We are new sourdough addicts. A week ago, based on my request many months ago, my friend offered to help me learn to bake sourdough. We ground some fresh rye wheat into flour. To a pinch of commercial yeast we added water and rye flour. Each day on four subsequent days we added another dose of water and rye flour. We left it in a warmish corner of the kitchen, open to the air for the first day, and then lidded. By Day 4 the stuff was bubbly and decidedly sour-smelling. The kids were alternately curious, disgusted and helpful.
On Day 4 we had a fully-formed sourdough 'chef'. Late that evening we pulled out a cup of it to make a sourdough starter, replenished the chef and tucked it in the fridge. By morning the starter was vigourous. It worked beautifully, just like regular yeast, though it didn't need sugar or anything else to encourage it to action. We made our first loaves then and as soon as they disappeared replenished the breadbox with more. The chef seems like it's going to be pretty low-maintenance, just needing re-feeding once a week in the fridge, and by setting up the starter at bedtime, the time required for producing the sourdough isn't particularly onerous and fits nicely into a morning at home.
It's so much fun to learn something new and find out that it's not as complicated as you thought.
A Basic Sourdough Chef:
Day 1: 2/3 c. rye flour, 1/2 c. water, 1/16th tsp. yeast
Day 2: 2/3 c. rye flour, 1/2 c. water added to previous day's mix. Cover.
Day 3: Same as Day 2
Day 4: Same as Day 2 -- should double in bulk within 8 hours.
Evening of Day 4: Remove 1 cup of mixture to make a starter (or discard), and replenish chef with 3/4 cup of rye flour and a little over 1/2 cup of water. Tuck in the fridge.
No more than a week later: same as Evening of Day 4
Repeat ad lib.
1 cup of chef
1/2 cup of water
1 cup of rye flour
Mix in a bowl, cover tightly and leave in a warm place overnight.
There are zillions of recipes. One we've liked adds to the starter 3 cups of lukewarm water, 2 tsp. salt, about 7 cups of wheat flour (about 1/3 of which is whole wheat), and a cup or two of carmelized onions. Mix, knead, let rise for 2 1/2 hours. Deflate, knead, shape into loaves, let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Bake very hot (400F+) for 30-40 minutes. Tossing 1/3 cup of water into the bottom of a very hot oven a couple of times at the outset of baking helps make a wonderful crust.
I said to Chuck "don't throw out the grey stuff in the fridge -- it's my sourdough starter." He said "when have I ever thrown out grey stuff in the fridge?" :-D