If you've been wanting to make your own gluten free sourdough starter, you'll find this recipe very simple and successful, with easy-to-follow instructions. It takes some care and attention for the initial two weeks, and from then on you can have a vigourous healthy sourdough starter to use in any of your baking for years to come, with only minimal attention to keep your starter alive and active. Plus, you'll have a continuous supply of fantastic sourdough 'discard' to use in all kinds of recipes. (Skip to recipe.)
I've been a bit late to the sourdough party, but it's not for lack of trying. I've been having a sourdough party all by myself at home, working on getting a beautiful, active, vigourous gluten free sourdough starter built, and I finally got the right one going. He's a great party guest with a bubbly personality, always ready to do a little boogying and ready to hop into any recipe.
Sourdough is an ancient leavening material used to provide the 'rise' in baking without using commercial yeast or baking powder/baking soda etc. It captures the wild yeasts naturally occurring in the air all around us and on the surfaces of plant products (the grains of the flour used). Different strains of yeasts proliferate in different locations and on different grains - that is why the sourdoughs specific to certain areas of the world become famous for their unique tastes (like the famous San Francisco sourdough bread).
Once you have successfully captured and nurtured the yeast strains specific to your particular locale and ingredients in your own unique sourdough starter, you can have an active, living sourdough that can be viable indefinitely (some sourdoughs have been kept alive and active for over a 100 years!)
In addition to providing leavening and adding a fantastic and complex sour/tangy flavour to baked goods, the fermenting action of sourdough makes the flour more digestible. The yeast organisms partially digest the starches in the flour, in turn making it easier for humans to digest. Sourdough breads and baking need to go through a slow ferment/rise stage (often 12 to 14 hours), wherein the yeast feeds and 'works on' the unfermented flours added to the recipe along with the sourdough starter. This is why many people who are simply gluten intolerant can easily tolerate regular (wheat flour) sourdough.
However, people with celiac disease or a gluten allergy, must avoid even 'regular' sourdough, as it would cause severe gluten reactions. Therefore, a gluten free sourdough is the answer - and a very delicious answer at that. It is a safe and tasty way to enjoy the fantastic flavours of sourdough baking, and is also more digestible than the pre-fermented gluten free grains are.
For the last couple months I've had different versions of sourdough starter fermenting away on my counter, spending a lot of time (and wasting a lot of flour) until I came up with a version that's successful and reliably, fantastically active. My first attempt was one with brown rice flour and water - it was okay, but kinda wimpy. Then I used sorghum flour and water - a little bit better, but still not rising nice and high and bubbly.
I started to do a lot of internet research (as in hours and hours, waking up in the night to do more bleary-eyed reading and obsessive YouTube watching of countless sourdough sagas). I was intrigued by a version that used potato cooking water. Others added a grated organic apple or a bit of sugar to get things going. I ended up combining several methods, and finally - sweet sourdough success! Using a mix of buckwheat flour and sweet rice flour was the key (for me). I tried a corn flour and sweet rice version at the same time, and it worked well in the beginning, but after a couple weeks, it never rose as high and bubbly as the buckwheat version.
I started my sourdough using regular buckwheat flour, which is coarser and darker, because that's all I had. Then after a couple weeks I started feeding my starter with light buckwheat flour (made from hulled buckwheat groats) and it rose even higher as it fermented, so that's what I now stick with.
*Update: I did find out that if I use the superfine Asian sweet rice/glutinous rice flour the sourdough starter lost a lot of its 'oomph' and didn't rise nearly as high. So I'm sticking to using organic sweet rice flour (regular fine grind) from the health food store.
Give Your Starter a Name - After All, it Could be Part of your Family for a Long Time
Apparently, naming your sourdough starter is a 'thing' and it's supposed to bring you luck in your baking. You end up feeding and nurturing your sourdough starter like it's your baby (luckily it doesn't talk back and doesn't scribble on the walls), so you might as well name it. I did name each of my first sourdough starters (there was a Lucy, a Lou, and a Bubbles), all of which I had to unceremoniously boot out of our family.
