Sourdough is a traditional method of breadmaking that predates the use of commercial yeast. It relies on wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the environment and in flour to ferment and leaven the bread. The result is a delicious, flavorful, and slightly tangy bread with a chewy crust and an airy crumb.
Creating and maintaining a sourdough starter is the heart of sourdough bread baking. This living culture of yeast and bacteria gives sourdough its distinctive taste, texture, and rise. Making your own sourdough starter is a rewarding process that allows you to craft artisanal bread right in your kitchen.
Sourdough bread offers numerous advantages, including improved digestibility due to its long fermentation process, which may make it easier on the stomach. It also boasts a lower glycemic index, making it a better option for blood sugar control. Sourdough's fermentation enhances nutrient absorption, and its unique flavor and aroma are widely appreciated. Additionally, it has an extended shelf life without needing preservatives and offers a rustic, artisanal texture. Sourdough is highly versatile, allowing for customization in various recipes, and it reduces reliance on commercial yeast, offering a more natural leavening option. Many who have intolerances to gluten are able to include this fermented bread in their diet, but individuals with severe gluten allergies or celiac disease should exercise caution at first as everyones tolerance level is different.
I've been experimenting with various sourdough methods and options. Initially, I started with the traditional approach using a wet starter, which demands regular feedings and care to keep it healthy and ready to use. While it's manageable for those who bake sourdough daily, it becomes a responsibility and a challenge when baking less frequently. Additionally, it bothered me that with each feeding, most of the existing starter had to be discarded, leaving only a small amount to inoculate the new flour and water. This felt like a waste of ingredients and was a significant reason why I couldn't maintain a starter for extended periods. However, I've discovered a better method!
I've found a solution by creating a dry starter! Unlike the traditional wet starter, this type can be refreshed and then refrigerated for up to a couple of weeks without needing any feedings. This approach significantly reduces discard waste and time commitment while still allowing me to effortlessly create delicious sourdough bread.
Let's begin with the most crucial tip I've learned for ensuring the health of your sourdough starter: precise WEIGHT measurements. The success of your starter can hinge on getting ingredient quantities exactly right. To achieve this, it's highly recommended to use a kitchen scale and measure in grams for precision. While measuring by cups may seem easier, it lacks the accuracy needed, which can often result in frustration and the feeling that maintaining a starter is too fussy and time consuming.
Just like regular bread we need to have a "yeast" or rising agent that activates and raises your bread. Sour dough uses a collected yeast that you can keep perpetually going instead of buying a store-bought yeast, but it first has to be collected and treated as a living thing. The first step would be to obtain or make a starter. If you know anyone who makes sour dough, I am sure they would be glad to share with you, but if not, you can still make your own starter!
To create a starter culture will take about a week, but once you have it collected it, it will just be a matter of feeding from here on out.
Mix 45 grams of water and 60 grams of flour thoroughly mix and don't be afraid to pick it up in your hands to form a sticky ball and introduce yourself.
Place the ball in a bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temperature for 48 hours.
Take all of your starter and add 30 grams of water and 60 grams of flour.
Cover it tightly and let it sit.
add and mix thoroughly another 30 grams of water and 60 grams of flour to the starter, then cover it tightly and let it sit.
Day 5: Refreshing the Starter
Today, we're transitioning our wet starter into a dry one. Take just 10 grams of your starter and mix it with 30 grams of warm water (about 100 degrees f ) and 60 grams of flour.
Place this mixture into a covered glass container or mason jar on your room-temperature counter.
Within 6-10 hours, your starter should become pitted with bubble holes and emit a pleasant aroma. If not, repeat the refreshing process until it reaches this level of activity. You want it to be strong and active to get the best results. Don't be afraid to refresh until you get this! Once you reach this point your starter is fed and happy you will place it closed up in the fridge to keep it safe and ready to use.
This transformed starter will be firmer and drier than the traditional sourdough starter. As with any starter, you will need to allow a few hours for it to get warm and active before baking:
To bake using the refrigerated starter-
Retrieve your starter from the refrigerator.
