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THE SOURDOUGH STARTER is the MOST IMPORTANT element when it comes to sourdough baking. Your sourdough starter is the one responsible for making your dough rise, but also playing a role in the final texture and flavour of your bakes.
First of all, what is a sourdough starter?
The simple answer is a culture of ‘wild/natural’ yeast & bacteria, replacing the commercial yeast that helps your dough rise.
The longer explanation of this is below (my version based on my understanding).
The sourdough starter is made of two very basic ingredients, water and flour, which during fermentation become colonised by a mixture of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. Some of these are coming from the flour, some from your environment and also your hands.
The characteristics of your starter will be defined by couple of things. the type of flour you use, the temperature in your kitchen, how often your starter is refreshed, and ultimately your environment. I truly believe that no 2 starters are the same, even if most of the variables are similar.
A culture of wild yeasts and bacteria
The yeasts are those responsible for the bubbles, the released gas, what makes your bread rise. The yeasts are also those producing alcohol. It’s the dark watery layer you get on the surface when the starter is left for too long unfed.
The bacteria are the ones responsible for creating lactic acid during the fermentation. This will influence the acidity profile of your starter, and the sourness of your bread. Ultimately it gives sourdough the unique aroma and texture.
What if I don’t have a starter?
You can go the easy way and ask a bakery to give you some or ask another baker living close-by to share some. Or a friend who’s into baking. Or ask me to send you some dehydrated sourdough starter (T&Cs apply). Getting a starter ready to use takes off the pressure of making it work and the frustration of failures. This way you can get straight into sourdough baking.
Or you can make a sourdough starter from scratch, you just need flour and water and a lot of patience.