However, this latest buckwheat sourdough baby is a keeper, and I'm sure will be around for a long time. He is officially named 'Bubba'.
When to Use the Gluten Free Sourdough Starter for Baking
Your starter is at its optimum strength when it gets to the top of its rise (the highest it gets) or just after it's started to fall a bit. That's when it's best to use for baking.
Regular non-gluten free sourdough will rise to about double its height, but gluten free sourdough doesn't rise quite that high - probably to about ¾ of its original height.
When to Feed your Starter
Your sourdough starter can be fed any time after it has risen and then fallen again to almost its original height. The wild yeasts in it will have digested all the starches they can and now need more food to get active and grow again. They don't have to be fed immediately upon falling, and can sit for several hours after 'deflating' before needing to be fed again. During its initial development stage, your starter needs to be fed daily or twice daily.
However, after the initial 14 days of nurturing your starter, if you occasionally forget to feed it for one day (if leaving it on the counter to feed daily), it will still be fine. Likewise, if you are storing it in the fridge and feeding it weekly, and you forget to feed it one week, it will survive an occasional two week spell without feeding. If you leave it too long, you may be able to save it - it's worth trying to revive it by frequent feedings to see if it is still viable.
What to Do if you are Going Away
Your starter can be stored in the fridge without feeding for 2 to 3 weeks. It may need to have several daily or twice daily feedings to get it back to its original vigour before you can use it in a recipe once you return. Sourdough starter can also be frozen successfully for up to a year, or dehydrated, stored, and then reconstituted (online searches will provide information on how to do this).
The Bonus Treasure from Making Sourdough - the 'Discard' (In Other Words, Don't Throw it Out!)
The thing with making sourdough is that every time you feed your sourdough (daily and even twice daily in the first weeks) you have to remove some of your starter before adding more flour and water. If you don't remove any, you'd have to add way more flour and water to feed all the hungry little yeast organisms in there, and before you know it you'd be swimming in an overflow of burgeoning sourdough starter! So to keep the amounts manageable (and not waste flour) you get to discard half of your starter each time you feed it. That discard is funky sourdough fermented gold.
You can use it for all kinds of delicious things. I've been making a lot of sourdough pancakes. Easy peasy. I'll post the recipe soon. But our absolute favourite sourdough discard recipe is sourdough crackers. They have the most amazing light crisp texture and a fantastic tanginess that makes them taste almost cheesy! I have made many batches of sourdough discard crackers in the last couple months, in many variations, and they are all addictively delicious. We can't get enough of them.
Sourdough discard can passed along to friends to make their own sourdough starter (they just have to continue feeding it as you do), it can be thrown out, tossed in the compost, or fed to the chickens, but why would you do that when it can be used in tasty little baking projects? It's really just flour and water made more delicious and digestible by the fermentation process. So, every time you discard half of your sourdough starter before feeding it, pour the discard into a jar in the fridge. Keep adding to it, and keep the jar stored in the fridge with the lid just loosely screwed on to allow any residual fermenting gases to escape. Stir it occasionally, or whenever you add another bit of sourdough discard. If a layer of hooch develops, stir it back in. The discard will keep for months in the fridge and can also be frozen. (Though if it develops any mould or slime on top - throw it out.)
Once you are feeding your sourdough starter at 100% hydration, you can use the discard to replace part of the flour and liquid in any recipe (think muffins, cakes, etc) to add a complex tanginess to the finished product. Just remember that the discard is equal parts flour and water by weight and adjust the recipe accordingly. So if you use 100 grams of sourdough discard in the recipe, you'd use 50 grams less flour and 50 grams less liquid than the original amounts the recipe calls for.
