sourdough bread – the holy grail of fermentation for bakers. there are hundreds of ways to make sourdough, and each sourdough baker their own preferred method they swear by. i love eating sourdough – the taste, the moist texture, and the fact that it’s healthier than regular breads are all appealing. over the last month, i’ve raised a new starter and made my first successful loaf. i had some requests to share my method, so here it is!
sourdough refers to the taste of the bread – it is literally sour because it is made from wild yeast instead of standardized baker’s yeast. instead of spooning out yeast from a jar, yeast is “caught” from the environment and raised in a culture called a “sourdough starter.” part of the culture is then added to the flour, water, and salt to form the dough. sourdough breads also rise much longer than bread made with baker’s yeast, which in turn lends more sourness to the bread.
sourdough is healthier than normal bread because the dough is allowed to ferment – sometimes up to 24 hours – before the bread is baked. during fermentation, the yeasts break down the starches in the flour, making it more easily digested by us humans. in short, the wild yeast partially digests the bread for us, making nutrients more readily available to our bodies. wild yeast is also better for you than baker’s yeast, because it contains living organisms from your hyper-local environment. which promote overall gut health.
like any other culture, raising a sourdough starter is a fun process that brings you in closer connection with the food you eat. just like my kombucha culture, over time i hope to develop a relationship with my sourdough. it will nourish us for months over maybe even years to come!
raising a starter
raising a sourdough starter is the first step to making sourdough bread. it can be a lengthy process that requires patience and creativity. during the winter, it took me an entire month of daily feedings to raise a starter healthy enough to produce a nice loaf of bread, but now that i have the culture, it’s ready to go for baking from now on.
i prefer catching wild yeast instead of buying a sourdough culture of the internet. first, it’s free. second, any culture brought in from elsewhere will eventually assimilate to the yeast inside your house anyways. therefore it seems like a waste to me to buy something like “san fransisco sourdough,” because eventually your local yeasts will dominate the culture. however, the upside of buying a starter culture is you will be ready to bake much faster.
you will need a quart sized mason jar, flour, and water. i prefer to use organic flour, which you can find at most supermarkets for a reasonable price. water is more important. you cannot use tap water if you are on city water, because it is chlorinated and the chlorine will kill your culture. well water is generally ok. the chlorine can be evaporated from tap water by letting is sit out, uncovered, overnight. so if you don’t have a fancy filter, i would recommend filling a second mason jar with tap water and letting it sit on the counter next to your starter, making sure the water has been allowed to breath for at least 8 hours before using.
my ratio for flour to water is 3:2 flour to water – the specific measurement i use is 6 TB flour to 1/4 cup water. to begin, add the flour and water to your mason jar. using a piece of scrap fabric, cheesecloth, or a paper towel, cover the jar and secure with a rubber band. set on your counter. i like to keep mine in the kitchen for a simple reason – that’s where my flour and my vegetables and fruits that carry wild yeasts on their skins are located.
pick a time of day that works for you to do your feedings. at about the same time every day, feed your culture the above portion and stir well to combine.
by day 5, you should have some activity in your culture. this will like bubbles in the mixture, and this means you have caught some wild yeast. high five! but your culture is probably not ready for bread yet. keep feeding until you have about 2-3 cups of starter, then it is time to discard and start over.
to discard – use the starter mixture to bake something other than bread. i’ve made muffins, crackers, scones, and pancakes. if you search “sourdough discard recipes” on the internet, you will surely find something that suits your fancy. use up a good about of discard, making sure to reserve at least 1/4 cup and no more than 1 cup of starter liquid.
continue feeding and discarding until your starter is strong. this is partially intuition, partially science. my test is that when my starter has doubled in size within 8 hours of being fed, it’s ready to use for bread. this is easy to tell in a mason jar. if your starter is at the 1 cup level when fed, and 8 hours later is at 1 1\2 to 2 cups, it’s probably ready for baking!
simple sourdough bread recipe
makes one loaf
- 1/2 cup fed-yesterday starter
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 cups bread or all purpose flour
mix water, starter, and salt briskly in a bowl. use spatula and/ or hands to mix in flour. this is a no-knead recipe, so the dough should be pretty wet and shaggy. mix until flour is all combined, cover with a wet towel, and let sit until mixture has doubled in size, usually overnight. i like to make my dough in the night before i want to bake bread.
once doubled, turn out on a floured surface and shape. you can simply put it in a loaf pan, or shape it fancy using a proofing basket, couch, or dutch oven. let rise again until doubled, usually 2-3 hours.
bake at 450 for 30 minutes or until golden brown. place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven – this helps develop the classic sourdough crust. i bake until the internal temperature has reached 200. cool on a rack for 30 minutes before slicing in – this is important!
long term storage of your starter
unless you bake a loaf of bread every day (some do!), it’s not practical to keep your sourdough out on the counter and feed it every day. i keep mine in the fridge, and feed it once per week, or as needed to bake bread.
to store: use starter down to about a cup. cap tightly and store in the fridge.
to feed: take jar out of the fridge and let sit on counter for 4-6 hours. feed starter, cap, and let sit out another 4-6 hours before putting back in the fridge.
to use: take starter out the day before baking bread and feed. use starter for dough, feed again, let sit out 4-6 hours and put back in fridge.
the above descriptions are what have worked for me over the years! there are hundreds of sourdough bread recipes all over the internet, and the starter described above should work for most of them. i use a combination of a couple recipes/ methods that meet my needs of: not wanting to feed twice a day and not enjoying kneading. what works for you might be different, you really just have to get in and start. making sourdough is not just following a recipe – a successful baker understands the needs of her culture, can interpret its behavior, and finds a balance between time and energy spent to maintain a healthy culture.