Sourdough 101: From Starter to Bread


I really love sourdough.  Which is a good thing seeing as I’m writing an entire post about it.  My sourdough obsession began last fall when I decided it was time to get serious about making my own.  Usually I would buy it from the store and complain about how expensive  it was, or how it contained ingredients I didn’t approve of, or (and most often) there was none available! Unfortunately I had no urge to make my own; it always seemed like a whole bunch of work to make the starter, then make the bread, then keep the starter alive, etc.  Up until I started making sourdough, I pretty much stopped eating bread because I don’t approve of conventional yeasts and flours.  I prefer my grains fermented and without preservatives, thanks.

So, why sourdough?

Sourdough is basically fermented flour.  If you haven’t heard, fermented foods are in.  They contain more nutrients and are easier to digest then their regular counterparts.  The beauty of sourdough is it’s made by combining flour and water with the natural yeasts that are all around us on a daily basis.  These wild yeasts are on your hands, food, and simply floating in the air all over!  The combination of letting water and flour sit together with these wild yeasts makes what is called a “starter”.  To make bread, you simply add some starter to more flour and water, throw in a pinch of salt, and now you’re imbedding all the friendly bacteria with your next loaf.  Pretty cool, huh?

From the time you  mix the starter with more flour and water to make bread, the organisms get to work chomping through the flour and creating lactic acid, neutralizing phytates and therefore making the nutrients of the flour more readily available to your body.  These are the same phytates that are found in legumes and cause gas and stomach discomfort (same reason I always buy dry beans and soak them with some apple cider vinegar for 24 hours.  But I digress..).  Not only is the lactic acid produced by our wild yeast friends good for improving absorption of vitamins and minerals, but is also helps slow down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream.  This is beneficial because it prevents the sugar spikes associated with eating carbohydrates.  The last great benefit of these wild yeasts is they help break down the glucose molecules in the bread, meaning people who have gluten sensitivity can usually eat sourdough without any discomfort.  Gotta love pre-digested food!

 

I apologize for my last comment about pre-digested food, I just really love sourdough.  And once you understand how to make it (and now fully understand how bad-ass it is for your health) you might be singing praises of a similar note!  Is it super easy? No.  Does it take some time to truly understand how to make the prefect crusty loaf?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  Hell yes!!  I remember when I began my starter I was dancing around the apartment, singing and dancing to the wild yeasts and trying to attract them into my flour and water slurry.  Necessary?  That is yet to be determined.  My husband thought I was crazy but I’ve been using the same starter for over a year now (November 3 was her 1st birthday!).

Let’s get down to business.  Making the starter takes at least 5 days, more if you’re in a colder environment.  You start by adding a cup of purified water and flour to a glass jar/container and whisking them together until a smooth batter forms.  Let that sit, uncovered, for 24 hours.  The next day remove half of the batter and throw it out.  Add 1/2 cup purified water and 1/2 cup flour to the mixture and whisk until combined.  Continue doing this for the next three days or until your starter bubbles and has a sour smell.  There is no exact way to know exactly when your starter is fully matured, however usually after even a few days it makes a pretty good bread.  I remember after feeding my starter on the third day I couldn’t wait anymore and made some rolls that turned out (slightly flat) but really tasty!  When your starter is fully mature, keep it covered with cheesecloth or a paper towel in the fridge.  You will have to feed it only once every 7-10 days at this stage (same thing as before, remove half the starter and add equal parts flour and water.)  This only necessary to remember if you are not making bread once a week because when you make bread, half the starter is used to make the dough and then you feed the mother starter before placing back in the fridge.

Af far as types of flour to use, I recommend using a whole grain for the starter.  The wild yeasts thrive on all the nutrients in whole grain flours; as do humans (just saying).  Personally, I used sprouted flour to make my starter and feed it a variety of wheat including rye and spelt.  Another tip for making the starter is use a wide mouth glass jar or bowl because it is easier to add flour/water to.

Once your starter is matured and bubbling away, it’s time to whip up some bread!  The genius part of making your own sourdough is all you need is flour, water, salt, and starter.  No pre-packaged yeast, sugar, or oil.  To start, you take half of your starter and add it to a bowl.  (I recommend whisking your starter before removing half as it is natural and will separate.  Simply whisk a few times until everything is fully blended.)  I usually add the starter to the base of my kitchen aid because I use it to knead later.  Once you take the amount of starter needed, add equal parts water and flour to your mother starter (whisking till smooth) and put back in the fridge.  Then add ~ 1 cup both flour and water to the starter in the bowl and whisk.  It might seem like I’m stressing the whisk part, but I can’t stress enough how amazing a tool a whisk is when dealing with this sticky, gooey, starter!

Cover the mixture with saran wrap and let sit out for about an hour to warm up.  The reason to keep your starter in the fridge is to slow down the rate that the yeasts eat the flour and therefore the amount you need to feed it.  Before making your dough you want your yeast to get super active again to ensure maximum rising of the dough.  I will be honest, I have skipped this step in a rush and nothing dreadful has happened.  I just find the best bread, puffiest and highest, comes from really active yeasts!

