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Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe [Zakwas Żytni]

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Rye sourdough starter next to Polish bread.
Rye sourdough starter is perfect for making Polish bread

Quite difficult and easy to make at the same time, the zakwas zytni or rye flour sourdough starter is a foundational recipe in Polish cooking. From breads to soups, you’ll find this rye starter an integral part of your dish!

What Is Zakwas Żytni?

I attended a bread baking class recently. The chef who taught us how to make bread said something wonderful. “When you mix flour with water, you are creating a new life”. And that’s true! Because you can see that the mixture is living, it’s changing its structure, color, and smell. It’s all because the bacteria inside the zakwas zytni are working and changing the mixture.

What is zakwas zytni or sourdough starter? It’s a sourdough starter made just from water and rye flour. You need to mix them at a specific time and amount to get the perfect rye flour sourdough starter.

The point is to “activate” the mixture so that you can bake the bread (or make żurek soup) without adding yeast. The flour with water needs to ferment but it cannot die or mold.

The rye sourdough starter is like a living organism because you need to feed it if you want it to live. You feed it by adding flour and water. And you can even tell when it’s hungry because it changes smell to acetic.

So you need to know how to care for your sourdough starter right! If you stick to the rules, you will be just fine!

How To Make Rye Sourdough Starter Zakwas Żytni

Sourdough Starter Day 1

Add equal amounts of rye flour and water to a sterilized jar. Keep the lid loosely closed or covered with a kitchen towel secured with a string or rubber band.

Leave the sourdough starter jar in a warm place. We usually leave it in the kitchen since it’s the warmest room in the house. After about 12 hours, give it a stir, and close it again.

Zakwas zytni in a glass jar.
Add the flour to a glass jar
Mix the flour and water.
Mix the flour and water

Sourdough Starter Day 2, 3, 4

Add the same quantity of rye flour and water again and mix. Cover the jar and leave it in the same warm place. Do this for the next few days.

Zakwas zytni in a glass jar.
Keep adding flour and water every day
Zakwas zytni is fermenting.
You’ll see the zakwas zytni starts fermenting

Sourdough Starter Day 5

The rye sourdough starter is ready to use! Use as much as you need for baking, but leave at least 3 tbsps for later. Add the same quantity of rye flour and water to the old starter mix.

If you plan on using it soon, keep it at room temperature. If you don’t plan on baking soon, refrigerate the zakwas zytni!

Zakwas zytni sourdough starter.
The zakwas zytni sourdough starter keeps growing
Full jar of zakwas zytni sourdough starter.
Soon you’ll have a full jar of sourdough starter

How To Care For Your Sourdough Starter?

If you put your sourdough starter in the fridge it’s like you put it to sleep. It won’t be as hungry as it is at room temperature. The zakwas zytni can sleep for a maximum of 2 weeks though! You’ll need to feed it after 14 days otherwise it will die. So keep feeding it just a little bit every two weeks!

Always feed the rye sourdough starter at room temperature. If you’ve been keeping it in the fridge, you need to bring it to room temperature before you feed it with flour and water.

The rye flour sourdough starter is the most active when it’s warm. So if you keep it at room temperature, you will need to go look for it every day or two and feed it.  

If you remember to feed the rye sourdough starter on time, you can keep it alive for 1, 5, 20, or even 50 years! It will be just fine. Every time you’re baking bread, take as much rye sourdough starter as you need, and feed what’s left regularly. That’s it!

More Tips For Making Rye Flour Sourdough Starter!

