The Homer Project. (My Sourdough Starter)

A few years ago I became obsessed with making sourdough bread. I started reading anything and everything I could get my little hands on about the sour.  I lived in San Francisco for a little over 14 years, and the sour was calling me. Like for real, screaming at me Holla girl, holla back.

Back in my SF days I had my favorite bakery brands of course and became somewhat of a sourdough bread snob. The outside had to be hard and crunchy, with a dark- almost mahogany color, yielding to a ridiculously soft holey matrix of pockets of love that when slathered with mayo for a sandwich, or dipped in good olive oil would be nirvana at every bite. Those who are “sour lovers” know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a sour fanatic it’s not crazy to go to 2 or even 3 stores before you find “your brand”. Weirdness, but in a good way. Even my son is a sourdough bread snob. He likes the cracked wheat version and would go days on end where his choice of breakfast would be only dark toasted pieces slathered with unsalted butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Yep, he’s definitely my kid. I still crave cracked wheat sourdough toasted/butter slathered/salted slices whenever I’m sick and need comfort food, there’s nothing better than a runny egg atop a slice of buttered, salted toasty slice.  Back to my dark crusty version obsession….. So living in Arizona is not exactly the mecca for sourdough bread (uh duh) and one day I was craving, and I mean CRAVING those loaves I used to buy in San Francisco and it got me thinking, it’s time to start making my own. My first attempt failed; even after following the directions to a T my starter died after a week. I was crushed and couldn’t figure out what went wrong so I took to the interwebs of course where I soon found a plethora of so called tried and true recipes. After with experimenting with various trials, including the pineapple juice bit in the starter; it worked for a minute, but then gave way to failure, so after MANY trials, I have come to the conclusion (for me) that adding in small amount of dark rye flour to the starter in the beginning and feeding it along the way with a combo mix of bread flour and rye flour was the key to success. Mind you; your bread will not take like rye in the final result; so don’t panic if you are not fond of rye. There’s something about the rye that just was the key for me. 

I decided I needed to name my little sour project, cuz you know, it’s way beyond personal at this point. I’ve heard/read people name their starter all the time. It reminded me of the chapter in one of Anthony Bourdain’s book where he describes how his cook had named his starter “The bitch” and whenever the cook was hungover or couldn’t come into work he was known to call in and scream hearfelt messages demanding that “Make sure someone feeds the bitch!” Some people call their starter the Mother and some call it their bitch. Mine, I decided it needed a different spin; so I named mine “Homer” after Homer Simpson since he’s always saying “Doh!” it seemed appropriate. Well, I went about parking Homer on the counter, and then in the fridge and people cruising through the kitchen would ask, what are you doing. Uh duh... I’m feeding Homer of course.  At the time when Seth was still in high school we would have several guys and gals roaming in and out through our kitchen. Yes, they made fun of me. Yes, they thought I was a bit nuts. Yes, they assumed it wouldn’t work. Until….I made my first loaf and they tasted it. The crust was perfection. It had that dark crispy, crusty, crunchy mahogany like brown color I had dreamed of. The interior was full of a soft matrix of holey goodness with the perfect amount of chew. I made my first loaf for dinner one night. I sliced it while still warm and slathered it with butter and of course sprinkled some kosher salt flakes on top.

Seth, my sour loving child of mine was in awe of what I had created. Here’s how it played out. The silence after the first bite…..then the eyes rolled back into his head, and then the wide eyed LOOK at me/side glance followed promptly by the low baritone moan from his soul after taking another bite while the melted butter rolled out of his mouth after he ripped into the slice for another bite. The Husband was pretty much a carbon copy skit when he took a bite as well. You can imagine that loaf didn’t last very long. It was devoured by the next day. I knew I was onto something. Soon- they no longer made fun of my dear Homer. Homer was respected, and even revered with queries even of “How’s Homer doing?” as I laid him to a sweet slumber, sort of, back into the fridge as I cared for him and continued to “feed” him with little bits of flour and water while he napped lovingly back in my fridge awaiting his next performance when he would be ushered onstage again to yield another dear wonderful loaf of goodness.  Homer was so beloved that discarding him day after day was a bit hard, so I decided to give one of my discards to my neighbor who is an amazing cook on her own and aptly named it “Marge”.  


