Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter (Natural Levain Starter Culture) Recipe

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Gluten-Free Natural Levain

Makes one starter

Levain (also called natural leaven or sourdough bread) is traditionally made from an ongoing starter culture. This age-old process has been masterfully adapted for gluten-free breads by Durga Fuller, of Portland’s The Cook Awakening. Through dedicated experimentation she has found a mixture of gluten-free flours that support a continuous starter. Her method is straightforward and utilizes many elements of traditional levain.

4 cups Gluten-Free Whole Flour

5-6 cups clean (well, spring, or filtered) water

¼ cup fresh or frozen organic grapes

Day 1:

In a large glass or ceramic bowl combine one cup flour, one cup water, and the grapes.  Add up to ¼ cup more water to thin the starter to the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with a breathable cloth or paper towel. Secure the cover tightly with a string or rubber band. Store in a warm (about 70 degrees F) place.

Day 2:

Feed the starter with one cup of flour and one cup of water. Add up to ¼ cup more water to maintain the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Day 3:

Feed the starter with one cup of flour and one cup of water. Add up to ¼ cup more water to maintain the consistency.

Day 4:

The starter should begin to bubble and smell quite sour. Use a colander to strain the grapes from the starter. It is now ready to leaven bread. This four-day old starter can be made into bread or stored in the refrigerator for later use.

To Support the Ongoing Starter:

After the initial 4-day culturing process the starter should be stored in the refrigerator. Use a half-gallon mason jar fitted with a plastic lid to store the starter. At least once a week add fresh flour to the starter. About once a month transfer the starter to a clean jar. This will help to keep the jar tidy and prevent contamination from any dried up bits that accumulate around the mouth of the jar.

To Make Bread:

Feed the starter at least 7 and up to 24 hours before its planned use.  (After 7 hours the flour is completely cultured, natural anti-nutrients are greatly reduced, and the starter is said to be mature. Twelve to 24 hours after being refreshed the yeasts become increasingly less active.)

For a use in a single recipe add one cup of Gluten-Free Whole Flour and one cup of water.  If you need a large amount of starter add flour and water up to a 1:4 ratio. (That is, for each cup of starter add up to 4 cups of Gluten-Free Whole Flour and enough water to maintain the consistency.)  Store in the refrigerator. The freshly added flour revives the yeasts, readying them to raise breads.

Always save a minimum of 3 tablespoons of starter to  feed with the usual one cup flour and water before returning to storage in the refrigerator. A regularly tended starter culture will live-on indefinitely.

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Frozen Concord grapes


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Combining Gluten-Free Whole Flour with water and frozen grapes

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The starter should have the consistency of thick pancake batter

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Durga recommends naming your starter. Meet Daisy, she was started at Durga

About Dori

I develop recipes, blog, teach, and consult about gluten-free recipes, fermentation techniques, and nutrient-dense foods. Visit NourishingFoodways.com. (Some posts contain affiliate links which help to pay for this site.)
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29 Responses to Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter (Natural Levain Starter Culture) Recipe

  1. Pingback: Gluten-Free Natural Levain Bread « Nourishing Foodways

  2. Durga Fuller says:

    Daisy looks beautiful and alive! Congratulations, Dori, you’re a good mama!

  3. Anthony says:

    Oh it looks really good! I love the grapes and the gluten free recipe!
    For more interesting recipes, check at:
    http://www.fourgreensteps.com/community/recipes
    Hope you find recipes that you like!

  4. thank you for sharing! I heard figs can be used to start cheat for yogurt, but I never thought of using fruit to make bread. And it’s gluten free! AND it has protein!

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  15. Pistol says:

    Hi Dori, I just made the starter culture and I am excited to branch out from the soaked grain bread for some variation and cooking growth! May I ask you, why not use the metal lid on the mason jar for refrigerator storage? I haven’t found one with a plastic lid yet, is there a sort of interaction with the metal lid?
    Thanks, I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    • Dori says:

      Hi there Pistol,
      I’m glad you’re branching out!
      Yes, you are exactly right about the lid, the starter is acidic and will corrode the lid. Use a sheet or two of wax paper under a metal lid to prevent contact.
      Thanks for the question!
      Best wishes,
      Dori

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  17. Lynda says:

    Hello,

    Thank you for such a helpful post. Do the sourdough breads using this starter taste very sour? Do you need to wash the grapes before putting them in the flour water mixture?

    Thanks again

  18. Dori says:

    Hi Lynda!
    You’re welcome & thanks for the question! The starter is sour enough to give a classic sourdough flavor. If you want it to be even stronger do the following. Rather than store the starter in the frig after the last feeding (just prior to making bread), go ahead and leave the starter at room temperature for 7-24 hours (then make bread). It will have a strong, almost cheese-like, sourness.
    Please don’t wash the grapes before putting them in. The natural yeast is abundant on the skins. And remember to use organic.
    Best wishes,
    Dori

  19. Alice says:

    Is there an alternative to using grapes such as raw honey?

    Thanks

    • Dori says:

      Hi Alice,
      Yes! Raw honey would be a great way to introduce yeast, so would a little ginger root, or any other fruit that is organic and unwashed.
      Best,
      Dori

  20. Kay says:

    I love to cook but have never been a baker, and I know I’ve never seen an organic grape :)
    Would you be willing to expand on other (specific) ways to make this starter?
    I’ve been gluten free for 2 years but just recently learned that fermented foods including sourdough bread could be very beneficial to my gut.

  21. Katherine says:

    Can this starter be done using almond flour? I know the chemistry is different, but looking out for the possibilities.

    • Dori says:

      Hi Katherine,
      I’ve never heard of using almond flour in a starter…let me know if you find any promising techniques! What I have heard of is soaking the almonds (in water, overnight, to make them more digestable) then pureeing and turning into a bread. Check out this post from Anne Marie over at Cheeseslave http://www.cheeseslave.com/gaps-almond-bread/
      Best,
      Dori

      • Katherine says:

        Thanks for you response. I make almond bread a lot. My son is being tested for Crohns. I want a lighter, airy, and crunchier almond bread if possible without adding any starches. He is not supposed to have yeast, but willing to try a homemade one and see. Also, what’s the difference btw using grapes, flour and water vs. just flour and water? Thanks for all your advice!!

        • Dori says:

          Hi Katherine,
          The grapes add a little of their own natural yeast to the party! (You know that thin white film on the surface of a grape? You rub it off, and the grape is shiny? That’s a natural, protective barrier of yeast.). From what I remember this natural yeast is much different from commercial yeast, but check with your healthcare advisor! I haven’t worked with almond flour much, so sorry I can’t be more of a help!
          Best,
          Dori

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