Everyone loves fresh homemade bread hot out of the oven. Being gluten-free, I went almost 4 years without any bread and then I had a gluten-free sourdough bread in Portland, Oregon and I was hooked! Ahhh, bread like that is what I had been missing! So I made it my mini-mission to discover a recipe that made amazing gluten-free bread and sourdough was important to me because I really wanted to eliminate as much phytic acid in my family’s diet as I possibly could. (See my post on phytic acid to learn why).
So, it took me a while, about 6 weeks, to actually get my homemade sourdough starter going (it doesn’t have to take this long, we just got distracted with lots of yummy sourdough pancakes along the way). And now she is like the sixth member of our family: we feed and water her twice a day and her name is Princess Celestia thanks to my four-year-old. She’s gone on vacation with us, she’s moved with us, half of her got spilled all over me in the car once, but she is a thriving and much loved part of our family now.
Here’s how to get your own Princess Celestia (or whatever you want to name her) started…
Overview: Sourdough starters are a symbiotic culture of yeasts that live in YOUR environment that feed on just water and flour (gluten-free in this case). To ensure all phytic acid in your bread is removed and all the nutrients are available, be sure to use buckwheat in your starter at least half the time. Buckwheat has an excess of phytase which neutralizes the phytic acid in even phytase-void grains like rice, corn, and millet. Always feed your starter with equal parts water and flour, preferably twice a day as opposed to one big feeding (Note: Once your starter is growing well and is healthy, sometimes you can get away with one big feeding and in the winter months, if your house is cold, one feeding may be all the starter needs. But do try to stir it at least twice a day, the oxygen helps the culture thrive).
Use a large glass bowl to keep the starter in (Stainless steel and plastic all inhibit the starter’s growth). Cover your starter with a kitchen towel in a warm area (80-100 degrees is great but it can be cooler too, it just may take longer to get it going).
- Mix ½ cup filtered water with ½ cup buckwheat flour (fresh ground is better to preserve the phytase, I hand-grind mine). To get it going faster add an unwashed local, organic cabbage leaf. (That white coating on the cabbage is just the yeast we want! You can also use local organic grapes, apples, anything with that white coating. Just make sure it hasn’t been treated with any chemicals or food-waxes. Something from an organic farmers’ market or your backyard would be perfect.)
- Stir it and feed it another ¼ cup of water and flour every 12 hours.
- After about 3 days you may want to feed it ½ cup water and ½ cup flour as your starter volume increases.
- After about another 3 days, you should have a fairly active starter and enough of it to make bread and have some starter left over to continue feeding. As long as the starter has been kept warm enough (at least about 70 degrees) it will be strong enough to ferment at this point. So you could make pancakes, waffles, breads, etc. with it.
Tips for making your own starter from scratch:
- For the first few feedings, use just 1-2 tbsp of flour and 1-2 tbsp of water. I have never seen anyone say to do this but I did it intuitively because initially there aren’t many “bacteria and yeasts” in there to feed so I didn’t want to overwhelm it with “so much food”. The first starter that I ever made from scratch I fed ½ cup twice a day and it took a good 6 weeks to be able to be STRONG enough to leaven bread (to make it actually rise). The second one I made, I fed it MUCH smaller amounts twice a day (like 1 tbsp for 2 days and then 2 tbsp for 2 days) and within a week it was making the classic “dome” top showing enough excretion of gases to leaven the bread. You have a lot of wiggle room, and a lot depends on your air temperature. (My second starter was made in South Carolina where my first was made in Idaho and the cooler Idaho temps definitely delayed the progress.) So keep the starter warm if you can!
- Place an organic LOCAL cabbage leaf on top of the starter (rinse it, but don’t wash it). That white coating on local cabbage is natural yeast and that will provide you starter with a culture immediately. (It’s so much faster to get a starter going when you do this). You can use any fruit or veggies with that “white” yeast coating, if it’s out of your backyard, even better. Grapes, plums, and homegrown apples usually have a great supply of the yeast we need. Whatever you use it MUST be organic/unsprayed so that you are JUST culturing the yeast.
- Use the starter for pizzas, pancakes, cornbread and waffles (see posts for recipes). The starter can easily be used for these other “breads” before it’s leavening power is at its peak so you are never throwing out any starter.
- Young starters will put off water so when you go to stir and feed them, you will see some clear liquid on top. That’s like the liquid in yogurt. You can stir it back in for a more “sour” taste or siphon it off. This is from the good bacteria in the starter which typically colonize it first while the yeasts grow stronger. A more mature starter will be predominately, if not all yeasts, and won’t have that liquid anymore.
- Starters have all different smells depending on what yeast/bacteria is most prevalent (how mature the starter is). They can smell pretty gross and still be “good”.
- Use only filtered or water without chlorine/flouride/chemical residue. These cultures are very sensitive to their environment and can easily get out of balance or die with chemical exposure.
- Only keep your starter in glass, Pyrex, or Corningware and NOT plastic or stainless steel. Once again, they are sensitive little critters.
- Cover the starter with a cloth ONLY, it has to be able to breath.
- Is it normal to have what looks like water sitting on top of my starter in the morning?
Yes, this is the probiotic mixture being put off by the bacteria. That is good medicine right there, you can stir it in to make your bread really sourdoughy (or siphon it off if you don’t want a strong sour taste), you can add it to brown rice to soak with before cooking to minimize phytic acid, you could add it to raw veggies if you wanted to ferment them. I just keep stirring mine in.
- What does it look like when it’s ready to rise bread?
It will have sort of a mushroom top when you look at it in the morning. It will look like “it has risen”, sort of like a dome over the top of it. All this really means is that the starter is eating through enough flour and putting off enough gas to physically rise a loaf of bread.
- Should there be mold growing on my starter?
No. You don’t want that stuff. Throw it out and start over. If you continue to have problems, keep it in your oven (when not in use) or outside if it’s warm enough until you get it going. You may have a mold problem in your house if this keeps happening.
Once you have 4+ cups of starter, you are ready to make a batch of gluten-free sourdough bread. This is my go to recipe: Sourdough recipe for all your bread “kneads”.