Day one: The start

Mix very well in a large Mason Jar or container:

100 g filtered water (I always use room temp)

50 g of bread flour 

50 g of rye flour 

Mix very well and again cover loosely with your same paper coffee filter or plastic wrap. Let sit another 24 hrs….

Note- I like to mark my jar or container with masking tape, lining up the top edge of the tape flush with the level of the starter after mixing. If you have rubber band you can also do that. 

Day two:  Observe…

[You may start to see some small bubbles form], if you don’t it’s okay. Allow the starter to rest for another 24 hours and day three we will start to “feed”. 

Day three (24 hours later) 

Whether bubbles are visible or not, it’s time to start feeding our starter. Remove and discard half of the overall starter, and in a new clean jar.:::

Add in 100 g of filtered water (always room temp),

along with 50 g of bread flour,

25 g of whole wheat flour, and

25 g of rye flour.

Mix well  with a spoon, or in my case, I use a chopstick. Cover with plastic wrap loosely. Let sit on the counter at room temperature. Note; it you want to do all rye flour or all whole wheat flour it’s perfectly fine and up to you. I decided I like this particular combination most often. 

Day four,five, and six.  

12 hours apart continue to feed (I like to do mine at 10 Am, and 10 Pm). 

Stir the starter well- then, remove /and discard half of the starter and continue to feed  (in a clean jar each time) with the same quantity 100 g filtered water, 100 g of flour as above in day three with the mix of 50/25/25.

Continue to le/t it sit out on the counter at room temperature. If you have a rubber band- I like to place it around the outside of the jar to gauge how much your starter has grown in size.

Once it reaches the peak stage of doubling, I feed it once a day. If you don’t plan to use it right away, you can park your starter in the fridge and feed it once a month. 

Day seven. 

By now you should be seeing some activity in the way of rising/doubling in quantity, falling, and large bubbles on the surface of the starter in the jar when looking down into the jar. You may see some liquid that rises to the top on the surface of your starter. This is called “Hooch” and simply just stir it back into the starter. Some people feel that you should discard this, but frankly I don’t see the difference or point of it; having done both and honestly, I’m lazy; so it’s just one more thing I don’t need to obsess about. I’d like to note that each time I discard/feed I am using a clean jar. I find that it’s best to clean the jar right away as well after you discard as if you don’t it can be quite challenging to get it clean. If you’re hurried for time, at least fill up the jar of the discard /previous day’s with water and let it sit in the sink so it’s easier to scrub. Once your starter has reached peak level with evidence of good fermentation it is ready to be used as levain to be mixed in the initial stage of making bread. You can make sourdough or even other types of bread. One of my favorites is a bread called Pain de Campagne, which is a French country loaf type of bread and I absolutely love the flavor. It makes amazing toast and has a denser crumb than the open holey crumb of a sourdough. 

Here he is at peak volume- he has more than doubled in size; notice the large bubbles.
This photo was actually taken about 8 hrs after he was fed. The original start volume was at the line of the top part of the tape.
I have an all Rye version to the right of original Homer, here you can see Homer has risen to double or more of the original volume.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pattie says:

    Thank you for this article about sourdough bread, and trying to replicate the SD taste from San Francisco. I LOVE SD bread, and made some various recipes with a neighbor some years back, before Covid. The flavors were good, but we never got so far as to have it taste anything like the real deal. We bought the starter, and only used this when we tried various SD recipes. Reading how you made your starter from scratch, and what flours you used is VERY helpful, and is encouraging me to try this again, but from scratch this time. Please print your favorite recipe for Pain de Champagne, as I would LOVE to try making it once I get a good starter going. Of course I realize that starters take on different flavors depending on what part of the country you live in. San Francisco has that lovely SD taste in the air. Not sure what flavor I will get living in central PA, but it is worth a try!!

    1. swooz says:

      Hi Pattie, thanks- I plan on posting my recipe soon for the Pain de Campagne bread. Regarding the sour flavor in a sourdough to make it more sour, I learned after reading different sources tgat if you retard your shaped loaf in the fridge longer, it will take on more sour flavor. I found that if I let my shaped loaf rest in the fridge for 48 hours it took on a more pronounced sour flavor. I’m going to post some other insights about this in the future from other bakers who are more specialized in this subject who I’ve read up on. Cheers!

  2. Pattie says:

    That’s very interesting I wouldn’t have thought to try that, but I will do. Making sourdough bread sure takes a lot longer than it does to eat it…haha.

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