The most important things to remember when you care for the sourdough starter are:

  • Always use the same amount of water and rye flour when feeding the rye sourdough starter.
  • Keep the rye sourdough starter in the clean jar.
  • Use a clean spoon to mix and feed the rye sourdough starter.
  • You can also use a wooden spoon to stir the zakwas zytni!
  • Make sure the starter is thick in consistency. If it looks pourable, it needs more flour added.
  • You can freeze and dehydrate zakwas zytni.
  • This sourdough starter is gluten-free and good for diabetics too!
  • Do not expose the sourdough starter to sunlight. 
  • If it’s cold weather, move the starter jar close to the fireplace or radiator to keep it warm. 
  • The longer you cultivate the sourdough, the better and stronger it becomes! 
Active rye sourdough starter in a rustic jar
Active rye sourdough starter in a rustic jar
Rye sourdough starter next to Polish bread.
Rye sourdough starter is perfect for making Polish bread

FAQs About Making Rye Sourdough Starter

How Long Can You Store Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter can last for weeks, months, or years. It all depends on how you care for the rye sourdough starter. Just be careful that you don’t end up with a bad sourdough starter and it’ll last for a very long time!

What Kind Of Water Should I Use?

Use purified water that has been boiled and allowed to cool. Do not use hot water!

How Do You Know If You Have A Bad Sourdough Starter?

Bad sourdough starter.
This one’s gone bad!

If your sourdough starter starts to smell funny or look moldy, or grow fungus, it has gone bad and should be discarded. You can discard the jar too, or wash it and sterilize it really well before reusing it. 

What If My Starter Is Not Fermenting?

If the starter doesn’t begin to ferment, you can add half a teaspoon of sugar to help it along. Just in the beginning. 

Can I Use Any Flour For The Sourdough Starter?

The sourdough starter is usually made with dark rye flour. If you wish to use light rye flour or wheat flour, add half a teaspoon of sugar on the first day to help cultivate the starter. 

Can Sourdough Starter Be Frozen?

Yes, zakwas zytni can be frozen and stored for many months. Just remember to feed it every 2 weeks. 

What Polish Dishes Can You Make Using Zakwas Zytni?

Polish dishes made using zakwas zytni include:

Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe [Zakwas Żytni]

Yield: 1 starter

Rye Sourdough Starter Recipe (Zakwas Żytni)

Rye sourdough starter next to Polish bread.

Quite difficult and easy to make at the same time, the zakwas zytni or rye flour sourdough starter is a foundational recipe in Polish cooking. From bread to soups, you'll find this rye starter an integral part of many Polish dishes.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Additional Time 5 days
Total Time 5 days 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 14 oz (400g) rye flour
  • 14 oz (400g) of purified, lukewarm water

Instructions

DAY 1

  1. In a clean, sterilized jar mix 3.5 oz of rye flour with 3.5 oz of water.
  2. Loosely close the lid of the jar or cover it with a kitchen paper towel secured with a rubber band.
  3. Place the jar in a warm place, preferably in the kitchen.
  4. After 12 hours, stir the rye sourdough starter with a clean spoon and cover the jar.

DAY 2

  1. After 12 hours, add 3.5 oz of rye flour and 3.5 oz of water, and mix using a clean spoon. Cover the jar and leave it in a warm place.

DAY 3

  1. The next day (after 24 hours) repeat the process. Add 3.5 oz of rye flour and 3.5 oz of water, and mix using a clean spoon. Cover the jar and leave it in a warm place.

DAY 4

  1. After 24 hours, repeat the process. Add 3.5 oz of rye flour and 3.5 oz of water, and mix using a clean spoon. Cover the jar and leave it in a warm place.

DAY 5

  1. Your rye sourdough starter is ready to use! Use as much as you need to bake your bread but be sure to leave at least 3 tbsps for later.
  2. Add 3.5 oz of rye flour and 3.5 oz of water to these 3 tbsps of leftover starter and place it in the fridge. You can keep it like that for up to 2 weeks. If you want to use it, take it off the fridge and wait until it's at room temperature.
  3. If you don't want to use it, you will need to warm it up and feed it with water and flour anyway. Next, you can place it in the fridge for another 2 weeks.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 0Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 9mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g

These data are indicative and calculated by Nutritionix

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