Make Your Own Sourdough

I’ve been fascinated by sourdough for a very long time. The science, the delicious aroma of it baking and the incredible contrast in flavor of the crust and the soft, warm bubbly inside. Many times I have tried to make a starter that lasts and produces a delicious bubbly loaf of sourdough, but had many failures. Recently, I have devoted my time and flour to experimenting with sourdough so that I can better understand the process, because overall, I have learned that it is not an exact, step-by-step process, but more of an art. You must be in tune with the dough, know the feel of a well-proofed loaf and have patience. I’ve followed directions, failed and tweaked my approach to produce bread that is consistently delicious.

For anyone who loves baking, I highly recommend trying to make your own sourdough. There is not much hands on time and you may fail the first time (my intention is that my directions will help you avoid failure, but failure helps us learn sometimes), however when you succeed, you will produce the most delicious bread and you will be so proud of yourself. You will also never want to buy store-bought bread again. Being able to make fresh bread in your home is so satisfying and your friends and family will begin to look forward to your sourdough. In our house, when I bake a loaf of sourdough bread, it is often eaten up before it cools completely. There is really nothing like fresh bread right from the oven.

In this post, I will explain the process of making a sourdough starter as well as making sourdough with all-purpose flour. I have found that following this recipe for whole wheat flour works just as well. You will need three ingredients total: water, salt and flour. Honestly, the best part of sourdough is that you make something so complex and delicious from such simple ingredients!

Making a Starter

I used the King Arthur Flour Sourdough starter recipe and it did a great job of making an active starter. I carefully followed the directions and have tweaked some of the wording for the recipe to make it as clear as possible for you.

To start, you will need:

1 cup pumpernickel or whole wheat flour (these flours have more flora which allow for more wild yeast to be present, thus is a great way to start your active starter)

½ cup cool water if your house is warm, or lukewarm water if your house is cool

You will also need all-purpose flour and water for feedings over the many days that it takes to begin a starter.

Day 1

Combine 1 cup of pumpernickel or whole wheat flour with a ½ cup cool water if your house is warm or a ½ cup of lukewarm water if your house is cool. Be sure to use a non-reactive container like glass, ceramic or stainless steel. The container should hold at least a quart so that your starter has plenty of room to grow.

Be sure to mix the flour and water together thoroughly so that there is no dry flour in your container. Store your container in a warm room temperature setting.

*tip: my house tends to be cool, so I put my container on top of my refrigerator or atop a high cabinet where the warm air collects. The warmer environment creates a more active starter and helps it grow faster.

Day 2

After 24 hours, you may start to see some action: bubbling and maybe a little bit of growth. However, you may not see anything happening. Either way, discard half of the starter (about 4 ounces or ½ cup) and add to the remaining starter one scant cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup cool or lukewarm water, depending on your house temperature. Mix well, ensuring there is no dry flour left in the container, cover and let rest at warm room temperature for another 24 hours.

Day 3

You should start seeing some activity by now: bubbling, a fruity aroma and some growth. Now, it is time to start feeding your starter twice daily to encourage development of an active starter. Try to space out your feedings as evenly as you can. For example, I fed my starter at 8 am and 8 pm, allowing 12 hours between each feeding. For every feeding, weigh out 4 ounces of starter (about ½ cup) and add 1 scant cup of all-purpose flour along with ½ cup cool or lukewarm water depending on your home’s temperature. Continue to store your starter in a warm room temperature environment.

Day 4

Continue to feed twice daily, so try as best you can to space out feedings with 12 hours between each one for day four as well.

Day 5

Once again, continue the twice daily feeding routine through day 5. By the end of the day, the starter should have at least doubled in volume and you should be able to see many fine bubbles at the surface of your starter. The starter should smell tangy and slightly acidic—a more intense aroma than the fruity notes that were first present in the process. If you don’t notice many bubbles, lots of growth and a strong aroma, continue to feed your starter twice a day until you get the results that I have described. For my starter, I had to continue feedings into a 6thday until my starter really resembled what I was looking for.

Once you achieve these results, give your starter one final feeding: discard all but 4 ounces and mix thoroughly with 1 scant cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup warm water. Let the starter rest for 6 to 8 hours at room temperature until you start to see bubbles breaking the surface. At this point, you can remove starter and use for a recipe!

When taking starter for a recipe, always make sure that you are keeping 4 ounces of starter to feed and store for future use. This method of feeding creates approximately 12 ounces of starter at all times, so you can use 8 ounces of starter for a recipe and keep the remaining 4 ounces to feed and store.

