Orit Dagan

Sourdough Starter – How Sweet It Is

In The Beginning

I don’t know how many of you have any experience with sourdough and sourdough starter, made from scratch. You can be certain, I never, in my entire life, knew anyone who even talked about it, except for recommending that people buy it and that it’s healthy, without explaining or detailing why and how it’s healthy.
Over a week ago, I began this journey and let me tell you, it is quite a trek. For one thing, with no one to learn from, I consulted ChatGPT, which was helpful to some degree. I’ve learned to better communicate with the AI, in order to avoid overlooking important details and its many mistakes.

It Was Weak, or Was It?

The starter I concocted seemed weak and when I baked a loaf (my first ever), I rushed the process. The aroma was amazing but the resulting loaf was dense and underdone, for hastening to finish it before Shabbat. My many years of culinary experience taught me to remain calm and I did use every bit of the loaf, as well as learning some valuable lessons about the craft.

It Aims to Please

For one thing, ChatGPT wants very much to please us and often will not initiate or advise anything creative. It is not creative by any means and well, we can’t demand too much from a non-sentient tool.

And Here We Go

I began with a squeaky clean, glass jar. As advised on the Internet, by an experienced sourdough baker and confirmed by the AI, I used a 1:1 ratio of flour and water. I put 1 tablespoon of water that had been boiled and cooled and 1 tablespoon of flour, which I carefully measured and sifted through a small strainer. This starter really stymied me.
  • First, I thought I would tightly close the lid.
    • Apparently, the gases released by the chemical reaction could (and have in some cases) caused the jars to explode. Literally.
  • I adjusted and readjusted, by just loosely placing the lid (meh), covering with plastic wrap and finally, loosely placing a paper towel or napkin, secured with a rubber band, to prevent it from slipping off.
    • The result raised many questions but evidently, there are many possible results and none are bad or wrong, which only makes this new information even more confusing.

Video Tutorials

  • After Shabbat, I patiently watched through many videos and took away what felt right for me.
    • For one thing, the ratio was wrong. For better results in summer, one expert recommended putting less liquid to flour in the ratio.
    • Another thing and I’m NOT kidding, people see what makes it come alive, from placement of the jar , temperature, lighting, etc. These starters are temperamental and fussy. Who knew?
    • I am most serious about this part – PEOPLE NAME THEIR STARTERS! – No joke, I kid you NOT.
  • Those who know me, know I am creative and like I said, I took what felt right for me from the tutorials.

I Did It My Way

    1. I took my Tupperware container, washed and dried.
    2. I sifted as much flour as I wanted and transferred it into the container, this way I wouldn’t have to put it through a sieve each time. When you feed once and eventually, twice a day, it can be time consuming. The sifter is much more thorough and efficient and this method, though it has more steps, prevents anything unwanted from getting into the flour that’ll be used.
    3. I used a significantly larger glass jar and this time, put 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of liquid. I also used warm water that had been boiled and then cooled.
    4. After mixing thoroughly with a fork and making sure that none of the flour was left dry, I loosely placed the glass top, which I covered with a loosely placed plastic food bag, swaddled the body of the jar with fleece and placed it on some cardboard, to give it some more warmth, as opposed to the cold granite countertop in my kitchen.
    5. I marked the level of the starter mixture on the jar, to see if and how much it would grow.
  • After a bit more than 24 hours, I went to check on said starter, which was still nameless.
    1. Starter was active, evidenced by air bubbles, but still at the same level as I’d left it yesterday.
      1. I gave it a name.
      2. I placed it where I would feed it by adding more flour and water. This is another spot on my kitchen counter but facing a different direction, with light coming from different directions. I then left it for a bit, as I had to do something before feeding it.
        After just a little bit of time, the bubbles increased.
      3. I did feed it and talked to it, to encourage it. I swaddled it, put on its plastic baggie/cap and set it to rest on the cardboard, for warmth. Unexpectedly, in just 3 – 4 hours, it doubled it’s size, from the bottom of the jar (not from after the first feed). I was elated and felt that I wasn’t a total dunce. I’ll add that the starter was very happy, even delirious!
I found this after just 3 – 4 hours. The second feed is marked with the date, as well as the level, to see any progress.

A few things I learned, besides that which I wrote above:

  • Some people on the Internet post videos and show you the trending kitchen equipment, supposedly specific to this task. This includes a specialized whisk and names of flour.
  • Some people with videos want to sell you their books and/or courses. Trust me, this is baking, not brain surgery. It was passed down for generations from matriarchs to their younger descendants, some whom were even illiterate.
  • Many use all kinds of flour that you might or might not use or want to use.
  • I kept watching and some of the experienced bakers are more down-to-earth and definitely more relatable, some don’t even measure out the ingredients, they add intuitively.
  • I use
    1. the jar that you see (upgraded from the smaller jar)
    2. a fork to mix and measuring cups to measure out flour and water
    3. the true and trusted bowls I already have to mix, proof and work the dough
    4. my (pareve) clay baker to bake it in the oven, since I don’t have a Dutch oven
    5. regular flour in my starter
  • Some people feed their starters other things, in addition to flour and water (I’m not sure what)
        • It takes time and patience
          rushing will only bring disappointment
          dough needs its time to develop and rest.
        • People talk about filtered water or water from springs, wells and streams but not tap. Guess what? I use tap water that was boiled and cooled a bit, so that it’s warm.
  • The sourdough starter, made well and developed properly, lets the microorganisms break down much of what burdens our systems, not the least of which is phytic acid. It makes digestion easier and enables us to better absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Even people with yeast or flour sensitivities (not gluten. It contains gluten) find they can eat and do better with sourdough.
  • This taught me much about leven and chometz. I have more insight as to why some do not eat gebrochts on Pesach

If you endeavor to try, good luck and happy baking! If you found this post helpful or entertaining or both, please leave me a comment!

About the Author
Orit Dagan was born in Israel and raised in New York. After twenty-four years of life in the USA, she returned to Israel and settled in Jerusalem. She studied and mastered natural health, is an artist and a musician.
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