It is possible to make starter over a week or two just using flour and water. I used rye flour and filtered room temperature water, sourced from my refrigerator water dispenser into a cleaned gallon milk jug that I stored in my pantry.
It is possible to maintain a small quantity of sourdough starter in a pint jar. I saved the discard in a plastic container in my refrigerator, and once a week or so, I used the discard as part of a pancake or bread recipe.
You need to know that metal utensils and lids that come in contact with sourdough may inhibit it's liveliness, so use glass and plastic.
To begin, gather:
1 glass jar, pint or quart
1/8 measuring cup or 1 tablespoon measuring spoon
rye flour, or whole wheat
room temperature filtered water or spring water
two rubber bands
a coffee filter or scrap of fabric like a thin towel that breathes but keeps out little fruit flies
a spatula or other non-metal utensil for stirring
Day 1: Put a heaping 1/8 cup of whole grain flour plus just a scant 1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons) water into your jar. Stir well so the flour and water are well-combined. Scrape down the inside contents of the jar. Secure your coffee filter to the opening of the jar with one rubber band. Use the other band to mark the level of your sourdough starter in the jar. Set on your counter until the same time the next day.
Day 2: Remove half of the contents of your jar. The amount you remove can go in a plastic container stored in your refrigerator which can be used in other bread or pancake recipes that call for flour and water. Then add the same amount of flour and water and stir well. Scrap down sides. Move your rubber band marker up. This allows you to see if bubbles are forming from the growth and activity of your microscopic sourdough creatures.
Days 3-14: Repeat day 2 instructions. Over time you'll notice when you come to halve and feed your starter, the contents have doubled and have lots of bubbles. This is when you know your starter is strong enough to rise your bread. Once you reach this stage, continue daily as long as you continue to enjoy making sourdough.
Vacation: If you are going away or need a break from the daily routine, you can refrigerate your starter to be revived when you come back. It can't be left there indefinitely, however. Cold makes it slow down and dormant, but it still needs food every week or two. When you revive it, set it on the counter, halve and feed, and within a day or two it'll be back to ready to use.
I aimed to use mostly whole grain recipes, but sometimes I would use half whole grain and half white flour to achieve the texture I wanted.
I learned that in order to reap the nutritional benefits of sourdough, my dough needed to sit at room temperature with the sourdough starter mixed in for at least 7 hours.
My personal preferences for getting good results of well-risen bread led me to decide that I would rather supplement my sourdough recipes with commercial yeast or baking soda. Whole grain flours, which contain the most nutrition, are more dense and harder for my starter to raise. Without additional leavening, I found my breads were too dense. Still edible, but not as pleasant as with added yeast. The yeasts in the sourdough are more diverse than the one strain found in commercial yeast. So the nutrition is better using the sourdough. Also, the process of souring the dough helps make the flour more easy to digest and helps our body better absorb the nutrients. So I can let my dough sit for 7+ hours to sour and reap those benefits, and when I'm ready to move my dough to the baking pan, mix in my baking soda or commercial yeast. Or I have also mixed the commercial yeast into the dough before the 7 hours souring time.
Here is one of my favorite recipes:
Sourdough English Muffins - https://www.farmhouseonboone.com/how-to-make-sourdough-english-muffins - except I turned this into a loaf of English Muffin Bread by just baking the whole batch of dough in my bread pan for 35 minutes at 375 degrees F. And I’ve made it with some variations:
Cinnamon raising English Muffin Bread where I add 1 T cinnamon and 1/2 cup raisins
Chocolate English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup cocoa powder and 1/8 – 1/4 cup water
Chocolate Chip English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Blueberry English Muffin Bread where I add 1/4 cup blueberries
Pumpkin Spice English Muffin bread where I add 1 T of pumpkin spice.
I tried dozens of other bread recipes depending on what I wanted for our family's needs that week. I made pancakes, buns, sweet breads, sandwich breads, artisan loaves, etc. I would just take an ordinary bread recipe and modify it to become a sourdough. The process takes hours of wait time, so if I start at breakfast, I could be baking by dinnertime.
1. In a large plastic mixing bowl, mix 1/8-1/4 cup of sourdough starter with the water or other liquid called for in the recipe. Add any sweeteners and other wet ingredients at this point as well. I whisked this with a non-metal whisk.
2. Add the flour, other dry ingredients called for in the recipe, and some commercial yeast (my preference, though I wouldn't need the whole amount called for) and mix well with until no dry parts remain.
3. Alternately, instead of part of the water and flour called for in the recipe, substitute some of your sourdough starter discard that you've been saving in your refrigerator. I'm all about being resourceful.
4. It seems that sourdough dough needs to be a moister dough than traditional types of bread, I think so the microscopic organisms have what they need to work. So you may want to add a bit more water, milk, than the recipe calls for to moisten your dough. Different types of flour and even same flours in different environments can be more dry or absorbant. With experience, you'll find what consistency is your target.
5. Transfer dough to the pan(s) you intend to bake in. Metal baking pans seem to be fine at this point. Pan(s) should be about 1/3 full to allow for the rise. Let the dough sour and rise at room temperature for at least 7 hours, covered with a towel.
6. Preheat oven and bake.
When you make a lot of homemade bread, you need a good quality, sharp serrated bread knife to cut your baked, cooled bread well. I bought a 14-inch knife and a guard to keep it safely stored in my utensil drawer.
I hope you are inspired to try sourdough bread making for yourself! I welcome comments about your own experiences! For more details and information and recipes, you can visit my sources below:
The Science of Sourdough Video: