To anyone who isn't too versed with baking bread, the idea of nurturing and looking after a sourdough starter may seem like a daunting and complicated thing. With that being said, it doesn't have to be! It's easier to create and look after a starter than a Tamagotchi, and the reward is so much greater; you get to make the best tasting breads and other bakes with it!
The essential ingredients you need to make and maintain a sourdough starter are equal parts of:
Strong bread flour
Room temperature water
Mix the flour and water together in a bowl to form a paste. You don't need lots of both. I'd recommend 100g of flour and 100ml of water.
If you want to give the starter a helping hand you can add a couple of halved grapes or pieces of apple if you wish, although it's not essential. I've added 1 tbsp of Greek yoghurt to my starter which encourages the initial growth and enhances the sour flavour, again though it's not essential.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with clingfilm, and leave the starter. The bowl can be left on the worktop, although ideally it should be kept out of direct sunlight. Over the course of the next 48 hours, you should see bubbles appear and the starter should grow before it then collapses.
Stir the starter before discarding most of it. Keep no more than 1/4 (50g). Top up with equal parts of flour and water, the same quantities you used initially, and stir until combined. Cover and again leave for 48 hours. Repeat this 4 or 5 times, discarding and feeding the same time each day so you and the starter get into a cycle.
When the starter has got into a routine you can transfer it to a more permanent home. I keep Bernard in a Kilner jar, although you could use a large clean jam jar or even ice-cream tub! Something translucent is better as you can see how your starter is doing without needing to remove the lid.
For those of you who aren't regularly baking with their starters I would suggest you keep yours in the fridge. I find that Bernard needs feeding once a week. In a cupboard you may find that the starter will need feeding every other day.
Regularly check on your starter to see how it's growing and collapsing. Before feeding you should notice a strong acidic fizzy smell. There may even be a pop sound when you take the lid off.
If you find for whatever reason you have neglected your starter and a dark watery layer has appeared on top, do not worry. Firstly, you have made hooch. Secondly, your starter isn't dead, it just needs a pick-me-up. Stir in the hooch before discarding and feeding as usual. If you find that your starter is slow to react you may need to increase the frequency of the feedings before getting back into your old routine.
At this point you may have read all of this and thought keeping a starter may be a little wasteful. I admit, it can be if you don't bake something every now and then. However, every time you go to feed your starter and discard 3/4 of it, you don't have to throw that in the bin (at least not all of it). Take the discarded starter and use some of this to bake with! All you need to do is feed it so it's ready for baking. If you keep your starter in the fridge, you have the perfect excuse to bake bread once a week, and what is better than fresh sourdough bread! Well, maybe some pizza or demi-brioche buns...