There’s something in the air. At least that’s what you hope when you embark on the wild adventure of making a sourdough starter. We’re partial to our San Francisco Sourdough Starter Kit, which captures the wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria that’s made the city’s bread so famous. But with a little patience, you can make a starter out of fresh grapes and flour alone — here, we’ll show you how it’s done. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with delicious, slightly tangy homemade bread you can eat warm from the oven.
1 cup (6 oz./185 g.) organic grapes
1 cup (5 oz./155 g.) unbleached bread (hard-wheat) flour, plus more for feeding
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml.) warm water (105°F/40°C)
1. Squish the grapes
DAY 1: Discard any stems, place the grapes in a bowl, and crush lightly with your hands. Put the flour in another bowl and whisk in the water to make a smooth paste. Add the grapes and stir. Put the bowl, uncovered, in a warm place (about 80°F/27°C).
2. Feed the beast
DAY 2: You should see bubbles in the starter and it should have a pleasant smell. If your kitchen is cold, put the bowl in a warm-water bath, or fire up your oven and leave the starter close by. Feed the starter with 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml.) warm water and a heaping 1/4 cup (about 2 oz./60 g.) flour. Stir until you have a smooth paste with grape bumps.
3. Life confirmed
DAY 3: You should see a foamy sponge under an air-dried crust. (If not, your kitchen might be too cold, so try warming the starter and let it sit 2-3 more days.) Peel off and discard the crust. Whisk 1 cup warm water into the starter, then strain through the sieve into a bowl and whisk in 1 cup flour to form a thick paste.
4. Your starter’s new home
Divide the starter between two 1-qt. (1-l.) canning jars. Cover the jars with cheesecloth, and secure each with the metal-ring bands. Put them back in the warm spot. If the starter triples in size within 4-6 hours, it is strong enough to make your bread rise.
If it doesn’t, feed it each day for the next few days with 1/4 cup each warm water and flour. If the jars get too full from feeding, discard some of the starter.
When the starter is strong enough, remove 1 cup (9 1/2 oz./270 g.) to make bread.
5. Store it and feed it
Cover the jars, secure each lid in place with a band, use a hammer and nail to make a hole in the lids, and store in the refrigerator. Feed the starter once a week with 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) lukewarm water and 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) flour. If the jar gets too full, make bread or place some in another jar and give it to a friend, or throw some of it away.
Crusty Sourdough Bread
1 cup (9 1/2 oz./270 g.) bubbly sourdough starter
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml.) warm water (105°F/40°C)
About 4 cups (20 oz./630 g.) unbleached bread (hard-wheat) flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
Olive oil for bowl
Cornmeal or semolina flour for pan
3 cups (24 fl. oz./750 ml.) hot water
In a large bowl, whisk together the sourdough starter and water. Stir in 2 cups flour (10 oz./315 g.) until a smooth paste forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, place in a warm corner, and let rise until tripled in size and very bubbly. This will take 4-8 hours.
Add the salt and 1 cup (5 oz./155 g.) of the flour to the sponge and stir with a wooden spoon. When it becomes too difficult to stir, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is uniform, about 2 minutes. Gradually knead in more flour until the dough is smooth, 5-10 minutes; you may not need all of the flour. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn the ball to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in a warm corner to rise until doubled, 4-6 hours.
Punch down the dough, roll it into a ball, and flatten it slightly into a round loaf. Pinch the seams on the bottom together tightly. Line a bowl with a dish towel, sprinkle the towel with flour (to prevent sticking), and place the loaf, seam side up, in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 2 hours.
Position one rack in the center and one rack in the lower third of the oven. Place a shallow baking pan with a 3-cup capacity on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Dust a rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal.
Quickly and gently flip the loaf upside down onto the prepared baking sheet. Carefully pour the hot water into the pan in the oven and quickly shut the door. Using a very sharp knife, make 3 slashes, each 1/4 inch (6 mm.) deep, across the top of the loaf, and without delay, place the bread on the center rack in the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes, using a mister to quickly spray the side walls of the oven with water every 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C), rotate the baking sheet front to back, and continue to bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers 210°F (100°C). Let cool 5 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool slightly before slicing. Makes 1 large loaf.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey.