Recipes: The Great Sourdough Journey

For those of you who know me personally and have already had to deal with me spamming your feed about this, sorry in advance (well, only a little). For those of you who haven’t been privy to this saga, you’re in for a treat. Warning that this is a looooong post, but it’s the easiest method I’ve come across that still has enough info for noobs.

Here’s the tl;dr: I embraced peak quarantine Millennial and made sourdough bread from scratch. It took a while, but it was awesome.

Background

(aka the part to skip if you actually just want the recipe)

On Easter weekend, since we weren’t seeing family, I wanted to make a special meal to have at home. I was planning on making this delicious garden herb loaf that I’ve been making since I was a teenager, but thanks to everyone stress and boredom baking during the pandemic, the store had no yeast. Luckily, they did have bread flour.

I improvised for Easter dinner and made Irish soda bread (a no-rise, dense, very yummy bread that I used to make with my grandpa). But the lack of yeast at the store planted a little seed of well-I’ll-prove-I-don’t-need-you in my head, and I decided to make sourdough starter so that the next weekend I could make my very own bread, store-bought yeast be damned.

Sourdough starter is literally just home-grown yeast in a jar, and once it’s mature can be used to make sourdough bread. It is super simple and not super easy (but also not too hard). Once it’s ready, you can store it a number of ways, and then revive it anytime you want a fresh loaf of homemade bread! Some folks have apparently had their starters for generations.

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon* distilled water**
  • ~5lb.* of bread flour***
  • Salt

* These estimates are super rough and likely slightly more than what you will need, but because the process is so lengthy and I didn’t keep a pristine log of feedings

** You can also use filtered water, boiled water, or leave tap water out overnight if truly necessary. But don’t use straight tap water, as the chlorine and other stuff in the water can kill those good lil yeasties.

** All-purpose, whole wheat, or rye can also be used. Literally whatever you have, though many say a “heartier” flour — aka not all-purpose or baking — is best for getting sourdough starter going.

The Journey

Disclaimers:

  • Costs about $5, makes 1 round loaf of bread 10″-12″ in diameter.
  • I’m not labeling this part instructions like I typically do because there are not only a ton of opinions out there about what methods are ideal, but yeast is a living thing and your setting may affect the details of this process. Throughout, I’ll offer ways that I addressed some of those challenges as they cropped up.
  • As always, Google is your friend and I’m not any sort of magical sourdough expert. This is literally my first time, but it was fun and kept my brain occupied during so much time inside.

Day 1

(Sunday evening)

  1. I did a bunch of research, and settled on this starter recipe.
  2. Found a decent-sized jar with clear sides.
    1. In my case, it was a cleaned out macadamia-nut container, but later I upgraded to a 1-gallon glass jar that I ordered just for my new starter. As long as it can hold 4 cups or so, you’ll have enough room.
  3. Mixed 3/4 cup warm distilled water with 1 cup bread flour until fully incorporated.
    1. Pro tip: Add the water in first whenever you feed so you’ll be less likely to have unincorporated chunks of flour, or flour stuck to the bottom of the container.
  4. Covered jar and left it overnight. The lid should not be airtight, and most folks will tell you to just cover it loosely, but I found that if I *mostly* tightened it but not all the way, that encouraged the most growth. Play around with it and see what work for you.

A note about temperature: I didn’t discover this until day 2, but the ideal ambient temperature for yeast to grow is in the mid-to-high 70s (Fahrenheit). My apartment tends to be quite a bit cooler this time of year (high 60s), so I helped keep the little yeast babies warm by putting them on a microwaved heating pack, and then re-warming that every few hours when I remembered. You can also put it in a warmer spot of the house or in the (turned off!) oven with the light on, but it should stay out of direct sunlight. If you can’t keep it warmer that’s okay, just know it might take longer for your starter to mature and it you may not see as much rising.IMG-1565

Day 2

(Monday morning)

  1. I discovered the temperature thing (see above), and ordered a more conducive jar.
  2. “Fed” the starter:
    1. Stirred the starter and removed about half from the jar.*
    2. Added in 3/4 cup warm distilled water and 1 cup bread flour.
    3. Stirred until fully incorporated, and covered jar.
  3. Left for ~24 hours.

