Before you can use tools like a brotform, artistically copy an intricate scoring pattern you saw on Instagram or bake a beginner sourdough recipe, you need one thing: a sourdough starter. It’s the one non-negotiable for all naturally leavened foods. So when you’re ready to be on Team Sourdough, here are four types of places to source one.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the idea, a sourdough starter is, essentially, pretty simple: flour plus water plus time. Supported by the wild yeast and lactobacilli in the air, the flour and water become a living culture. That living culture is an entity capable of birthing some of the world’s favorite baked goods.
A Sourdough Starter, So What?
So what’s the big deal with sourdough starters? Dubbed “America’s rising pet” by the New York Times and considered a little like love by Bon Appetit, a sourdough starter is, honestly, a pretty magical thing. Watching one grow is enough to wake up the wonder in the most cynical of souls.
Think about it: all you need to give a starter is regular flour and water. In exchange, it will grow, bubble, change and, if you bottle some up for a friend, even reproduce. A starter can outlive you. It can last for generations. That simple blend of flour and water can birth some of the best breads of your life.
So maybe it’s no wonder people take their starters seriously. They name them like pets. Search around online, and you’ll find starters with incredible pedigrees: there’s a starter legendarily brought over on the Mayflower. On Etsy, you can find unique cultures from Derbyshire or San Francisco.
So when you’re ready to dip your toes into the world of sourdough, a starter is Step One. You won’t need a centuries-old starter to bake amazing bread, but you will need a starter from somewhere. So where can you get one? Should you make it or buy it? Here are some ideas.
Where to Get a Sourdough Starter
Where you get your sourdough starter all depends on you. Do you feel up to the challenge of cultivating your own? Would you rather ask a friend for some, or do you want to buy a starter online? Whatever your style, there’s an easy option for you.
- Go DIY with This Recipe, from Baked: The Blog. All you need are flour, water and less than a week of time to cultivate your own starter, in your own kitchen. How? There are lots of tutorials online, but this one’s pretty handy. Go to the collaborative Canadian cooking blog Baked for an easy-to-follow step-by-step five-day guide. One week from now, you could have your own homegrown starter sitting on your kitchen counter, who knows?
- Buy from a Big Bread Brand, like King Arthur Flour or Breadtopia. Over on the King Arthur Flour website, you can buy a one-ounce starter for $8.95 and have the confidence that comes from a product endorsed by almost 800 other happy customers. If you’re an Amazon Prime member (ps did you hear about the new deals for Prime members at Whole Foods?), you can order from Breadtopia for about $11 including shipping and have a cousin to the starter in my fridge. It’s not necessarily better to order from big brands, but it is credible and convenient. Bonus: the big guys typically include instructions and information to guide you in your sourdough beginning.
- Get Some from a Friend. If you know someone who bakes sourdough, chances are he or she will be glad to share starter with you. Bakers regularly discard (or make pancakes with) part of their starters, so it’s no big deal to pass some along.
- Explore the Possibilities Online. If you’re interested in a special kind of starter–one from Alaska? Italy? Finland? France?–the world is at your fingertips online. Search on Amazon to find a wide variety, from rye sourdough starters to Gold Rush starters, or browse Etsy to get inspired with idea. You can even find starters on eBay.
If you’re toying with the idea of baking sourdough and unsure of where to start, take it from someone who was scared: get a starter. While, sure, people joke that it’s a pet, the truth is it’s adaptable to your lifestyle and fairly hard to kill. I learned this invaluable tip from Heartbeet Kitchen: you don’t have to feed it every day if you don’t bake all the time. Instead, you can keep it in the fridge, revive it once a week and bake. Now, in the summertime, while it’s hotter in our homes, it’s especially easy to bring the starter back to happy bubbles, so it’s an especially great time to jump in. Trust me, the revolutionary experience of slicing into your own fresh-baked bread is worth the adventure.
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