Sourdough Starter - A DIY Experiential Learning

Sourdough starter is the material used to make raised dough dishes.

I had no idea that such a thing existed. I came across this phrase, when my first attempt to make bread with instant yeast failed. Why was I making bread? Good question. This site is about learning through experience.

Well, I am a compulsive doer. I like to do things, experiment with them, improve on them and enjoy the results. The whole exercise started when I was exploring the process of making wine at home.

Would you like to get your own sourdough starter? Write to me here

Commercial wine is expensive. I needed it during Christmas and it upset me that baking good fruitcakes should be so expensive. Hence my exploration into the wine making process.

Well, to make wine, I needed baker's yeast or instant yeast among other things. I still had some yeast left over after making the wine. After a month or so I decided to use it to make bread. Hence my foray into the bread making process.

My first attempt was a failure. The bread turned out like a rock and tasted very salty. I learnt that I had not proven the yeast (making sure that the yeast is active enough to begin the process of raising the dough) and I had mixed too much flour (I was afraid that the dough was too sticky)

Sourdough Starter 1
Sourdough Starter 2

I explored the Internet for foolproof ways of proving yeast. That's when I came across the sourdough starter. I also found a great video explaining the science behind the starter. The link is here. The above pictures are of the whole wheat starter that I made at home. 

Would you like to get your own sourdough starter? Write to me here

I realized that the concept of a starter is the same as the one used to make milk curd / yogurt, dosa batter etc. 

So, basically sourdough starter is fermented dough. The advantage of the sourdough starter is that it uses the wild yeast that is local to the place where it is being made and is natural and so weather (hot or cold) does not affect its dough raising ability. Yeast is naturally present in the air and the grains that are used to make the starter.

How did I make the starter? There are many good videos on the WWW on the process of making a starter. You can wholly go with one process or mix and match processes. The one I learnt from best is here.

I started with small amounts though. 1/4th cup of water and 1/4th cup of wheat flour. I mixed them and kept them in a container next to the gas stove in my kitchen. Everyday I added equal amounts of both these ingredients. Soon I could smell the sourness of the fermenting dough.

Five days later, it came bubbling over the container. From then on, I either took a cup out and cooked something with it - like a sourdough bread or sourdough pancakes - or I relegated it to the compost. I then replenished it with one more cup of wheat flour with either 70% or 100% hydration. The consistency should be porridgy.

Would you like to get your own sourdough starter? Write to me here

A week after doing this I was asked to train a group of science teachers in the use of 'Scientific Approach' in the classroom. As I was preparing for it, I realized that yeast and its uses was part of the curriculum. I thanked the Lord Jesus for the experience with the sourdough starter. It made a great example for 'experimental inquiry' - a cognitive process in Scientific Approach.

The teachers of course were fascinated by a bread starter which did not use commercial yeast.

I also did a DIY project on making wine at home and making a portable wood-fired oven at home. Look for those pages soon.


26th January 2013 - Today we used the sourdough starter to make bhaturas. Bhaturas are leavened flat breads which are deep fried in oil and eaten with a chick-pea curry called 'Cholé'.

A tablespoon of starter was mixed with all-purpose flour (1 cup), water and salt, to get a stiff dough. Which is then folded for a few minutes until you get a smooth mass of dough. This is left overnight. 

The next morning, the raised dough is flattened gently, cut into little lime-sized balls, rolled out with a rolling pin and deep-fried in hot oil. They taste much better than the bhaturas sold in the restaurants.

06th March 2017 - The sourdough bread was very tasty and so were the pancakes It's quite a hit at home.

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