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Whole-Wheat Sourdough Starter
“This homemade sourdough starter recipe is the jumping-off point to making your own whole-grain sourdough bread (see associated recipe) at home. You need just two ingredients to make this starter—flour and water—but it takes at least 5 days for the starter to develop. Then, once it's ready, it's easy to maintain. Just store it in the refrigerator and feed it according to the directions below. Each time you feed the starter you discard half of it—but don't throw it away! It's perfect for using in pancakes or waffles.”
4⅓ cups whole-wheat flour (1 pound, 6 ounces), divided, plus more as needed for feeding
2½ cups warm water (85°F), divided, plus more as needed for feeding
⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (4 ounces), divided, plus more as needed for feeding
1Day 1: Combine ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour and ½ cup of water in a 2-quart plastic or glass container. Do not use a metal container. Stir until the flour and water are well mixed. No dry flour should remain. Cover the container with plastic wrap or a loose-fitting lid. If you are using a glass jar, do not tighten the lid. Expanding gasses can break the glass. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours in a warm place, 75-90°F. If the temperature is lower, the starter may take a few days longer to fully develop.
2Day 2: Discard half the starter, leaving 4 ounces in the container. Add ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour and ½ cup of water. Stir well and cover loosely. Let the starter sit for 24 hours. Near the end of day 2, the mixture should have expanded a little and some small bubbles should have appeared.
3Day 3: Repeat the feeding process from Step 2, discarding half the starter and adding ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour and ½ cup of water.
4Day 4: The starter should have expanded and should have a distinct, sour odor. More bubbles should be visible on top. Begin a 12-hour feeding schedule: In the morning, repeat the feeding process from Step 2, discarding half the starter and adding ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour and ½ cup of water. Repeat the feeding process again 12 hours later.
5Day 5: The starter should have a ripe, sour odor. Small bubbles should be abundant throughout the mixture. Discard half the starter, leaving 4 ounces in the container. This time, feed with ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour and ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and ½ cup water. Continue the 12-hour feeding schedule, discarding half the starter and using ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour and ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour and ½ cup water for each feed until you are ready to bake. Or, store the starter in the refrigerator and feed once per week.
Tips: It's best to use a digital kitchen scale to weigh all ingredients for accuracy. Flour can settle and cause volume measurements to vary.
It may take the sourdough starter 7 to 10 days to fully develop when the room temperature is lower than 70°F. Try storing the starter in a warm spot in your home, such as the top of the hot water heater or in the laundry room.
If you have refrigerated your starter, a day or two before you are ready to bake bread, remove 4 ounces of the starter and allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Then feed it and wait 12 hours. If growth is strong, feed again and wait 4 to 6 hours before making bread. Otherwise, resume the 12-hour feeding schedule until the starter is at full strength.
Use 4 ounces of the whole-wheat starter to seed a new batch of starter that uses 100 percent all-purpose flour if you want to make white sourdough. After a few feedings, the white flour will have replaced the wheat.
If 8 ounces of starter is not enough for your recipe, don't discard the starter in excess of 4 ounces for a couple of feedings. Keep adding 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water each cycle. Feed in this manner until you have the amount needed for the recipe.
To make ahead: Starter will keep, covered, in the refrigerator, but you need to refresh it by discarding half and feeding it at least once per week.