Hey there :)
In a lot of baked recipes I use sourdough so in case you don’t quite know what it is and what it does here is some info on my good pal. This post will be just short summary plus a how to make a starter yourself. It certainly is not the Holy Grail. There is a lot more to know and there are many ways to create a starter. This is the “technique” I have used when I made my own. I think it is the most simple and pure way to make a starter and I am happy with the result. But just so you know, there are different ways asking for different ingredients :)
What is Sourdough?
Sourdough is a mixture made mainly of water and flour that captures some microflora that is naturally present almost around everything :)
Meaning sourdough uses wild yeast and lactobacilli to make the dough rise. The lactobacilli makes the readily baked bread taste a bit sour – hence the name sourdough – but it will also help keeping the bread fresh longer thanks to the lactic acid it produces.
Working with sourdough will usually require a longer fermentation time compared with doughs that use baker’s yeast. Combined with the occurring acid this also helps breaking down the gluten in the flours, making it more digestible. Some people that don’t tolerate gluten in normal breads can actually eat bread made with rye and sourdough. But that doesn’t work for everyone unfortunately.
What all this means is you have to be more patient, but you will also be rewarded with a more gut-friendly loaf.
Also, sourdough isn’t exclusive to making bread. You can also use it for pizza or make some sweet treats like cakes or cookies or pancakes and waffles. Sky is the Limit ;)
A sourdough starter.
Here we go. The starter. A sourdough starter, sometimes also called leaven, is basically made from flour and water. It will use wild bacteria that it gets from its surroundings to leaven the bread.
How to make a starter?
As said, you will need two ingredients: water and flour. That’s it. Some people make starter by adding some yoghurt, sugar, raisins, yeast or other stuff to it. But for the starter I made I have used only flour and water. I am perfectly happy with my starter as is, so I don’t see a reason for myself to add other things even though it might speeden up the process.
Tools you need
a scale. Seriously, if making bread a scale isn’t really just a mybe-option. You need to be more precise than with “normal” baking. A scale will help you with that big time. No cups and stuff :)
a wooden spoon. Just for stirring. Wooden is best, but any spoon will work if you don’t have a wooden spoon (which I would find hard to believe)
a big bowl. Jep. big. Don’t underestimate the growth of your starter. The ingredients might make you think a small bowl or glass will do. But no, it won’t, believe me. When I made my first starter I used just a big mason jar and I thought it was enough. I wasn’t. That stuff is farting ;)
“Recipe ” Sourdough Starter
- 350g whole grain rye flour (100g+100g+ 150g) Can you use another type of flour? Yes you can. But whole grain is optimal. The ore refined the flour, the less active bacteria it contains that is needed for an active starter. Rye flour also works better than wheat, but it will work with either type. Maybe it will need a bit more time.
- 350g water (100g+100g+ 150g) Can you use Cola, coffee or vodka? No. Don’t. Water is the thing.
In a bowl mix together 100g of flour and 100g of warm (not hot) water. Stir until well combined. Cover with a damp towel and set aside for 24 hours at room temperature.
Take the bowl from Day 1. Stir the mixture. Then add 100g of warm water, and stir until combined. Then add 100g of flour and stir until combined. If the mixture is too dry so it cannot be mixed thoroughly, add another 10g of water. Cover with a damp towel and set aside for 24 hours at room temperature.
Take the bowl from Day 1. The mixture should be a bit bubbly and smell a bit sour. This is how it should be. To the mixture add 150g of warm water and stir until combined. Then add 150g of flour and stir until well combined. If the mixture is too dry so it cannot be mixed thoroughly, add another 10g of water. Cover with a damp towel and set aside for 24 hours at room temperature.
Take the bowl from Day 1. The dough should have risen noticeably and have some bubbles and a sour smell. If it does, congratulations :) You hereby are in possession of your own sourdough starter. Dance in joy, sing out loud, bake your bread :)
In case your dough isn’t bubbly and airy, add another 50g of water and 50g of flour and set aside for another 24 hours.
Notes on the starter
Can you use less flour? Yes you can. Just make sure you reduce the water by the same amount. For example 50g flour+50g water on day 1, 50g flour+50g water on day 2 and 50g flour+50g water on day 3 might work just as well. Just check if the starter is bubbly enough on day3. If not, add another portion and wait another day.
This starter is a baby. It still might be a bit weak and might need a bit help to access its full potential. So it might be useful, when baking your first three breads, to add just a bit of baker’s yeast, just until your baby is strong enough to walk on its own. With every feeding it will get stronger and eventually it can lift your bread all on its own. Or if you don’t mind a mild rise go ahead and bake without yeast :)
This rye starter can easily be turned into a wheat or spelt (or even oat) starter. Just use about one tablespoon (25g) of the starter and feed it with equal amounts (by weight) of the needed flour and water. You won’t get a 100% pure starter by that, but that isn’t a problem at all. Only if you want a 100% wheat or spelt starter, you will have to go all the way to make a new starter with just that sort of flour.
By the way, if you know someone with a starter ask if you can get a bit of it. You can add it to your own starter to give it a boost. I actually got some starter from a colleague. Although my starter was already made at that time and was strong enough for a bread without yeast, I still added it for extra strength :)
How to store a starter?
I always keep about 150g of the starter in a glass jar in the fridge. My jar is not airtight and that works well. But I know some people prefer airtight. Your choice. I bake bread almost every week and hence feed it every week. But feeding it every two weeks should be sufficient in my opinion. But as always, there are loads of different opinions on the net, just make your own experiences :)
You can also freeze your starter if you don’t bake that often or add a lot flour to dry it. Like this it will last longer without a feeding.
Ok, so now you have a lot of starter. Here is a very easy basic bread recipe, ideal for beginners without much fuss and also, for a bread, it is done really quickly. It’s a recipe for a bread made with just whole flours (mainly rye) and not really much more. It is nothing fancy, nothing to brag with. Just plain and basic read. It’s my default recipe when I am busy or don’t feel like checking on my loaf every 30 minutes for a turn and fold. If you have never baked bread, this is an easy start :)
Recipe Whole grain simple sourdough bread
prep time: about 10 minutes + 2 hours waiting time + 1 hour baking times +++ yields: one big loaf of bread
- 550g sourdough (made from rye)
- 240g whole rye flour
- 120g whole wheat flour
- 260g water
- 12g salt
- 5g molasses or honey (optional)
- optional: 10g yeast if your sourdough still lacks some power
- optional: fold ins like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, chopped nuts…
Mix together all the ingredients, starting my adding the water to the sourdough, then adding the salt, molasses and flours (and fold ins if desired). Mix with a handheld blender on medium low for about 5 minutes. Let rest 30 minutes in the bowl.
Then transfer the dough into a big loaf pan, not filling it more than 2/3 to the top. You will need a dough scraper for that. At least this will make it a lot easier. Brush the dough with a bit of water and leave to rise for about 60-90 minutes. The dough should expand noticeably.
At least 20 minutes before you will bake the bread preheat oven to 250°C.
Place the bread in the oven and pour a cup of water into the oven (or on a hot baking tray positioned on the lower part of the oven). Bake for 10 minutes at 250°C, then lower the temperature to 200°C, keep baking for 5 minutes and lower again to 175°C. Bake for another 45 minutes. If the top gets to dark, cover with aluminum foil. Take the bread out of the oven and out of the loaf pan (being careful as it is hot. You might need to wait for 5 minutes.) Place in the oven without the loaf pan for another 5-10 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool completely.