Is there any advantage in making a sourdough starter using Nancy Silverton's labor intensive method or Peter Reinhart's more simplified one?
Frankly, I think both their methods are convoluted. Flour mixed with water will ferment naturally. That was discovered a few thousand years ago. I think the biggest problem folks have is a lack of patience.
Debra Wink's method seems to work out most successfully for newcomers to sourdough. You'll find the instructions near the bottom of the page at this link:
Give it a try.
I agree. You don't really need any special tricks in order to produce active sourdough.
I made mine (my first one, which I am still using) about half a year ago, according to "our" sourdough expert here in Germany, known under the name Pöt. You just mix a handful of flour and water to a waffle-dough like thickly liquid consistency. Flour between white and whole grain, so something like "First Clear Flour" (Type 1050/1150 in Germany), works best. 12 hours later, you stir it to get some air into it. Another 12 hours later, you add another handful of flour and enough water to keep the consistency. 12 hours later you stir again, another 12 hours later you feed again. And so forth. After a few days, you should smell sourness and see bubbles. It should be ready in about 5-7 days. Then you can bake your first bread with a portion of the sourdough and put the rest into the fridge and feed it again when you need it (preferably at least once a week in the beginning, as it is still a little weak and has a chance to become moldy if starving too much).I succeeded with this method at the first try and it became increasingly active over the weeks.
The only downside to this method without any fruity juice or something special like that is that there is a chance that the sourdough will produce smell of stomach acid or something similar in the beginning of its lifespan. As long as the sourdough doesn't show signs of being moldy or strangely coloured (red, green, black, ...) it is still fine in spite of the strange smell. It will still produce tasty bread and the smell will go away after a few more feedings, but this might be a little uncomfortable at first.