If you do not already have a starter, dried starter packets (sold by mail and in some natural foods stores) or fresh mail-order starters (see Where to Shop) work well. Follow the package directions to get the starter going, then follow the directions below for feeding once the starter is going strong. No matter where you get your starter and how carefully you maintain it, you should refresh it according to the instructions below before using in the Sourdough Bread recipe. Use King Arthur, Hodgson Mill, Heckers, or Ceresota all-purpose flour or Gold Medal or Pillsbury bread flour. Use filtered or bottled water; chlorinated tap water may affect the development of the culture
How to make it
bottled water (or filtered), 75 to 80 degrees
unbleached all-purpose flour with 11 to 13 percent protein content (see note)
Begin in the evening, two days before you intend to use the starter:
1. Stir starter well to recombine, measure out 1 cup (9 ounces), and discard remaining starter (or give it to a friend). Place measured starter in glass bowl or container with at least 1 1/2-quart capacity. Stir in 1 cup (8 ounces) water until combined, then stir in 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) flour until evenly moistened (mixture will be lumpy). Cover with lid or plastic wrap.
2. Let stand at room temperature 8 to 12 hours; repeat, pouring off all but 1 cup starter and feeding with 1 cup water and 1 1/2 cups flour, in the morning of the following day, and, finally, once again in the evening, letting it stand at room temperature for the entire time. The starter will be fully refreshed and ready to use the next morning, 8 to 12 hours after the last feeding.
Long-term starter maintenance:
To keep a starter alive over a long period of nonuse, store it in the refrigerator. It's best to feed it weekly, according to the instructions in step 1; let it stand at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours after feeding, then return it to the refrigerator.