar and pop it back in the fridge with a tightly fitting lid. After a while, if you really really want to wash that jar, just transfer the scrapings to a new jar and wash the old one. Soak it in cold water first!
- It’s helpful to know the weight of your containers. Write it on a piece of tape and put it on the bottom of your container.
Update: 3/16/21: I have written a new post about sourdough starter, in case you do want to have discard, and it’s what I’m doing lately.