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Sourdough Basics

If you're a sourdough newbie, this post is for you! Also if you're like me when I started, some of this sourdough information makes your brain swirl. Let's make it simple.

So first, let's talk about what a sourdough starter is. A sourdough starter is a combination of flour and water that is fermented. It is alive with little microbes that "eat" the starches in the flour. So, when you "feed your starter," you are adding flour and water to the starter. As the little microbes "eat" the flour, they give off gases, which cause bubbles. These bubbles cause the starter to rise in your jar. These little bubbles are also what causes your bread dough to rise!

Okay, so what is the difference between commercial yeast (that you buy at the store) and sourdough? Well, basically the yeast you buy at the store is only one strain of microbe that causes your dough to rise. In contrast, your sourdough starter is composed of multiple strains. "They" say making your own sourdough starter is easy. I could never make it work, but here's what you would do: just mix some flour and water in a jar and let it sit out at room temperature until it ferments (bubbles and rises up the side of the jar).

Most recipes will tell you to use active starter when you mix your dough. "Active starter" means that you have fed your starter with flour and water and the starter has risen up the side of the jar. Tip: to help you see if your starter is rising, put a rubber band around the jar at the level of the starter. Then you'll be able to see if your starter is rising.

On the left is a picture of what my starter looks like when I've just fed it. In the middle is a picture of the starter after it has risen up the side of the glass. And on the right is what it looks like from the top down. See those nice bubbles?

Alright, one of the first questions I had when my friend handed me a jar of starter was, "Now what? How do I not kill this thing?" Here's the truth: you can't really kill a sourdough starter. As long as it doesn't have mold in it, you can save it! One time I completely neglected my starter in the fridge for 6 months; I didn't feed it or even look at it (thanks, pregnancy sickness!). But guess what, even that didn't kill it. Admittedly, it took some work to return it to its normal beautifully active state (I'll write a post on that later), but it didn't die!

So the first thing you do when you receive a starter is this: throw that baby in the fridge and don't worry about it until you're ready to bake with it! And guess what? I have the perfect beginner sourdough recipe linked here. For real, this recipe will tell you exactly what to do starting with taking that jar of starter out of the fridge.

What else do you want to know about sourdough? Leave me a comment below and I'll try to answer whatever questions you have!


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