How To Make Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
Meet Martin The Morose. He is my Gluten Free Sourdough Starter, and I began his savoury journey around 2 months ago. He has grown, developed, aged, died, been reborn, and been the centrepiece for Pizza's, Bread, Muffins, Waffles, Pancakes and even part of a cake..
There's nothing more rewarding (well, there's millions of more rewarding things, but this is easy and fun) than cultivating your own sourdough starter. The sense of achievement when you actually bake that perfect loaf, using just flour and water, with such a rich flavour and lovely texture is one of life's great pleasures.
All of those recipes will come in good time. You probably know as well as I do that gluten free baking and cooking requires you to massage recipes slightly. You cannot just straight substitute regular flour for your own GF blend, without adjusting other ingredients. So, I present to you a comprehensive guide on:
How To Make Gluten Free Sourdough StarterThe key here is time and patience. It will take your starter at least 3 or 4 days before it starts bubbling away, growing via the yeast it has gathered from the atmosphere and the wild yeast present in your flour. Your room temperature will greatly influence this. If you live in a humid area, you may find your starter growing at an alarming rate. This is perfectly normal. If you live in dry heat, or it's the middle of winter, your sourdough starter might be quite slow to develop, possibly taking a couple of weeks or even longer to beging bubbling. Don't despair! Keep feeding. There are a few hints that might help also, I will detail them.
FlourFirstly, what flour do we use? Well, any Gluten Free flour will work, as long as it isn't bleached and overly processed. White cornflour, tapioca starch, potato flour, sweet white rice flour, none of these will work. If in doubt, check how white it is. If it's whiter than Katy Perry, save it up for your next sponge cake.
Generally, I will use Sorghum, Besan (Chickpea), Quinoa, Brown Rice, Millet or Teff flour (if you can find it). If you can, make sure it is organic, as the less processed the flour is, the more wild yeast it houses inside it, and hence the more lift and bubbles you will get from your starter. I tend not to use Buckwheat flour, because firstly it's a waste of a brilliant baking flour, and secondly it tends to turn your starter all gluggy and too thick, like a pancake batter.
WaterSome people say don't use tap water if it is chlorinated, or has fluoride and other things added to it. To be honest, I live in Sydney and our water has a whole bunch of stuff added to it, and I've never had a problem straight out of the tap. If you find you're not getting results, and you believe chlorine might be the culprit, leave a jug of water sitting out overnight to allow the chlorine to disperse, and then use that. Or, filtered water.
Another sneaky trick to get your starter moving along is to use Potato water. This is the water left behind when you boil potatoes.. Just drain it in to a glass jar, allow it to cool, and then refridgerate it until required. It actually works a treat, and the extra yeast in the Potatoes can give your starter a huge boost!
PlacementCompile your starter in a big glass jar, make sure it has at least 10 cups worth of space in it, because if you get lucky your starter can expand at a rapid rate. The best place is anywhere in the kitchen. Not in the fridge or in the pantry, but somewhere out of the way. Cover it with cheesecloth or even a Chux to keep flies and other insects out of it.
FeedingTo get your starter off and running, combine half a cup of flour and half a cup of warm water in your glass jar, and stir it vigorously until it's well incorporated. You're going to want to feed your starter (add more flour and water) twice a day, at least 8 hours apart. Don't stress if you miss a feeding or two, this happens. As long as you keep a decent schedule your starter will be happy to oblige. Once the initial feeding occurs, you can cut it back to 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of warm water. If you find your starter is going ballistic and reaching for the sky, discard half of it at every feeding, and continue until you actually use it.
The RiseYour starter should begin to rise after 4 days, but it can take up to 2 weeks for any results, especially if you live in a cold area. You will know you are succeeding when bubbles start to appear on the top of the mixture, and when you life the jar to the light, you can see aerated bubbles in your dough. It's also easy to tell when you feed and stir, whether it has been rising, by the mark left on the side of the jar after a feeding. See these two bubbling away? Don't worry if this doesn't happen immediately, patience is the key. Don't discard a tardy Starter.. Keep feeding, ensure it is getting enough humidity, and perservere. If it is really bothering you, add a teaspoon of sugar at each feeding, and use the water from boiled potatoes. This can help to gather and cultivate the wild yeast.
