I have always had an interest in “living off the land” or homesteading as it is often called. The homesteading lifestyle goes hand in glove with the slow food movement. I make most of our food from scratch, rarely using pre-packaged foods. Not only does it taste better, I can control and know what’s in it.
Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet ~ Aristotle.
I recently got interested in sourdough. That has got to be one of the most wonderful “slow foods” for making a loaf of bread – the first loaf takes about a week, but it is so worth the wait. The reward for having put in your week of time and effort to get a sourdough starter to a point where it’s stable and ready to use is a tangy yet slightly sweet loaf of sourdough bread that smells heavenly.
Yes, you read that right, one week ~ 7 full days ~ for that first loaf of sourdough bread! Since that seventh day in my sourdough experiment, I’ve made numerous loaves of homemade bread, a chocolate cake, biscuits, and a cinnamon coffee cake. Some have been more successful than other but all have been edible and some have been really yummy! I will make each of them again, tweaking the recipes based on what I learned from each attempt. I will share my recipes as I get them perfected for my starter and my tastes.
I do use my bread machine to do the work for me in making my sourdough bread since I’ve been working my day job and just didn’t have the time to do it the “old fashioned” way but the results have been good and it’s allowed us to enjoy homemade sourdough bread when it would not have otherwise been possible on those days.
When I decided I wanted to make a sourdough starter, I had no real idea how to begin so I scoured the internet doing research and borrowed a book from a friend. Each resource I found had it’s own twist on the subject and many were very long winded about the science of making sourdough which is great to know but not necessary. In fact, it made it very confusing and much more difficult than it needs to be. Sourdough has been used for hundreds and probably even thousands of years. The early developers of sourdough certainly didn’t understand the science behind it yet the starters were kept going from generation to generation and in all parts of the world.
In a nutshell, a sourdough is a mix of flour and water that contains natural bacteria and yeasts. These natural bacterias and yeast are allowed to grow and multiply until they have multiplied to a point where their population has the ability to raise a hunk of dough into a tasty, leavened bread. To make a sourdough starter you need just three things; flour, water and patience.
Here are my sourdough instructions without any extraneous science or explanations.
1/4 cup of non-chlorinated water and 1/2 cup of any unbleached flour
Mix together in a container that’s easy for you to get a spoon in and stir. I use a wide mouthed mason jar but am planning to switch to a plastic container very soon. Cover it lightly with a cloth or a lid just laid on top (just to keep dust and in my case, pet hair, out of it). It should be about the thickness of fairly thick pancake batter so add more water or flour until it’s about that consistency.
Let it sit on your counter in a warm place. Check it every 12 hours or so and give it a stir. When you start to see some bubbles on it, maybe within a day or two, then it’s time to feed it.
This is my sourdough starter about 4 hours after being “fed”. Notice the bubbles forming in the starter. This starter has risen to almost double from where it was in the jar when I fed it. That tells me it’s feeding and “off gassing” nicely. When the starter stops feeding, it will return to it’s original volume in my container. I will then use some and feed what’s left in the jar and the cycle begins again.
Care and Feeding of a Sourdough Starter:
Step 1 – (day 1) Once you start to see a little bubbling or foam action you will know it’s working. This could take from 1 to 2 days. When it’s been working for about 12 hours, feed it another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup flour and give it a good stir (keep that pancake batter consistency by adding more water or flour as needed). Don’t get hung up on the 12 hours thing. Generally, plan to do feedings in the morning and before bed. It’s not rocket science so don’t get too hung up on times.
Step 2 – (about day 2 or 3 and continuing until day 7) Your going to start really nurturing the culture in your little baby starter so it’s going to need your care and attention for the next week at least. Once you have about a cup of sourdough starter after you stir it and before you feed it, you will need to start discarding some or you’ll have a bucket full by the end of the week. Discard about 1/2 of your culture and feed it with another 1/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour (more or less).
Keep it the consistency of a thick pancake batter. I like to keep my sourdough started a little thicker than a pancake batter because I find I can more easily see the action of it rising and falling. If you batter is too thin the gases produced by the culture will just escape and you won’t be able to tell how well it’s working. Some say a thin batter is better but at this stage I think thicker is better so you can tell if your baby sourdough starter is healthy and growing.