Have Fun with Your Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
If you're ready for a new level of challenge and fun in your gluten free baking, you'll love playing around with a sourdough starter. A little bit of time investment in the first few weeks will bring you a long time of sourdough fun and deliciousness.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Many sources say you can use a sourdough starter by the 7th day, but I find that gluten free sourdough starter is a little slower to mature and come to full vigour. I had the most luck by feeding it often and waiting until it was at least 14 days old to use in heavy workload recipes like sourdough bread. However the 'discard' is wonderful to use right from the beginning, as it's used more for its flavour than its leavening power; you will need to supplement it with other leavening, like baking powder or yeast, as it doesn't have enough 'oomph' left in it to to provide all the rise by itself.
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter Recipe and Instructions
- 4 medium russet potatoes (about 8 oz/225gms each)
- 4 cups water
- ½ cup (37gms) light buckwheat flour, plus more to continue feeding the starter (about 6 cups to get you to day 14)
- ½ cup (37gms) sweet rice flour, plus more to continue feeding the starter (about 6 cups to get you to day 14)
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
Peel the potatoes and put them, whole, into a saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue boiling the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the potatoes and reserve them for another use (serve them for dinner, mash them, make potato salad, etc.).
Measure out 1¼ cups of the potato cooking water into a glass or ceramic bowl (discard the rest of the cooking water) and let it cool for 5 minutes. Add the ½ cup buckwheat flour, ½ cup sweet rice flour, sugar, and salt. Stir to make a thin batter with no lumps in it.
Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave it sitting on the counter at room temperature for 4 days, until it starts to ferment and bubble actively, stirring it once every day with a wooden spoon handle. It will smell very sour on the second and third day, but as it starts to actively ferment, the smell should become less intense, and more of a pleasantly sour smell.
Day 4: On the 4th day, when the sour smell has settled down a bit and the batter looks nice and bubbly, add ¼ cup (37 gms) of buckwheat flour and ¼ cup (37 gms) sweet rice flour plus ½ cup (120ml) water and stir it in. Cover it and leave it to ferment for 1 more day. If you don't smell this reduction in sourness and see active bubbles on Day 4, leave the batter for one more day, then continue on with the next steps a day later (your fifth day will now be considered Day 4).
The next day (Day 5), remove about 1 cup of the starter (save it in a loosely covered jar in the fridge to use in sourdough discard recipes once you have enough collected). Add another ¼ cup of each flour plus ½ cup (120ml) water and stir it in. This act of removing some of the starter and adding more flour and water is called 'feeding your starter'. Pour the fed starter to a clean mason jar (1 quart/1 liter is the best size at this stage, in case your starter rises a lot).
Cover the starter with several layers of cheesecloth or a piece of muslin fabric (or a coffee filter) and secure it with a rubber band. Put a rubber band around the jar, level with the top of the starter, to give you a reference point for seeing how much it rises (you can also put a piece of masking tape at the level of the starter for a reference point).
Each day for the next week at roughly the same time in the morning and in the evening (yes, twice a day), stir down your starter, then pour out half of it (into your collecting jar for sourdough discard in the fridge) and feed the remaining half with another ¼ cup of each flour plus ½ cup of water.
On Day 12, you will decrease the amount of water you feed your starter, so that you are feeding it an equal amount of water to the flour, measured by weight rather than volume (if you don't have a scale, you can use the amounts given below). This is called 100% hydration. Up until this time you've been feeding it a wetter batter and the starter was fairly liquid. It will be thicker from now on, kind of like a thick cake batter.
At Day 14, your starter is ready to use in sourdough baking, and can be stored in the fridge between bakes (only needing to be fed once a week) indefinitely.
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter Schedule
Day 0: Boil potatoes and mix up your initial gluten free potato sourdough starter batter. Put it into a bowl on your counter, loosely covered with a clean dish towel.
Day 1: Stir starter. Cover again and leave to ferment.
Day 2: Stir starter. Cover again and leave to ferment. It should be starting to have a sour smell.