Take out 30 grams of starter and return the rest to the fridge. No need to feed it until you have only 10 grams left.
make your baking starter by adding 130 grams of warm water to your 30 grams of starter, mix and mush until dissolved, and then add 120 grams of flour.
Cover tightly and let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours. This refreshed baking starter is now ready to use in your favorite sourdough recipes.
The above are the instructions to create your full starter for baking, but I have been experimenting. This starter will give you 280 grams of active starter, but my recipe that I use all the time only calls for 150 grams. This means that again I am throwing away left over starter OR will have to figure out another recipe to make. That usually doesn't happen right off, and it gets thrown out. I hate to waste ingredients.
Based on the above ratio to make the starter I made my own, but it will end in only the 150 grams of starter that I need so NOTHING goes to waste! Here is my starter and bread recipe!
For the starter I took 10 grams from my refrigerated starter and combined 50 grams of warm water. Mix thoroughly until creamy liquid, then add 95 grams of flour and mix again. this will appear very dry and not to take all of the flour in. Its then that I pick the glob up and all the loose flour bits from the edges of the bowl and roll it in my hands. I roll it into a ball and put it into a small bowl, tightly covered for a couple of hours. The temperature of your house will make a difference in how fast this will become active. The warmer the place, the faster it will activate. It should start to be covered with small holes or bubbles to show you it is doing well and ready for action.
Preparing Your Sourdough Dough for Baking
Once your starter has developed those telltale holes and is ready to roll, it's time to dive into the dough-making process. My preferred ritual is to embark on this journey at night, ensuring that the dough is perfectly primed for a fresh morning bake. Here's how to do it:
Measure Your Starter: Begin by placing your starter in a spacious bowl. If you've meticulously followed the instructions above, you should have about 150 grams of starter to work with.
Add Warm Water: Pour in 250 grams of pure or filtered warm water (about 100 degrees f) and give it all a thorough mix. This step is crucial for the activation of your starter.
Introduce the Oil: Now, add 25 grams of a light oil into the mix, I use either olive oil or sunflower oil
Season with Salt: Sprinkle in 10 grams of salt and ensure it's evenly distributed throughout the mixture by giving it a good stir.
Incorporate the Flour: Gradually add 500 grams of flour (I usually use all-purpose) while thoroughly mixing to create a cohesive dough ball. Be patient; the flour needs to be fully integrated.
Rest and Rise: Place your dough ball in a bowl, covering it tightly. Let it rest and rise for about 12 hours or until risen. My preference is to leave it overnight, so it's perfectly primed for morning baking. Don't expect it to rise as much as traditional yeast bread, but it should look pleasantly puffy.
Baking Your Sourdough Bread
When it's time to bake, follow these steps:
Preheat the Oven: Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
Shape and Score: using just a little flour on your hands, shape your dough into a neat ball and make a couple of slices across the top using a very sharp knife or a razor blade cutter.
Prepare the Dutch Oven: Line the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven with parchment paper. Place your dough directly on top of the paper in the Dutch oven and put the lid on it.
Stove-Top Wait: Keep the Dutch oven on the stovetop until your oven reaches the desired temperature.
Into the Oven: Once the oven is up to temperature, put the covered Dutch oven inside for 20 minutes.
Uncover and Adjust Temperature: After 20 minutes, remove the lid and reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue baking for another 40 minutes.
Cool and Cover: As soon as your timer chimes, take the bread out of the pot and let it cool on a cutting board, covering it with a tea towel or light cloth. I know it is hard, but letting it completely cool before cutting is important to keep the moisture locked in.
Pro Tips for Keeping Your Bread Fresh
To ensure your freshly baked sourdough remains at its best, avoid storing it in a bag or plastic. Instead, place it on a cutting board with the cut sides facing down to prevent them from drying out. Enjoy your homemade sourdough bread!
Here is a link to my sour dough stater kit