If you've recently made a sourdough starter, you're probably wondering when you can bake bread with it.
The amount of time it takes for a starter to mature is mostly dependent on the ambient temperature of your kitchen.
Warmer kitchens will take less time while cooler kitchens will require a little more patience. 7-14 days is the average timeframe.
Signs that your sourdough starter is ready to bake with
The sourdough starter doubles in size.
This can take anywhere from 4-12 hours depending on the ratio of starter to flour and water.
TIP: Slide a rubberband on the jar to mark the starting point of the starter. This will allow you to see if the starter has doubled in size.
We use a small ratio of starter when feeding to allow a longer, 12-hour rise time.
With a ratio of 1 part sourdough starter to 4 parts flour and 4 parts water, you can feed your starter before bed and it will be ready to mix into the dough the next morning.
Starters that are fed a 1:1:1 ratio which is equal parts starter, flour, and water will double more quickly. (This is because the yeast and bacteria have less food.)
There are bubbles on the surface and sides of the jar
You'll know the starter is active if you see plenty of bubbles on the surface and on the sides of the jar.
If you see a small number of bubbles, it means that there is some activity but not enough to bake with.
It takes time to build up the number of bacteria and yeast needed to make bread rise so keep up the daily feedings until you see plenty of bubbles!
The float test
Another way to find out if your starter is ready is to perform a "float test". When the starter has doubled in size, drop a tablespoon into a jar of room-temperature water.
If it floats, it is a good indication it is ready to bake. If it sinks, feed the starter for a few more days and try again.
Can I use sourdough starter discard in recipes while I'm making a starter?
Yes, but only in certain sourdough discard recipes. Collect the discard in a separate container and store it in the fridge until you have enough to make sourdough pancakes.
The pancake batter contains buttermilk which will help to reduce phytic acid in the wheat as it soaks overnight.
How can I boost my sourdough starter?
If you are still having trouble after 7-14 days, try adding a small amount of rye flour to the feedings. A teaspoon of rye flour should be more than enough.
Rye flour can give sourdough starters a boost in fermentation and help get those yeast and bacteria multiplying!
If you can't find rye flour, whole wheat flour can also help to give a sourdough starter a boost.
How long does it really take to build a healthy sourdough starter?
Although you can start baking bread in about a week, it will take about a month of regular feedings for your starter to fully mature.
Once you've got it going, maintaining a sourdough starter is easy!
The first few loaves you bake will probably be a little lackluster, but as the starter matures, they will get better and better with time.
Remember, you are creating something that can literally last a lifetime. Take the time to get to know your starter and it will be with you and your family for generations to come!