Day 3: Stir starter. Cover again and leave to ferment. There should be a very strong sour smell now.
Day 4: Sour smell should be less strong today and there should be active bubbles. Stir starter. Add ¼ cup (37gms) of light buckwheat flour + ¼ cup (37gms) of sweet rice flour + ½ cup (120ml) water. Stir. Cover and leave on counter.
Day 5: Remove 1 cup of starter (discard it or save it in the fridge). Add ¼ cup of light buckwheat flour + ¼ cup sweet rice flour + ½ cup water to the remaining starter in the bowl. Stir, and pour the starter into a clean 1 quart/litre mason jar. Cover with several layers of cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band. Mark the top level of starter with tape or elastic band.
Day 6 to 11: You will need to feed your starter twice a day during this time, once in the morning and once in the early evening, at roughly the same time each day. Pour out half of the starter each time (discard it or add it to your starter-discard saved in fridge). Feed the remaining starter with ¼ cup of light buckwheat flour + ¼ cup sweet rice flour + ½ cup water. You may get a layer of clear liquid forming on top; this is called 'hooch' and is a byproduct of the yeast's digestion of the starches in the flours. It is harmless and can either be poured off or poured back into the starter. I alternate between both, depending on how liquid my starter is.
Day 12 and 13: Now you will start feeding your starter (still twice a day) at 100% hydration rate, which means equal parts total flour to water by weight, rather than volume. The flour amounts will stay the same but you will need less water.
The feedings from now on will be 75 grams flour + 75 grams water, which is approximately ¼ cup light buckwheat flour + ¼ cup sweet rice flour + ⅓ cup water. You can use a scale to be exact, or use volume measures which are more approximate, but still work fine. Olden day pioneers didn't have scales and went by feel, so you don't need to be super exact. Your starter will be slightly thicker with the 100% hydration than it was up until now. It should have the consistency of a thick muffin batter when you feed it, and after rising and fermenting, when you pour half of it out, it will have thinned to a thick pourable cake batter consistency due to the action of the wild yeast on the flour. If I get any hooch settling on top or in the middle of my starter, I now stir it back in, to keep the starter from getting too thick.
Day 14: Your starter is now ready to use in any gluten free sourdough baking recipes. The best time to use it is after it has been fed and is risen to its maximum height, or just after it's started to fall, and is only a little bit past the top of its rise. If the starter deflates completely, it's best to feed it again and wait for it to rise before using it in baking. Stir it before measuring to use in recipes.
Beyond Day 14: You can now keep your gluten free sourdough starter on the counter at room temperature and feed it once a day if you do a lot of baking. Or you can move it to the fridge and feed it once a week. You will still always remove approximately half of the batter before feeding it (just pour some of it out - amount doesn't have to be exact). You will always now feed it at the 100% hydration ratio of flour to water [¼ cup of each flour (75gms total) + ⅓ cup (75gms) water] . Allow the starter to get a start on fermenting for 1 hour at room temperature after a feeding before you return it to the fridge.
*Time Saving Tip: You can mix up a larger container with equal parts light buckwheat flour and sweet rice flour, then use ½ cup of your flour mix and ⅓ cup of water for each feeding.
How to Bake with Your Gluten Free Sourdough Starter: The day before you plan to start your baking, remove the starter from the fridge to sit on the counter at room temperature, and make sure to give it one or two feeding cycles before you use it in your baking. If you are planning a bigger bake and need more starter for your recipes, double the amount of flour and water you feed it in your pre-bake feeding (move the starter to a 1 quart/litre mason jar if you're using a smaller jar). Remove the amount of starter you need for baking, making sure there is a small amount left in the jar as a base for your next batch, and feed what's left with normal feeding quantities of flour and water. Leave it at room temperature for 1 hour to get a start on fermenting, then return the starter to the fridge until you need it again for a next bake.
Good luck, have fun, and Guten Appetit!
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