* You don’t have to throw away what you take out of the starter! This is called discard, and can be composted or used in other recipes (though you may not want to cook with your discard from the first 1-2 days). My favorite recipe to make with starter discard are these biscuits — solely because they are easy and use the most discard for the least flour.

Day 3

(Tuesday morning)

My starter rose and bubbled on day 2, but most of that had receded by day 3. Often initial rising is due to bacteria and not yeast, so just let it be and stick to the schedule. No need to worry.

  1. Fed the starter (see details above).
  2. Left for ~24 hours.IMG-1566

Day 4

(Wednesday morning)

  1. Fed the starter.
  2. Left for ~24 hours.
    1. Pro tip: I used a dry-erase marker to start marking the starter’s level on the outside of the jar when I fed it, so then I could more accurately note any rising throughout the day.IMG-1601

Day 5

(Thursday morning)

  1. Fed the starter.
  2. Left for ~12 hours.
    1. Pro tip: I discovered that if you stir it at about the 12-hour mark (or halfway between feedings), this encourages rising and yeast growth. I didn’t need to continue doing it the whole time, but it really seemed to help on days 5-6.
  3. Left for ~12 hours.

Day 6

(Friday morning)

  1. Fed the starter.
  2. Left for ~24 hours, with occasional stirring.

Day 7

(Saturday morning)

  1. The starter had been foaming and bubbling nicely, and sort of passed the float test*, so I knew it was almost ready.
  2. Here is where I got risky folks. Instead of discarding half like usual, I stirred the starter a bunch and fed it double (1.5 cups water, 2 cups flour). Honestly I would not recommend this step unless you want a whole lot of starter on your hands, but for what it’s worth, it did work.
    1. Pro tip: You only need 1/4 cup of starter to make a loaf of bread, so you really don’t need a ton of starter on hand unless you want to either give some away or make a crap ton of bread.
  3. Left for ~12 hours, with no stirring. My starter rose exponentially during this time, so I just let it do its thing and tried not to mess with it (hence no stirring).

* The float test is just to take a spoonful of starter and drop it in some water. If it floats, that means your starter is mature and ready to use. Mine floated for a minute or two before sinking.IMG-1615

(Saturday evening)

  1. Reserved 1/4 cup starter in a large bowl.
  2. Fed the starter.
  3. Let it rise for ~45 minutes, then popped it in the fridge to go into hibernation mode.
    1. For more details on starter storage, skip to “Day 9 & Beyond” below.
  4. This is where the BREADMAKING begins! I settled on this recipe because it was easy, and used the most starter for the least flour (it’s a trend with me haha).
  5. Made the bread dough (steps 1-2 in the recipe linked above):
    1. Mixed 1.5 cups plus 1tbsp warm distilled water into the 1/4 cup of starter I had set aside.
    2. Gently mixed in 1.5tsp salt and 4 cups plus 2tbsp flour until formed a decent dough, then gently packed together.
    3. Covered with a damp cloth and let rest for 1 hour.
    4. Gently worked dough into a ball, and placed back into bowl. Covered with (newly dampened) cloth and let rest overnight.IMG-1617

Day 8

(Sunday morning)

  1. Kneaded the dough and did a second rise (steps 3-4 in the recipe above):
    1. Gently put the dough onto a floured cutting board, then folded down the top and turned it 90 degrees, repeating for all four sides
      1. Pro tip: The recipe I used has great pictures and a video for this bit.
    2. Let rest for 10 minutes while put a clean dishcloth into a bowl and dusted it with flour.
    3. Gently flipped over the dough and repeat the fold-and-turn process from Step 1a.
    4. Compressed and shaped into a ball (a bench knife/bench scraper really comes in handy here).
    5. Placed into lined bowl with the recently folded side facing up, then covered (I just folded over the dishcloth because it was pretty large) and refrigerated for a few hours (anywhere between 1 and 6 hours is fine).IMG-1618

