I have not made my own starter, but I did purchase some from KAF some time back, but I get turned off by the strong smell of the starter and decided to not use it. My question is, can you get the similar result from using a Sponge or something not so strong? Thank you for any help, as I would love to make some good Artisian bread.
If you want to make sourdough or sourdough-ish bread, you need a starter. While various preferments will increase the acidity of the dough like a starter will, you won’t get anywhere close to the tang. But you certainly don’t need a starter for many or even most artisan-type loaves.
You shouldn’t allow the odor of a starter be a turnoff. Many of the ingredients we use in baked products don’t have a pleasant odor before they’re incorporated into a dough; even raw flour doesn’t smell that great. The starter will be quite diluted by the time your final dough is prepared. That said, a properly refreshed starter generally has a pleasant, slightly sour odor. If yours has a strong, unpleasant one, perhaps you haven’t refreshed it recently enough.