If you get any really foul odors or discoloration in your starter this means the wrong bacteria and yeasts have taken charge so discard it all and start again. A little fermented smell is good – anything that smells rotten is bad.
Step 3 – (up to day 7) Regular feedings and nap times. Now that your baby is growing you need to keep a regular schedule of discarding, feeding and resting. For most people this will probably be a 12 hour schedule. For me, because we heat our house with wood, and it’s winter time right now, my house is cooler at night and even during the day if we’re not home to tend the fire, so a 24 hour schedule works best as the cooler temperatures means slower growth for my sourdough culture. Basically, you can tell what your feeding schedule should be by the rise and fall of your starter. When it’s falling, that means it is done feeding and growth is slowing down so you can plan your schedule around the natural rhythm of your sourdough starter. The starter will tell you when it’s hungry by becoming less active. The warmer the starter, the faster it will grow. If you want it to be slower so you don’t have to discard and feed as often, put it in a cooler place (but not the fridge that’s too cold for a baby).
Continue the discard, feed and rest schedule until your culture is a week old. If all’s well, at that time you can start using it.
My Sourdough Honey Bread made in the bread machine. It’s a very small loaf which is great for our small family. We can use one of these loaves in a day or two so I make it often which allows me to keep my sourdough starter active on the counter instead of in the fridge where it’s activity becomes very slow and must be restarted before it can be used.
Step 4 – Using your sourdough starter. Most recipes will call for anywhere between 3/4 cup and 1 cup of starter so keep your starter at about 1 1/2 cups after a feeding so that when you take out a cup you’ll still have enough starter left to grow for the next time you need starter. Immediately after you use some of your starter for a recipe, you need to feed your remaining starter to bring it back up to a level that can be used for the next recipe. I usually plan my baking so that I use about a cup of starter per day (one recipe per day). If you want to use a lot of starter on a given day, you’ll need to build your starter up with feedings until you have enough for your use and enough left to build it back up.
I use my 1 cup of sourdough starter (don’t forget to feed your remaining starter) in the morning and feed the remainder right away. Since it’s on a 24 hour cycle (for the winter) I remove about a cup of the starter each morning and either use it to bake or give it away (or you can store it in the fridge and bring it back up if you want to use it at a later time – we’ll talk about that later). Our family will go through a small loaf of sourdough bread every couple of days, so one day I’ll make a sourdough bread and the next day I’ll make something else like biscuits or a cake or maybe pancakes. This keeps my family in “slow food” and also keeps my starter active. Today I’ll share with you my basic bread recipe that I use on a regular basis. I’ll share more sourdough recipes in future posts.
Basic Sourdough Honey Bread
- 1 cup of sourdough starter (don’t forget to feed your remaining starter)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp oil (I like to use a nice olive oil)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour (depending on the consistency of your starter)
- 2 tbsp honey
- 3/4 tsp bread machine yeast (yes, I know it’s cheating but needed for a bread machine)
Place all ingredients in a bread machine (wet ingredients first) and process on the whole wheat cycle if your machine has it. Or you could just do dough cycle and then take the dough out, shape it and let it rise in a bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
As your starter and your bread machine will be different than mine, you may need to try this a few times to get it the way you like it. Adjust a little here and there until you make it just the way you like it.
From sourdough starter to homemade bread and jam. Letting the bread machine do the work may be cheating a little but it’s great way to get homemade sourdough bread while you’re working.
Reviving a sourdough starter that you’ve had in the fridge:
If you had to discard starter but saved it in the fridge for later use OR your starter is at an age where you can safely put it to sleep in the fridge (about a month old), you need to revive it before you can use it in a recipe.
Remove it from the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Then feed it with a one part water to 2 parts flour to get the amount of starter you need. Once it’s fed and started to relax you can use it in your recipe as normal. I’ve not tried it but I believe you can also freeze sourdough starter and revive it the same way. If it does not reactivate when you’ve warmed and fed it , throw it away and say a little prayer as your little culture has died.
So that is sourdough as I understand it. If you do try making a sourdough starter, please share your experiences and ask questions in the comments section! I look forward to hearing from you!