For every bread beginning there is a start. Here is a quick little overview of creating your own gluten-free sourdough starter
There is a lot at work in a sourdough start. People spend their entire careers developing their techniques and improving their process. There is plenty of great and incredibly detailed information available online for creating a sourdough start, so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming. I am not here to improve on anyone’s process. What I want is to provide you with the SIMPLEST, “you can do this” explanation possible for this process.
“There is so much confusion and misinformation surrounding the topic of making a sourdough culture that, even after more than a quarter of a century of working with sourdough, I find myself baffled and befuddled by much of what I read.” Bread: The Bakers Book of Techniques and Recipes – Jeffrey Hammelman
The Short List of How to Make Sourdough Start
STEP 1- Mix flour and water
STEP 2 – Wait 24 hours
STEP 3 – Add flour and water to part of yesterday’s mix
This is really the process, I am not kidding.
What is Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starter is simply a yeast fermentation. A wild sourdough starter, like we are creating, is a simple method used for centuries to help give rise and flavor to bread. The yeast feeds on sugars in the grains and excretes air bubbles during the process. This adds lift to bread while it is baking. Yeast gives sourdough bread the fluffy, lightness, the bubbly texture and the tangy taste and aroma.
A few words on ingredients for your starter.
Flours: Whether you are using wheat flour or gluten-free flours, you will want to ensure that you are using an unbleached flour, bleached flour is not be suitable for a sourdough start. A highly processed flour loses vital nutrients necessary to sustain a yeast culture. It is not necessary that your sourdough starter base match the flours that you are using to bake the bread. You can start with a rice flour and use wheat flour for the bread without any issue. You can also change what you feed the starter at any time. As long as you provide the proper nutrients and conditions, your yeast will thrive.
While researching gluten-free starters I found that many people recommended using a high protein gluten-free flour and a high starch flour for their starter. For high protein you can use sorghum, teff, quinoa or buckwheat. For the high starch you can use white rice, brown rice, sweet white rice or potato starch. I made my start with teff and brown rice flour and had very good results. It is not advised to use a gluten-free blend that contains xanthum gum. I did test this with one day’s discards and did not have good results. The starter fed with the xanthum gum flour was completely inactive the next day and I discarded it as proof of a theory tested.
Water: Using quality water is important to get your culture started. Do not use chlorinated or treated tap water, which will kill the yeast in your culture. Filtered or bottled water is fine. Also ensure that you use warm water to create a suitable environment for the yeast. Yeast is sensitive to temperature and if the water is too cold the yeast will be slow, or will not grow at all.
Sourdough starter begins by developing a culture of yeast, then feeding it regularly to keep the culture alive and active. Wild yeast (lactobacillus) are active in our environment and in flour, so developing a culture is not difficult to do. Yeast loves warm, moist environments. Once you mix warm water and flour together, you provide food and the perfect environment for wild yeast to thrive. After just 24 hours you should see signs of activity in your culture. Over the next few days you will feed and foster this little colony. For the first week or so you will need to keep the yeast at a comfortable room temperature and give it adequate nutrients to continue to grow. After a week to ten days, judged by its activity, your starter will be ready to use in recipes. Over time your starter will continue to develop and strengthen, which will add to the depth and flavor of your recipes.
Day 1 – Start culture with water and flour
Day 2 – Save part of culture and add water and flour
Day 3-7 – Repeat
Day 7 and beyond – At this point assess your starter. If your starter is bubbling, frothy, has a sweet aroma and rises shortly after you add flour, your starter is healthy and active. You can begin using your starter in recipes. You can keep the starter on the counter and feed it daily following the method above.
You can also move the starter into the refrigerator if you will not be using regularly. You will need to take it out of the fridge and feed it once a week. If you do refrigerate the starter you will need to remove it from the fridge the day before using in a recipe to revive the culture.
If your starter is still a little sluggish, be sure that it is warm enough in your space and be sure that you are feeding it regularly. You can also increase the feeding to every 12 hours until the starter is more vigorous. You might also consider changing the type of flour that you are using to feed.
Isn’t she beautiful?! Could be a mother’s love, I guess.
Homemade Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter
- 1 quart mason jar
- fabric cover
- 2 Tbsp Rice Flour brown or white
- 2 Tbsp Teff or Sorghum Flour
- 1/4 cup warm water unchlorinated
Build the Starter
- Mix flour and water until well combined. Add to clean mason jar. Cover with wet cloth. Leave on counter at room temperature (ideally 75-80 degrees F).
- Wait 24 hours
Maintain the Starter
- Day 2 - Take 2 Tbsp of the contents of the jar, add them into a new jar. Add the ingredients from above, cover and wait. Follow this process from now on to feed.
- Continue this process for 7 days. Your starter will begin to bubble, froth and grow in volume after feeding and will have a sweet and pungent smell to it, this is when it is ready for use.
- Once your starter is ready you can 1) leave it at room temperature and feed it daily, 2) Store it in the refrigerator and move to feeding it once a week. If you store in the refrigerator you will need to feed it a day in advance of using in a recipe.
You notice liquid accumulating on the top of your starter Feed it! Pour off the liquid, called hooch, and feed the start with the normal recipe.
It is not doubling in size Did it grow, then fall back down? This is normal. It will not stay risen for long. If it is not rising at all and you see no activity, you might want to get it into a warmer location and try feeding it every 12 hours. Also, confirm that you are not using chlorinated water, and that the flour you are using is not bleached and does not contain xantham gum.
Your starter has discolored, has spot, turned orange or pink Discard and start over. If you are having this issue you might want to sterilize your jar in boiling water to eliminate contamination on your next batch.
A few days of attention and you can easily get a wild yeast starter going with a variety of recipes. I have used many different recipes for this and have always had success. The biggest variable has always been me remembering to feed the starter. I cannot deny a sense of pride in looking at my happy, active starter and all of the good dishes I will be able to make with it.
Here are some great articles for additional reading
There are plenty of great articles on creating a sourdough start from scratch.
I really appreciated Traci at Vanilla and Bean’s wonderful post on Gluten-Free Starter while experimenting to get mine working.
Homestead and Chill “How to Make Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter” (they recommend adding an apple to the starter and prefer buckwheat and brown rice flour)
WhatTheFork I used her great recipe for a super simple Sourdough bread
GeorgeEats with some great photography