Sourdough Starter #1
This is the most basic recipe for creating your own sourdough starter. It relies on natural fermentation to produce the rising action needed to make bread, instead of using commercial yeast. Some people think that sourdough is easier on your stomach than commercial yeast, and even claim that people who are sensitive to gluten can eat sourdough bread without the troublesome symptoms they get when eating commercial bread or bread made with commercial yeast. Sourdough is also a good way to produce a rise in breads using gluten-free flours, and so is experiencing a rise in popularity in home bakers who are gluten sensitive.
According to Wikipedia: “Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a mildly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker’s yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli. Bread made from 100% rye flour, popular in the northern half of Europe, is usually leavened with sourdough. Baker’s yeast is not useful as a leavening agent for rye bread, as rye does not contain enough gluten.” So sourdough is a good way to provide leavening all kinds of gluten-free bread, for those who are sensitive to gluten. But the most common sourdough you will find in stores is made with regular bread flour (containing gluten), and since I am not gluten sensitive, I will not focus on gluten free recipes here.
“Obtaining a satisfactory rise from sourdough takes longer than a dough leavened with baker’s yeast because the yeast in a sourdough is less vigorous. In the presence of lactic acid bacteria, however, some sourdough yeasts have been observed to produce twice the gas of baker’s yeast. The acidic conditions in sourdough, along with the bacteria also producing enzymes that break down proteins, result in weaker gluten and may produce a denser finished product.“
More from Wikipedia: “Sourdough has become less common in recent times; it has been replaced by the faster-growing baker’s yeast, sometimes supplemented with longer fermentation rests to allow for some bacterial activity to build flavor. Manufacturers of non-sourdough breads make up for the lack of yeast and bacterial culture by introducing into their dough an artificially-made mix known as bread improver or flour improver.” I even read one recipe that called for malt powder (malted milk powder or Ovaltine – not the chocolate variety), to add flavour to the bread. I may have to try that one of these days. I like the flavour of malt, although my experience is limited to chocolate malts. I think that might go good with rye flour, so I will put that on my -“things to try” list.
The subtle tangy flavour of sourdough is the reason that I like it. And of course, home-made bread is always better than commercial bread, in my opinion. I love the whole process of bread making – it’s almost an art. You get to know what the initial batter should look like, after beating it long enough to develop the gluten in it (assuming you are using wheat flour). I love the feel of the dough as I knead it to take up the last of the flour. Kneading bread dough is a great way to work out tension and frustration. It’s meditative. You can’t rush it. I love the silky, elastic feel of the dough when you are done kneading it. In fact, that is the best way to know if you have kneaded it enough; from the feel of it. It’s soft but elastic, and springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip. Once you have made your own bread, whether sourdough or not, you will never be satisfied with the store-bought bread. It just can’t compare. And once you start with sourdough, you will be baking bread regularly, so as they say, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Sourdough bread baking has become a whole culture (pun intended :)), with online and facebook groups providing support and recipes. You can even mail-order freeze-dried sourdough starter from Amazon if you don’t want to make your own. But if you do want to make your own, it’s simple. There are all kinds of opinions out there, and all kinds of recipes. The one I provide here is the most basic, using just flour and water, and it works well. It just takes time and patience. There are natural yeasts in flour that will grow and multiply when the right conditions are provided. Remember that your starter is a living thing, so it requires regular care and feedings. The older your starter gets, the better it will taste. (If you are in a hurry, you can try my Quick Sourdough Starter. It relies on apple cider vinegar to provide the sour taste, and will be ready to bake with in just 6 days.)
It will take 2 weeks for this starter to be ready to use for bread for the first time. After that, you will still need to feed it regularly, but how often will depend on how often you plan to use it. You may feed it daily, keeping it on your counter, or weekly, keeping it in the fridge, So have patience, and know that it is always a work in progress.
- 1 glass Jar
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup distilled or bottled water (no chlorine)
- More all purpose flour and water for feeding
- In your jar, mix together equal amounts of all purpose flour and water.
