Sourdough is an ancient method of making bread that dates back thousands of years. Before the development of rapid rising yeasts for breadmaking, people had to capture the natural yeasts in their bread dough. These “wild yeasts” helped to develop enzymes that caused bread to rise. Sourdough bread is not only delicious but its easier to digest and is processed by your body differently than commercially produced breads.
What is Sourdough?
Sourdough bread uses a “starter” instead of active yeast.
Sourdough starter consists of fermented grains (flour) and water. The fermentation of the flour and water allows for wild yeasts to develop in the starter, which causes your bread to rise.
The natural yeasts also produce the sour flavor for which sourdough bread became famous.
Much like fermented foods, the lactic acid produced by the yeast and bacteria in the sourdough starter creates the sour of sourdough. The name “sourdough” for the bread became famous in San Fransisco in the late 1800s.
The natural yeasts captured in San Francisco have a uniquely sour flavor that the area of California became famous for.
The Benefits of Sourdough Bread:
Actual sourdough bread, made from a fermented starter, boasts several benefits over commercially produced bread.
Sourdough bread is higher in vitamins and minerals.
Sourdough bread contains prebiotics which helps you digest the bread.
While the probiotics in the starter won’t survive the baking process, the lactic acid present in sourdough bread helps your body to break down and digest sourdough bread much easier than other breads.
Sourdough bread is higher in protein than commercially produced bread. The higher protein content (gluten) develops during the long fermentation process called “proofing.”
What is Sourdough Starter?
A sourdough starter is a basis for sourdough bread.
The mixture of flour and water fermented on the counter allows the starter to capture the natural or wild yeasts in the air, in the flour, and in your home.
The process of creating an active and usable sourdough starter can take up to a week or two. I always suggest that you choose a warm spring day to start your sourdough starter.
The beautiful part about a sourdough starter is once you have one, you can keep it going for years and years. Many lucky breadmakers have been gifted some starter from a friend or family member and kept it going for years.
Luckily for us, sourdough has become extremely popular and you can now buy a live sourdough starter and avoid the hassle of trying to make one!
Sourdough starters come live (wet) or dehydrated. The dehydrated starters take a little bit more to activate and use but both kinds of starters are MUCH easier than trying to ferment your own. Especially if you want to start baking in the cold of winter when it’s usually too cold to ferment things on your counters near drafty windows.
You can purchase a live sourdough starter to help you get the breadmaking process going and be on your way to making beautiful loaves of tangy sourdough bread.
Buying Sourdough Starter:
The process of creating a sourdough starter from scratch is tedious. The starter can be finicky. It took me years to perfect my starter, which ended up going bad on me during a cross country move.
Luckily for me, ready-made starters are available online for those of us to prefer a more instant gratification type of process.
Live sourdough starters are MUCH easier to revive than dried sourdough starters, but both work. When you purchase a ready-made starter, you’ll be well on your way to baking delicious sourdough bread within a day or two.
Reviving your sourdough includes “feeding” your sourdough starter until its active, bubbly, and ready for breadmaking.
How to Feed your Sourdough Starter:
Feeding your starter requires a kitchen scale.
Knowing how much your starter weighs in grams allows you to feed your starter correctly.
Feeding consists of adding half the weight of your starter in lukewarm filtered water, and half the weight in bread flour.
The formula of half bread flour, half water will lead to an ideally fed sourdough starter. This is called 100% hydration in baking terms.
Throwing away half your starter:
When you begin the feeding process, it’s essential to discard half your starter before feeding it. Otherwise, you will end up with an overwhelmingly large batch of sourdough starter that requires a massive container.
If you don’t plan on using your discarded starter, it can be throw in into your compost pile, those active yeasts and bacteria will help help the compost!
Each time you feed your starter, within about 6-12 hours, it should double in size, and your container will be filled with bubbles.
When your starter is bubbly, that is when you know your starter is active and ready to use in bread. A bubbly starter will lead to the rise you need in your basic sourdough bread.
Storing Sourdough Starter
If you don’t plan on baking bread in a while, give your starter a double feed (the full weight of flour and the half the weight of water) and stick it in your container in the back of the fridge. This feed is not a 100% hydration. The extra flour will help feed the yeasts and bacteria in your starter for much longer (during storage).
The cold fridge will slow down the fermentation process but will keep your starter alive until you’re ready to use it again.
When you’re ready to use your starter again, pull it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Once your starter comes to room temperature, begin feeding it as usual until it becomes active and bubbly. It may take a few days of feeds to get your dormant starter active again.
You can also try feeding your starter every 12 hours instead of every 24 hours to speed up this process.
Once you have an active and bubbly starter, you’re ready to make Sourdough Bread!
Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe:
Sourdough bread is a basic bread recipe with very few ingredients required.
Ingredients for Sourdough Bread:
- 3 1/2 cups Bread Flour or High-Quality White Flour ( This is my favorite flour for bread making)
- 1 3/4 teaspoons of salt
- 1/3 cup of sourdough starter
- 1 2/3 cups of water (this is the MOST water you will need, you may not use it all)
**a note on bread dough, a wet dough will make a lighter bread, but dough can be challenging to work with if you’re a beginner bread maker. **
Steps To A Basic Sourdough Bread:
- Mix your flour and salt in a large bowl.
- Combine starter and 1cup of water and mix thoroughly.
- Combine your starter mixture with your dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add more water if your dough is too dry. You do want a somewhat moist dough. A dry dough will be dense and tough with less airiness to the crumb.
- Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out at room temperature for 18 hours. The wait is the hardest part. It takes lots of patience to develop the sour flavor you’re looking for in your bread. Sourdough starter is not a rapid rise starter.
- Place your dough on a well-floured surface.
- Using the heel of your hand, flatten your dough and fold your dough a few times to create a round shape. *This is a no kneed recipe.*
- Cover your dough round with plastic and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.
- While your dough is resting, oil a boil with about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Cover your bowl with a towel or plastic and allow your dough ball to rise for another 1-2 hours.
Baking your Sourdough Bread:
- Preheat your oven to 500 Degrees.
- Slash the top of your dough quickly with a very sharp knife. I tend to use a razor blade for the slashing of the dough. You want your slash to be about a 1/4 in deep in your dough.
- Sprinkle the bottom of a dutch oven with cornmeal. (Optional)
- Carefully place your dough into the dutch oven and bake covered for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.
Sourdough bread has a signature dark crust, don’t be afraid to let your bread get a beautiful dark brown color while baking.
The covered dutch oven helps to steam your bread, which helps the bread rise in the baking process and also helps to form the crust. Bread baked uncovered usually doesn’t spring up or rise as much in the oven.
The Dutch Oven helps to keep your bread in a nice round shape and guide your dough up rather than out.
Recommended Supplies for Baking Sourdough:
- Live Sourdough Starter
- Dutch Oven for Baking the Bread
- Proofing Basket
- Dough Whisk for mixing the dough
- Bread Lame for slicing your dough
Enjoying your Sourdough Bread:
Nobody ever said you’re too old for bread and butter for dinner.
The best partner for your homemade sourdough bread boulle is a salty European style butter.
But why stop at bread, go ahead and whip up a quick batch of homemade butter!
Sourdough bread is the perfect partner to homemade soups, thick-cut in sandwiches, or lightly toasted with butter and jam for breakfast.
Once you master the steps and timing of making sourdough bread, you’ll find yourself wanting to make homemade bread at home often!