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Friday, October 19, 2012

Sourdough 101

As the weather gets cooler, there are several things I can't help but crave. Tall boots with skinny jeans or leggings tucked into them. Thick, chunky, soft, cozy sweaters. Shades of navy blue, grey, black, brown and army green. And gluten. I just can't help it- as the weather cools down, I eat more pasta and bread. Through the summer it is easy to eschew it in favor of raw fruits and vegetables. I am still eating lots of produce, and keeping a majority of it raw, but I have been making lots of bread, too. I make it instead of buying it because  I feel that by making it, we savor it more and we eat less than if I just bought it. I can control the ingredients, it is fresher than what is found in the store, and making it is cheaper. From start to finish, baking a loaf can take hours, depending on rising time. But it is not all that labor intensive, other than maybe 20 minutes of kneading. And it makes the house smell great. 

For a while I was on an Italian bread kick, in search of a perfect crunchy crust with a fluffy/stretchy inside. Lately, though, I have been making sourdough bread. I made my own starter first, and after a week I was good to go. It is super easy, but the steps seem long, so I will make this post about the starter alone, and follow up with another post about the actual bread. 

Sourdough Starter

2 cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)**
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active-dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)***

* I use bread flour- it has a high gluten content. I use bread flour exclusively when yeast is the leavening agent, and pastry flour when baking soda or baking powder is the leavening agent. Bread flour is higher in gluten, which makes the bread have a chewy texture, instead of a crumbly  texture like cake or cookies. I try to stick with whole wheat for both types, if possible. 
** Adding a little sugar will help jump start the yeast process, as yeast feeds on sugar for its energy. Yeast rises by feeding on the sugars in flour, and expelling carbon dioxide in the process. That's why using just a little sugar can help boost this process. Don't overdo the sugar.
*** Our water runs through a filtration system which removes chlorine. Chlorine can inhibit yeast activity, so you may need to use bottled or distilled if your water is not filtered. Experiment!

Mix the flour, sugar, and yeast together in a clean and sterile container (use only glass, glazed ceramic or crockery to hold your starter. No metal or plastic) that can hold two quarts. Gradually stir in the water and mix until it forms a thick paste (don't worry about any lumps, as they will disappear).
Cover the container with a dish cloth and let it sit in a warm (70 to 80 degrees F.), draft-free place. NOTE: Temperatures hotter than 100 degrees F. or so will kill the yeast. The dish cloth will let wild yeasts pass through into the batter. The mixture should bubble as it ferments (this will foam up quite a bit). Sometimes I place the container in my sink (if sourdough spills out onto your counter, it is hard to clean off once it has dried).
Let it sit out (at room temperature) for 2 to 5 days, stirring it once a day. The starter is ready when it develops a pleasant sour smell and looks bubbly.
Once your starter starts bubbling, then start feeding it daily with flour and water according to the directions below. Then stir it, cover loosely with the cloth- I used an elastic to hold it in place (allow a little breathing space), and store it on your counter top or in the refrigerator (your choice).

Your starter should be fed daily if left sitting on the counter. Every other week, if refrigerated. I keep mine in the fridge as I am not making bread every day, but only once or twice a week. When it is time to feed it, scoop a cup of it out (after stirring) and stir in one cup flour, one cup warm water. When scooping a cup out, you can either use it in baking or you can throw it out. I typically use it to bake since I am baking once or twice a week. I will go into more detail about the process I use when preparing to bake and the actual baking in my next post. 

Do you like sourdough bread? Do you have a weakness for gluten like I do? I guess there are worse things, right? ;)


  1. Hey Stef - did you mention anywhere the Brand of bread flour you use? If not, share please!


    1. ahh, right! Well it has been a while (did not see the comment until just now) but for bread flour I use King Arthur unbleached bread flour. I would prefer it be organic and whole wheat, but I was having a hard time finding one that was ww, unbleached, organic AND gave me a decent loaf. I don't bake my own bread during the summer though. For anything using baking soda, baking powder (and NOT yeast) I use organic pastry flour- it has less gluten and gives a good crumb to cookies, cakes etc. I have yet to try cake flour though. I go for Bob's Red Mill, Hodgeson Mill, and Arrowhead brands. And I just bought coconut flour, buckwheat, and almond flour to do some gluten free experiments. :)