Storing your starter

After feeding my starter, I like to let it sit out for approximately 4 hours to start some growth before storing it in the refrigerator. Make sure to feed your starter on the same day of each week. Feedings will always entail discarding 8 ounces of starter and keeping 4 ounces to mix with 1 cup flour and ½ cup water. Allowing it to sit out 4 hours and then storing it in the refrigerator until the next feeding.

Using your starter for a recipe

I like to take my starter out of the refrigerator at least 8 hours before using it. This time allows the starter to get active. If you have a cold house, this may take longer. If you want to know visually that your starter is ready, you should see your starter increase in size and have many more bubbles than it had when you first took it out of the refrigerator.

Since feedings happen once a week, I normally try to make a loaf of bread every time I feed my starter so that nothing goes to waste. We love bread in our house, but it is not an everyday staple, so our once-a-week habit of having delicious fresh bread normally coincides with our weekends to make our days off even more enjoyable.

If you want to make bread in between feedings, simply follow the same steps you would for a regular loaf: take out your starter 8 hours before you start making your bread, separate out 8 ounces of starter for your recipe and make sure to feed the remaining 4 ounces of starter with 1 scant cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup warm water. Let starter sit 4 hours before storing in the refrigerator.

I’ve learned that in order to make good sourdough, it’s important to be in tune with the smell, consistency and look of your starter and bread, so when you are first trying your own, be sure to have patience and focus more on the activity of the starter instead of directly following timing instructions. Every environment is different, so we must understand that.

 

Can you spy the starter?

Making Sourdough Bread

I played a lot with different methods and following different instructions. After trying a few different ways, I discovered a process that works for me. There are a couple of things I like about this process: first of all, there is not a lot of hands on time and if you have to add more time between steps, it seems like it doesn’t affect the outcome too much. That being said, this method will not work if it is rushed, so keep that in mind.

Process:

  1. Measure out 8 ounces (approximately 1 cup) of starter and combine with 475 grams (approximately 2 cups) of room temperature water. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Add 700 grams (approximately 6 cups) of all-purpose flour. Combine until you have a dry, sticky dough. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.
  3. While your dough is resting, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in ¼ cup of warm water.
  4. Once your dough has finished resting, massage the ¼ cup salty water into the dough until you have a wet and springy dough.
  5. Over the next 2.5 hours, you will want to be in close proximity to your dough, as you will need to fold it every 30 minutes. After you have finished massaging the salt water into your dough, you will then do your first fold. This entails pulling and folding each side of your ball of dough into itself on all four sides. The first fold will be a bit wet and slippery, but with every fold, your dough will become more springy and less sticky and wet. Do the same four-sided fold every 30 minutes, for a total of 6 folds.
  6. At the end of the 2.5 hours, complete your final fold and then turn your dough out on to a floured surface. Divide it into two equal parts (this recipe makes 2 loaves of bread) and shape your dough into circular loaves, using plenty of flour on your hands and your surface so the dough does not stick.
  7. Let your loaves rest for at least 3 hours. You can let your dough rise in proofing baskets, or you can just let them rest on your floured surface. Whatever you have will work!
  8. When your dough looks like it has risen a little and there is some good spring when you poke it, you are ready to bake!
  9. Preheat the oven to 500°F with a dutch oven or stainless steel pot inside. This will be where your bread will bake. Once your oven reaches temperature, remove the dutch oven or pot and carefully place your first loaf inside the hot pot. I have found that it is better to slash my dough (making cuts with a serrated knife on the top of the loaf) once it is in the dutch oven, because mistakes happen and if you drop your dough in there, you could ruin any artistic markings you may have slaved over just moments before. Also, please be careful not to burn yourself! I’ve not been so careful many times, but I think I’ve finally learned my lesson.
  10. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Set your timer for 20 minutes.
  11. When the 20 minutes is up, turn your oven down to 450°F and set your timer for an additional 10 minutes. Don’t take a sneak a peek at your dough! Just let it continue baking, covered in your dutch oven.
  12. After the 10 minutes, open the oven and carefully (don’t burn yourself!) remove the top from your dutch oven. Your dough should have “popped” meaning the slashes you made have grown and the bread has a bit more volume now. Also, this is the satisfying point where your dough should really look like bread now!
  13. With your dutch oven uncovered now, close your oven and let your bread cook an additional 20-25 minutes. This is the time when that brown, flavorful crust will form.
  14. Once the time is up and your crust looks browned to your liking, remove the entire thing from the oven and let cool. For us, “let cool” means empty out the loaf onto a cutting board and wait until it is cool enough to touch. The taste of fresh, warm bread is so delicious, so if you can’t wait to let it cool, that is okay too!
  15. Once cooled, store your loaf in an airtight container. You can store up to 5 days, but it really tastes best within the first 24-48 hours of baking.

 

 

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