ConsistencyWe know with most gluten free cooking, the key is to use more liquid. With a gluten free sourdough starter, there is no need, so the consistency you want to aim for is not so thick that you could kneed it, but not so wet that it doesn't lose its form. Basically, if you mix it with a wooden spoon and it drips off the back of the spoon, it is too wet. If you can poke it with your spoon and it doesn't stick to the spoon, it is too dry. It's a trial and error game. If it isn't rising and seems watery, use less liquid. If it isn't rising and just sits there like a boring dough ball, it need more water.
HibernationIf, for some reason, you are unable to feed your starter (vacation for example) or you just don't need to use it as fast as it is growing, it's a good idea to place it in a state of hibernation. This means portioning some, or all, of your starter and placing it in the refridgerator. Place an airtight lid on your jar and put it in the fridge.. That's it! Your starter will live happily in your fridge for up to a month. If you have a longer period, then I suggest freezing. If you are going to freeze it, dry it out first. To do this, spread a thin layer of your starter on a baking sheet and allow to dry for 2 days. Crumble it up, put it in a ziplock container and freeze. This is generally only if you are really attached to your starter, because as you will see in the next step it's time consuming to revive a frozen or hibernated starter.
Reviving a Hibernated StarterGluten and non-gluten sourdough starters differ slightly here. For some reason, it will be harder to revive your non gluten starter. Do not let that discourage you. To revive a refridgerated starter, simply take it out and begin feeding it again. Over the course of 4 - 7 days, it should become active once again.
A frozen starter, dried, is a different proposition. Add 1 Tbs of the crumbs to 1/2 of flour, and 1/2 of warm water. At each subsequent feeding you can continue to add a Tbs of the crumbs and 1/4 cup of flour and water. It may take a couple of weeks for your starter to resume its merry march towards the top of your jar though. But if you love you starter, then it is worth it.
TroubleshootingMaking Gluten Free things is hard. It's trial and error. Thankfully, with sourdough starter, it's actually quite easy to remedy any problems you are having. Here are some common ones.
My starter has a layer of liquid on top of it that isn't incorporating in to the dough
This is called Hooch, and it is alcoholic. It is a by-product of the fermentation process, and is in no way harmful to your starter. All you need to do is drain the liquid off, and use a little less liquid than usual in your next couple of feedings!
The top of my starter has gone mouldy
If you are constantly feeding and stirring, this really shouldn't happen, but if it does, no fear. Just scrape the mould off the top and ensure you don't mix any of it in with the dough. Your starter is meant to be sour. It is meant to sit and ferment. Mould will happen (usually on the sides of the jar or around the rim). It isn't harmful. Just scrape it off and keep plowing onwards.
My starter isn't rising, and I see no bubbles
There's any number of reasons. Firstly, ensure you are using the right flour. Unbleached, organic if possible. Some flour which has sat in packaging for a year that you bought from Woolies may not rise much at all. If this is happening consistently for 2 or 3 weeks, change your flour, buy more expensive and better quality from a specialist store.
Your climate may not be conducive to a heavy rising starter. If this is the case, to give it a helping hand, place a cup of water in the microwave for 1 minute, then immediately place the starter in the microwave when it is done. Every few hours, zap the water again (after removing the starter). This will create a nice humid environment for your starter.
You haven't given it enough time. As I said earlier, it can take up to 2 weeks for a starter to start. Keep feeding, keep going, have patience.
Use filtered water instead of tap water.
If none of this works, I suggest venturing out and buying a starter mix, or a starter, from a bread shop, specialty store or supermarket. Purists will tell you this is the cheats way, but purists can shove it. If it isn't working, go for it!
I will be posting recipes as soon as I perfect them. Bread, Pizza Dough, Muffins, Waffles, Pancakes, Crepes.. There's so much you can do with your starter, and it will save you countless dollars!