Next step is to add flour and salt to your active starter, and begin to mix.  I highly recommend using a electric mixer for this step because it does require a lot of kneading.  Now, I never weigh my ingredients or even use measuring cups to add the flour because the amount needed changes depending on the season, dryness of the air, etc.  I also firmly believe that no amount of measurements would yield the perfect dough that I can see/feel.  I roughly wind up adding 3 (+/-) cups of flour and 1 to 1 1/4 tsp sea salt.  Add the flour gradually, and watch to see how the dough is looking.  Finished dough will be pliable, not sticking to the sides but also not crumbling at the bottom of your bowl.  If you happen to add too much flour, no worries!  Just add a touch of water.  This dough is very forgiving!  When you achieve the perfect dough, allow it to knead for 5-10 minutes.

I usually use 1-2 cups white flour then throw in some rye and whole wheat.  You can use all whole wheat, and I really wanted to when I first started this sourdough adventure a year ago, however I discovered that the addition of even one cup of white four makes a huge difference in the texture of the final product.  100% whole wheat bread is quite dense and tends to be extremely sour.  Just remember that this bread is fermented and therefore using a bit of white flour is really not that bad.

Allow your dough to rest on a lightly floured plate covered in saran wrap for an hour. From here, you can go ahead and form it into a loaf, baguette, rolls, or whatever you want if you are in a rush.  If you have time, gently stretch the dough into a large, flat ring and fold it in half, then in half the other way, and place back on the plate to rest another hour.  Repeat that one to two more times before forming the dough into it’s final destination shape.

Now comes the fermentation period.  I suggest a 16-24 hour ferment to start with, and then you can expand from there.  I like my dough really sour so sometimes I will allow the dough to ferment for upwards of 30 hours.  It also depends on the temperature of where you are.  The warmer the climate, the faster the process will take.  Making sourdough is a learning process.  That is why I have waited so long to share this recipe with you!  I have gotten many requests to explain how to make sourdough, but I wanted to have a bunch of experience under my belt because every time I have learned something new and helpful.

In the past year I have made over 100 breads, from rolls to baguettes, bagels to sliced sandwich bread.  I am hooked!  Nothing beats pulling a loaf of crusty bread out of the oven and breaking into it hot with a bowl of soup.  Or grilling an amazing burger and serving it on a hot, homemade bun.  You get the idea.  Hell, I even made a loaf of this bread and brought it on a plane with me to the grand canyon this past April!  I have a seriously addiction to good food.

I hope this was enlightening and helps give you a push to try it out for yourself.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns while in the process of making your own starter or bread, please reach out to me!  I have seen just about every form of bread disaster before so I hopefully will be able to help you out.  Also, feel free to do a bit of bread bragging when you pull your first loaf out of the oven.  I am a sucker for a good picture of homemade bread!!

 

Sourdough Starter

purified water

whole grain flour (whole wheat, rye, spelt…)

patience

Directions:

  1. Whisk together 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water in a wide-mouth glass jar.  Allow to sit out, uncovered, for 24 hours.
  2. Throw away  half of the mixture, and add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour to the jar.  Whisk to combine and let sit out another 24 hours.
  3. Repeat step 2 for another 5-7 days, or until the starter is bubbly and has a sour smell.  Patience friends!!
  4.  Store in the refrigerator with a cheesecloth on top.  Make sure to feed the starter (throw away half and whisk in equal parts flour and water) if you are not making bread every week.  You should not go longer than 10 days without making bread of feeding the starter.

 

Margaret’s Sourdough Loaf

yields two long baguettes or about 12 medium rolls

1/2 starter (about 1 1/2 cups), recipe above

flour (your choice!)

purified water

salt, ~1 1/4 tsp

Directions:

  1. Whisk together the starter with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the base of a stand mixer .  Cover with saran wrap and let sit for an hour.
  2. Slowly add about 2 cups flour to the starter with the mixer running, paddle attachment in.  Add salt.  Before the flour is fully incoperated, change the paddle attachment to the dough hook.  Add another cup of flour slowly.  You are looking for a dough that does not stick to the sides and also is not crumbling at the bottom.
  3. You can add more flour/water at any time.  Keep kneading the dough and watching until the perfect dough consistency is achieved.  Continue kneading for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Place dough ball on a lightly floured plate and cover with saran wrap.  Let sit for an hour.
  5. At this point, if you are in a rush, you can shape it into whatever bread product you want and begin the fermentation time, see step 7.  If you have more time, condition the dough further by completing step 6.
  6. Take the dough and gently stretch it into a flat disk.  Fold in half, then in half again the other way.  Place back on the plate and cover in saran wrap for another hour.  Repeat this step 2 more times.
  7. Form into bread shape of your choice and place in a parchment lined pan/loaf pan you are going to bake it in.  Cover with saran wrap and let sit for 18-30 hours.  The longer it ferments, the stronger the sour flavor will be.  Also remember the warmer the temperature is the quicker the dough will ferment.
  8. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 F for ~30 minutes.  You can tell when it is done because the outside will form a hard crust and if you tap on the top of the bread it will sound hollow.  Cool completely before storing covered in the fridge.  This bread lasts awhile in the fridge, up to 2 weeks, and can be frozen for a longer shelf life.

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