How to Make a Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter: A Quarantine Adventure (Part 1)

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I know a lot of us have taken to doing more baking during this time of coronavirus lockdown, and I think that’s great! What better time to get a little bit more adventurous in the kitchen? Personally, I’ve taken to trying to get better at making homemade bread, specifically the baguette. I’m getting really close! Here’s a clip of my latest attempt:

But baguettes generally require yeast, and we’re really trying to cut down our trips to the grocery store. As my chef dad pointed out, humans have been making bread for thousands of years, and the ancients certainly did not have access to prepackaged active yeast.

So.

Why not try and make bread using natural yeast? Many of us have the time, and from what I’ve read, the flavor is well worth the effort. In fact, it seems that many people are using their quarantine days to cultivate sourdough starters and bake their own loaves.

I chose to go the whole wheat route simply because we have a ton of whole wheat flour on hand, and I don’t know that I’ll actually use it for something else, so, whole wheat sourdough it is!

The Process

I’m using ChefSteps’s article on how to make a sourdough starter as my guide. As a general disclaimer, I’ve only completed the first feeding this morning, so I’m not 100% guaranteed to succeed here. This is an experiment, and I wanted to present my whole process, struggles and all, to you guys. That being said, don’t take my experience as the only way or the best way. I encourage you to try it for yourself!

So far, cultivating our starter, which I’ve named Ray Brewdbury (because he smells like beer, and because Fahrenheit 451 is required reading) has been a very cool kitchen science experience. You’re literally growing a living thing! It’s like a pet, a pet that will one day give you the gift of delicious sourdough. I can’t think of a more perfect relationship.

It should be mentioned that the starter will take regular work and attention. You’ll have to feed it regularly and keep an eye on its progression. It will also take time (like five days at the absolute minimum) to get it to the point where you’re ready to bake with it. So if you’re hesitant, feel free to follow along with me before deciding if you want to take on the commitment.

Day 1

I followed the ChefSteps instructions exactly. The guide indicates ingredient amounts in grams, so you’ll need a kitchen scale. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, it’s an inexpensive investment that will come in handy SO MANY TIMES if you bake. Can’t recommend it enough.

The instructions reference using a 1 liter jar, and the closest things I had to that volume were these 32 oz. glass carafes, so I used that.

You could probably use a slightly smaller jar, but this being my first time taking on this kind of project, I didn’t want to take any chances. On to step one: combine 150g of warm water and 150g of whatever flour you choose in the jar. Sir it up really well, and cover your container with a cloth. Let it sit for 24 hours.

There he is in the tall glass container secured with a ponytail holder. Just a young, yeasty boy.

I didn’t take many good pictures on day one, but as you can see, it’s just a goopy mixture of flour water. The instructions also contain good images to see what yours should look like.

Day 2

I was sure I failed on this day. I don’t have a picture because I was sure I messed up because according to the directions, your starter should have fine bubbles, and mine absolutely did not. In fact, it just seemed to have formed a layer of yellowish liquid and otherwise looked no different. Turns out, this is “hooch,” a byproduct of yeast. From what I’ve read, if you see hooch, it’s likely time to feed your starter. I know this now, but at the time, I left it alone as the instructions also indicate that you may not see bubbles for 48 hours.

Day 3

This brings us today, and hurray, there were bubbles!

You can still see a small layer of hooch on the bottom.

This means it was time to feed! So I followed the recommended steps and discarded all but 50g of Ray Brewdbury. At this point he smelled like bread dough and beer. I’d bottle it if I could.

Next, you mix in 100g of the same flour you used in the beginning with 100g of warm water with your remaining starter. I used a new jug, but that was more for convenience sake than anything else, and ChefSteps doesn’t seem to think that using a clean container after each feeding is necessary.

Our boy after his first feed.
All tucked in for another 24 hours.

And that’s it for today! I’ll check in tomorrow and see if he’s ready for another feeding. I’ll continue to feed for the next five days, and we’ll see where we are then. I’d like to feed for a week before attempting a sourdough with it, but we’ll see how it goes. Thanks for joining me on this adventure!

If you want to follow along/cultivate your own starter, let me know in the comments below! Also please, please let me know if I’m doing something wrong, or if you have any tips. I’m always looking for ways to improve! 🙂

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