Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

excerpted and adapted from an article by Sharon Kane

*A few definitions:*

STARTER: A culture of wild yeast and lactobacilli in a flour-and-water medium used for leavening bread products.

PLAIN STARTER: Simply brown rice flour and water (not as potent or dependable as a boosted starter).

BOOSTED STARTER: Brown rice flour and water boosted with one to two tablespoons of water kefir, dairy kefir, kefir whey or kombucha.

FRESHLY MADE STARTER: A new starter made without any previously fermented starter.

ONGOING STARTER: A small amount of potent starter reserved from every batch and used to ferment the next batch.

RESTING STARTER: Starter stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator. It needs to be fed every two weeks. To feed, remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Add equal amounts of flour and water. Let ferment for at least four hours and return to refrigerator.

*Working With Starters*

There are three ways to work with starters:

1. You can use up all your starter each time you cook or bake. You would create a new starter for each time you want to cook. Just allow enough time, usually three to four days, for the starter to be ready.
2. You can have an ongoing starter at room temperature stored on the counter indefinitely, feeding it two to three times a day. You take out what you need for that day’s cooking, leaving a small amount for the next batch, feeding it and letting it continue to ferment.
3. You can store your starter in the refrigerator between cooking and baking days. It must be fed every two weeks, or more frequently. Take it out of the refrigerator, and feed it with brown rice flour and water (the amount depends on how much starter you need for baking; for example, you might feed it with 1.5 cups of flour and approximately 1.25 cups of water, in order to have enough active starter for a loaf of bread). Let it ferment on the counter for 5-8 hours. Then, take a tablespoon of the active starter, feed it with equal parts brown rice flour and water (a few tablespoons of each), and put it back in the refrigerator, while using the rest of the active starter for your recipe. [This is Sarabeth's method - if I've given you some of my starter, it's already happy and "boosted" and does not need to be made fresh from the beginning, just stored and fed regularly as above.]

If you need a lot of starter you can use one cup flour and one cup water for each feeding. If you need a small amount you can start with one cup flour and one cup water and use smaller amounts, such as one quarter or one third cup flour and water each for subsequent feeding.

If you miss a feeding check to see whether the starter seems less potent or too acidic. If it's less potent it may still be fine for pancakes. if it's too acidic, the finished products may be unpleasantly sour. It may be best to discard it and start over.

The best starter consistency is not too soupy and not too thick. Using roughly equal amounts of flour and water with a little less water than flour, gives a nice balance. If the starter is very soupy right before cooking you can use just flour and no water for the last feeding or two. If right before cooking the texture seems too thick you can always add a little water, a tablespoon at a time, whisking as you go until you get the right consistency.

*How to make a Boosted Brown Rice Starter*

Start with one cup brown rice flour and put it in a ceramic or glass bowl. Pour in slightly less than one cup water and whisk smooth. Add one to two tablespoons of water kefir, dairy kefir, kefir whey or kombucha and whisk again. Cover with a cloth or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Leave it on the counter away from drafts or extreme temperatures.

Feed the starter every eight to twelve hours, or two to three times a day, for a total of four days, with nearly equal amounts of rice flour and water, a bit less on the water, whisking smooth each time and covering.

After two days put the starter in a clean bowl and continue feeding. (Change the bowl so that the dried out starter that clings to the sides of the bowl stays out of the living starter.) After about forty-eight hours the starter should show signs of viability. If you don’t see any bubbles or “hilling” you can add another tablespoon of water kefir, dairy kefir, kefir whey or kombucha.

By the third day you should see small bubbles, especially while stirring. By the fourth day you may see bubbles of different sizes and there may be a hissing, burbling sound when they rise from the bottom of the bowl.

It should take about four days for a new starter to be ready for cooking. It may take less time in warm weather and more in cold weather. With a little practice you will get to know when your starter is ready. If you want ongoing starter, when you’re ready to cook or bake, remove a small amount 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and put it in a clean bowl. Feed with roughly equal amounts of flour and water and whisk smooth. Cover and set aside to continue fermenting. This will be your starter for your next batch. Proceed with your recipe using the remaining starter.


*Weights and equivalents*

¼ c. brown rice flour = 40 g.
¼ c. water = 65 g.
1 c. starter + 300g

1 cup starter = (approx.) 95 g. rice flour and 150 g. water (replaces ~9.5 tbsp. of each)
2 cups starter = (approx.) 190 g. rice flour and 300 g. water (replaces ~1 c. plus 3 tbsp. of each)
(1 1/2 cups starter replaces about 1 cup each of flour and water)