(Sunday afternoon)

  1. Prepped and baked the bread (steps 4-7 in the recipe above):
    1. Preheated oven to 500˚F, and took dough out of fridge.
    2. Cut a large sheet of parchment paper and placed it over the bowl holding the dough, then flipped it upside down to plop the dough out.
    3. Gently floured the dough, then used a paring knife to score it.
      1. Pro tip: This is the cool part where you cut the bread so it can expand as it bakes. You can cut any design you want, but be sure your incisions are about 1/4” deep so that it cuts into the dough far enough to expand properly (only some of mine were right).
    4. Picked up the loaf using the parchment, and placed inside a Dutch oven. I think you can use other pots, but this is what the recipe asked for and I have one, so not totally sure!IMG-1624
    5. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and placed in the oven, immediately reducing the heat to 450˚F.
    6. Baked covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for 20-30 minutes.
    7. Removed from pot and placed the parchment (with the loaf on it obviously) directly on the rack, and baked for 10 more minutes.
      1. Pro tip: My oven runs a little warm and I wish I’d only baked it for 5 here. The bottom of the loaf was a little crispier than I would have preferred.
    8. Removed from oven and let cool for about 1 hour (don’t worry, it will still be warm at this point!)
    9. Took photos, of course.IMG-1627IMG-1635
    10. Sliced into that bad boy, put some butter on it, and ate significantly more than necessary.
      1. Pro tip: Just store what you haven’t used yet in a plastic bag, and squeeze the air out of it. This keeps it fresh and avoids it drying out.

Day 9 & Beyond

  1. Enjoyed daily bread (for 2 people, this lasted us about 4 days including Sunday)!
  2. Left the starter in the fridge just chilling, until
    1. I want to make more bread! Which means it’s time to revive the starter.
    2. Day 12 (Thursday evening), I pulled the jar out of the fridge and let it warm up (on a heating pack like before) for a few hours, marking its levels when I first pulled it out of the fridge and as it rose.
    3. It rose, then started receding within about 4 hours, so I split it and fed it.
      1. I also put it into a clean jar here because I had an extra, but that isn’t strictly necessary.
    4. I’ll continue to feed for 1-2 days until the starter seems happy and ready, then repeat the recipe to make another loaf of bread!
  3. When leaving the starter in the fridge, it only needs to be fed about once per week. You should be able to take it out, let it come to room temp for 45 minutes or an hour, feed, let it rise for 45 minutes to an hour again, then pop it back in the fridge.
  4. My starter is pretty new and I plan to bake about 1 loaf per week so I’ll be feeding more often, but there are also long-term storage options like drying and crumbling it.

Misc. Tips

  • Here is the link to the starter recipe I used again, and to the bread recipe.
  • This site also has a butt ton of info and is good for learning about sourdough/troubleshooting, though it’s a little too precise for my patience level. Also check out this page and this page.
  • If you’re saving discard, mark the container with what day it’s from so you know what’s fresh and what’s maybe not so much.
  • If your starter isn’t really rising, no worries. Give it up to 24 hours, then split and feed it anyways
  • If your starter is rising, sweet! Keep an eye on that bad boy and once it starts to recede (sink back down), that’s when you know it’s hungry. Time to feed (even if it’s been less than 24 hours).
  • If you’re concerned about any other aspects of your starter, just google it. There are lots of helpful sites, forums, etc. including r/sourdough on Reddit.

I know that was an insanely long post, so thank you and props if you actually read the whole thing.

What new recipes have you been trying out lately? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

4 thoughts on “Recipes: The Great Sourdough Journey

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