Repeat after me:
"Making sourdough starter is VERY EASY.
It just takes TIME."
It just takes TIME."
In fact, according to S. John Ross at Gourmand Bleu, if you can mix flour and water together, you can make starter. And you can. It is just that easy. As John states in his article on the topic, "People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia." A couple years ago when I first tried cooking with sourdough I successfully made my starter according to the instructions he provides.
However, this time around I found a great article on The Fresh Loaf that tells step-by-step what to do, includes some pictures, and also explains why it works. It suggests things to overcome problems that different people have had when making their starter. It may be solving problems you're not going to have - but better to be safe than sorry, right?
Click here to see the post submitted by SourdoLady that I used to make my starter.
The biggest difference is that it starts out using pineapple juice instead of water. Evidently, this lowers the PH and makes the conditions favorable for wild yeast to activate and grow. We are also using a whole grain flour, such as wheat or rye. The wild yeast is present on the grains. It suggests milling the grains yourself - but let's not go crazy! I pulled my rye flour out of the cupboard (where it had been sitting for over a year, I'm absolutely certain) and had no trouble at all.
First day I mixed these in a small glass jar:
2 Tablespoons of rye flour
2 Tablespoons pineapple juice from a can
and I let it sit for 24 hours at room temperature. (Oh- and let's just be honest here too, sometimes it would be more like 36 hours if I got busy or forgot. It won't kill it - so long as it is getting fed fairly regularly.)
Below is a "feeding" such as happens on the second and third days. I added:
2 Tablespoons of juice &
2 Tablespoons rye flour
You may notice I am using a plastic thingy (left-over from my bachelorette party, as a matter of fact - thanks, ladies) to stir. Follow my example and use a plastic or wooden spoon. Sourdough starter doesn't like metal. (Oops! Guess that was an old wives tale. For the real scoop on sourdough and metal check out this page about sourdough myths.)
Stir it up.
It is ready to sit again in my kitchen.
Day four (and the days following) you have to get rid of some of that starter, because the jar will be filling up from all those feedings. So you stir it down, measure out 1/4 cup, and discard
At this point you can use whatever kind of flour you want. I went with all purpose, because it was what I had on hand. But unbleached would be good if you have it. Whatever you choose, add 1/4 a cup to your starter.
Now here we are adding 1/4 cup lukewarm filtered (or spring) water. Let's get real here. If you have a Brita, you can filter it through that and use that. Or you can set the water out for a few days on your counter to remove the chlorine from it - but worse comes to worse - just use tap water. I did - and all is well.
Mix it back up.
You are going to continue this process once a day until you see bubbles on the side of the jar like this:
And on the top, like this:
To improve the flavor that your starter will produce in the bread you bake, go ahead and leave it at room temperature for a few more weeks, feeding it like this. You may begin to bake with it at this point. When you are happy with the flavor (or more likely, when you are tired of feeding everyday and throwing so much out) stick it in the fridge. It will slow down the fermentation process (how quickly your wild yeasts "eats") and you should only have to feed it once a week or so.
When you are storing it in the fridge, you will need to "revive" or feed you start and leave it at room temperature a bit before using the starter to bake. Most recipes will include this as the first step.
Congratulations! You have now created a healthy sourdough starter. Just think of the things you can begin to bake: sourdough bread, english muffins, pancakes, pizza crusts...