Last month, I welcomed a new pet into the Sweet Bee homestead, Sally. Sally the Sourdough Starter.
My goal this winter has been to learn to bake bread. Like, real bread fermented from a sourdough starter. I had tried a starter several years ago, and it was a complete disaster. The bread was awful and the tub of starter was always overflowing and smelled gross. It was pretty much the epitome of every sourdough horror story you’ve ever heard.
But this time, it’s been different. For one, I did research. With the renaissance of artisan bread, using sourdough a totally trendy thing. There are now countless articles online and there are tons of books that mention sourdough. I make no claims at being a good baker, and my bread is still far from perfect, but I’ve managed to keep Sally, my sourdough starter, well maintained and I’ve adapted a great routine. Plus, my bread is edible.
If you are considering bringing a sourdough starter into your life, or new to the idea of using a starter, here are some things you should know:
- Sourdough starter is something that gets added to the bread dough, to help it rise. Kind of how you’d used instant yeast. However, the amount you use and the time it takes is much different than instant yeast, so you can’t just use your standard bread recipe, and swap it out,
- Sourdough bread takes time, usually a 3-day process. You can’t wake up on a Sunday and say “hey, I want bread tonight for dinner”. Sourdough is a very slow fermentation.
- For most recipes, the fed sourdough starter first gets mixed into something called a leaven. The leaven is what gets mixed into the bread dough. I’ve also seen leaven spelled levain, in case you weren’t already confused.
- You don’t have to feed your starter every day. Keep it in the fridge and feed once a week, or more often if you want to bake more frequently.
- You don’t have to get a 100-year old starter to have good bread. I’ve often read articles or heard of people bragging about the original source of their starter. Sure, it could be neat to be using the same starter your family carried over on the Oregon Trail, but you can have just as good bread with a 2-week old starter you made yourself. I’m using a starter that is 4-years old, that I got from the purveyor of the cheese shop in Freestone.
- A starter doesn’t have to be from San Francisco to make authentic sourdough bread. Sourdough from San Francisco has a distinct taste, lending the marketing name of “San Francisco sourdough”. This is from the bacteria and yeasts in the air in that area. A starter is constantly evolving, and it picks up the yeast that’s local to its area. Within a week, a starter takes on the local yeasts of your kitchen, and therefore flavors. So skip the trip to the City to source your starter, just find a friend in your own area to share, or make your own.
How to feed a Sourdough Starter
Every time you bake, you first have to feed your starter. I’m only baking one time a week, so I only feed once time a week. Different recipes call for different types of levain, so check your source to see what they are using. The recipe should give instructions on what types of flours to add (wheat or rye opposed to white, etc.) and in what ratios. A good recipe will be listed in weight, not volume.
Some important things to note: You have to use unbleached flour for the starter to have something to eat. Bleached flour won’t work. At least, it didn’t on my first sourdough attempt. Chlorine in the tap water can also kill the yeast, therefore killing your starter. If you are using city water, leave a jar or bowl of water on the counter for 24 hours before using for most of the chlorine to evaporate.
Pull your starter out of the fridge. Let it warm to room temperature. It will likely have a layer of grey water on top, just stir that back in. Take 2 oz. (about ¼ cup) of your starter (we’ll call this Sourdough Starter 1.0) and place in a clean container (we’ll call this Sourdough Starter 2.0). Add 2 oz. (about ½ cup) of unbleached and organic white flour and 2 oz. (about ¼ cup) of un-chlorinated room temperature water to your Sourdough Starter 2.0. Mix with a spoon until the flour is incorporated.
Sourdough Starter 1.0 is no longer needed. You can either make something with this “unfed” starter, or discard it. There are lots of things you can do with your discarded starter, besides just throwing it away. Upcoming post, stay tuned!
Leave Sourdough Starter 2.0 on the counter until it is bubbly and frothy. In my home, it takes about 5 hours. If your house is cold, it might take a while. You can now either take a portion of Sourdough Starter 2.0 and add to your bread recipe and stick the rest in the fridge, or if you don’t have a baking project, you can just put her back, covered, in the fridge.
The next time you bake, or the following week, you’ll repeat the process. Sourdough Starter 2.0 will become 3.0, and on and on and on.
Establishing a Sourdough Starter Routine:
Just like having any new pet in your life, it takes a while to adapt to a routine. I have started baking once a week, so this is the routine that works best for me, assuming I’m eating the bread for Sunday dinner. Obviously, you’d change the days based on when you wanted to eat the bread. I’ve tried a few, but mostly I’ve been using the bread recipe from Tartine.
Friday, morning: feed starter.
Friday, evening: mix leaven
Saturday, morning: make dough, work dough throughout the day.
Saturday, evening: prepare dough for final rise in fridge.
Sunday, noon: bake bread
Do you make bread, or other baked goods, from a sourdough starter? I’d love to know how your experience has been! Leave me a comment and let me know!