One of the most frequent subjects in question on our baker's hotline is sourdough starter. How do I start my own? How often do I need to feed it? How can I travel and still maintain it? What if it dies on me? What other ways are there to use my starter and the discard?
The great news is that other than using different flours, starter care is the same for both gluten-free and wheat-based starters!
With gluten-free baking on the continual rise, we're always looking to improve your baking experience. I've found that using a gluten-free sourdough starter can lend flavor to many different gluten-free recipes. It's not just for yeast breads anymore!
Here's a long-awaited story of creation: my quest to build a gluten-free sourdough starter.
It began in my kitchen at home after I had developed a gluten-free English muffin recipe and was intrigued by the thought of using sourdough starter.
This is my sourdough starter after weeks of sitting in the refrigerator, feeling neglected. As you can see, it has one lonely bubble and a lot of hooch or alcohol on top. It's like wet clay at the beach. I'll have it active again in no time!
The truth is, sourdough starters are hard to kill. Lack of maintenance can lead to a reduction of lactic acid and wild yeast – the two main components of a starter that, when drastically reduced, cause the potency of the culture as a yeast and its sour quality to be compromised. However, after waking it up with a few feeding cycles, you should see a happy starter that's ready for work!
I always stir the hooch into the starter rather than pouring it off (which is also an option). Our dough whisk is invaluable for this task, among many others.
I discard about a cup (about 1/2 the volume), then feed with 1 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, and 1/2 cup cool water.
Within a few hours, it should look something like this.
When I began my gluten-free starter project, my expectations were low, to say the least. I had visions of a somewhat runny, barely-daring-to become-sour papier-mâché-like substance wearing maybe a bubble or two on the surface.
After countless calls on our baker's hotline, both requesting and sharing personal experiences of failed gluten-free pre-ferments, I knew it was time to get to work on this one.
My first starter took off like a horse in the starting gate. Within just an hour of mixing, it was already fattening and bubbly.
The first thing I took note of was that although it lacked the elasticity of wheat-based starter, it was quite similar in appearance. I figured this was a pretty good start already, and let it sleep on the counter.
Like a kid at Christmas the next morning, I went to look under the lid of the jar. The mass had risen almost to the top and was covered in ripe, sour bubbles that were popping and hissing to greet me.
This is the dry starter that I used to begin my culture. Follow along as I create a gluten-free sourdough starter.
Whisk 1/4 teaspoon French sourdough starter into...
Stir in 1/2 cup cool water.
Ancient Grains Flour Blend, a whole-grain, gluten-free mixture of amaranth, millet, quinoa, and sorghum, will increase enzymatic action during fermentation, much like whole wheat flour would. It's a great choice to feed to your starter with occasionally, to maintain a good pH balance.
Blend this mixture together evenly, and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight.
You should begin to see results within hours.
The following day, you can discard half the starter and feed it again with the same amounts of Ancient Grains Flour Blend and water. Repeat this process for one more day; then, on the fourth day, switch to feeding with gluten-free multi-purpose flour, which I recommend you use as a regular meal for the starter.
When the starter becomes active following this feeding, you'll finally be able to use it in your first recipe.
I substituted 1/2 cup starter for 1/2 cup of the flour and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of the liquid in our gluten-free blueberry muffin recipe. The resulting muffins were tangy, tender, and high-rising. I would suggest this substitution amount for any quick bread recipe- waffles, pancakes, muffins, banana bread, etc.
For yeast breads and cakes, I suggest using 1 cup starter in place of 1/2 cup of water/liquid and 1 cup of flour.
For unbelievable sourdough pancakes or waffles, try this substitution in our well-loved gluten-free recipe. You may never make them without it again! Sure, go ahead and make the chocolate version!
Looking to put a tangy twist into that gluten-free chocolate cake? I dare you!
Store your starter in a stoneware crock such as the one pictured, or in a glass jar with a loose-fitting lid to allow for air flow; starter is best stored in the refrigerator.
I've found this culture to be as forgiving as a wheat-based starter, and the same rules apply for care and maintenance. If it gets left behind for a week or two, it will still love you when you return; though for an extended vacation, you may consider hiring a sourdough sitter.
It would make me happy to have a blog-fan suggested name for my starter, since it will be used in future blog recipes. So if you could post your suggestions along with questions and comments, I would be so grateful. I'm working on developing some more recipes to use with your starter, but that's another blog.
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