- Cover with a breathable cover (cheesecloth, tea towel, paper coffee filter) and place in warm part of home.
- Every 12 hours, feed starter by adding equal amounts of flour and water. The amount you use will increase as the amount of starter you have in your jar increases. For the first 2 or 3 days, stick with 1/4 cup each flour and water. Then increase to 1/2 cup each flour and water for the next couple of days.
- By day 5 or 6, your jar will be about 3/4 full, and you will have to discard some of the starter in order to have enough room in the jar to keep feeding it. Remove about 50% of the starter and replace with 1/4 cup each water and flour, then in another day, 1/2 cup each flour and water. The amount you use is not critical, but should be close to the amount that you have in the jar. For example, if you have about 1 cup of starter, feed 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, for a total feeding of 1 cup. Keep feeding in this manner every 12 hours for 2 weeks, removing starter when necessary to provide room in the jar. If you have a big enough jar and intend to do large batches of bread, you can even go up to 1 cup each flour and water.
- After about a week, you will start to notice that the starter bubbles up as soon as you feed it. This is a good indication that the starter is alive, active, and getting ready to use.
- You can keep a second jar in your fridge for the starter that you discard instead of throwing it out. It is really good to use in pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and probably lots of other uses I haven’t thought of. Once you get into regular baking, though, you will be using your starter regularly, so you won’t have to worry about having any discard.
- You will want to keep a large enough jar of starter so that you have the amount specified in your favorite recipes, ready to bake with as often as you want to bake. For me, that is 1 1/2 to 2 cups of starter. I want to be able to remove 2 cups of starter for my bread, and still have enough left to feed and bring back up to 2 cups within a week for my next baking.
- If you plan to bake every day, or every other day, keep your starter on your counter (or other warm place in your kitchen), and feed it once every day. If you plan to bake only once a week or so, you may keep your starter in the fridge, which will retard its growth, and you will only need to feed it once a week. When you are ready to bake again, take it out of the fridge the day before, to allow it to warm up and activate. Remove some of the starter (up to about 50%), and feed it in the morning when you first take it out of the fridge, then again the night before using it. It may be a bit sluggish when first removed from the fridge, but by the evening feeding it should be bubbly and active after feeding, and will be ready the next morning to use in your recipe.
There are many recipes and opinions on the best way to use sourdough starter. Some recipes call for removing a certain amount of starter the night before, to which flour is added to create a “sponge” or “levain”, which is then left to rise in a warm place overnight. This develops both the rising action and the flavour of the sponge. The next morning you add the rest of the ingredients and continue with the bread recipe from there. My San Fransisco Sourdough Bread recipe uses this method, but also uses commercial yeast . I know it’s sort of cheating, but it’s a good recipe to use if your sourdough is a little sluggish and doesn’t produce a good rise on its own. It also results in a nicer texture; less coarse than recipes that use only sourdough to give the rise, and it has a mild taste. It’s a great recipe to start with.
If your starter is nice and active though, you won’t need to use any commercial yeast. I have a good, Basic Sourdough Bread recipe that uses 2 cups of starter, and makes 2 loaves in the same day. It takes a little longer to rise than traditional bread, but is still a same-day recipe that is pretty simple and easy. The texture is a little denser, and the taste is a little more tangy than my San Fransisco Sourdough, but is certainly not overwhelming. This recipe is usually my “go-to” when I want a simple loaf of sourdough bread.
One last word on sourdough actually has to do with yogurt making. Do you make your own yogurt? If you do, and if you strain it to produce the thicker Greek-style yogurt, you will always be looking for ways to use the whey that drains off of the yogurt. I like to use whey in my sourdough starter in place of half of the water in a feeding. Lactobacilli are one of the things naturally produced by sourdough, and are also one of the beneficial bacteria naturally present in yogurt. So you are giving your sourdough a welcome boost when you give it whey from your yogurt making. I usually use half and half water and whey. No reason – it just works for me. And I think it helps it to develop that prized sourdough flavour too. How can you go wrong?