Sourdough Starter and Sourdough Bread Recipe

This is a somewhat minimalist approach to making a sourdough starter: Nothing else needed but flour, water, and time. Scroll down to find the bread recipe if you already have a starter going.

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Sourdough is probably the oldest form of ‘raised’ or ‘leavened’ bread that we know.  The dough sours by ‘catching’ wild yeast out of the air, basically.  Columbus brought some with him when he crossed the Atlantic, and it has been used by European settlers in this country from the very beginning.  Even when commercial yeast became available, the pioneers continued to use sourdough at every new frontier, including the prospectors of the Yukon during the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s, which might be why sourdough became associated to a degree with all of the ‘Old Alaska’ crowd.

It’s fun to make your own starter.  You can get fancy with it and use 1 Tbl of sugar and 4 Tbl of buttermilk along with flour and water in your initial starter, or just use flour and water as described below.  The time it takes varies, so don’t worry if your starter isn’t quite going on Day 2: It just might surprise you on Day 3!

How To Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
Makes 4 cups of starter

Ingredients

  • Flour
  • Water (preferably filtered)

 

Instructions

Overview

Making sourdough starter takes about 5 days.  Each day you “feed” the starter with equal amounts of fresh flour and water.  As the wild yeast grows stronger, the starter will become more frothy and sour-smelling.  On average, this process takes about 5 days, but it can take longer depending on the conditions in your kitchen.  As long as you see bubbles and signs of yeast activity, continue feeding it regularly.  If you see zero signs of bubbles after three days, you might want to start over.

Process

Day 1: Make the Initial Starter

  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 scant cup, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl)
  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)

Measure out the flour and water, and combine them in a 2-quart glass or plastic container (not metal).  Stir vigorously until combined into a smooth batter.  Scrape down the sides and cover the container loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Place the container somewhere with a consistent room temperature of 70°F to 75°F (like the top of the refrigerator) and let sit for 24 hours.

Day 2: Feed the Starter

  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 scant cup, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl)
  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)

Take a look at the starter:  You may see a few small bubbles here and there.  The bubbles mean that your starter is beginning to sour according to plan.  At this point, the starter should smell fresh, mildly sweet, and yeasty.

Measure out the flour and water for today, and add them to the starter, stirring them in vigorously again.  Scrape down the sides and loosely cover the container again.  Place the container back where it was and let sit for 24 hours.

Day 3: Feed the Starter

  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 scant cup, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl)
  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)

Check your starter.  The surface of your starter should show bubbles and look visibly larger in volume.  If you stir the starter, it will still feel thick and batter-like, but you’ll hear bubbles popping.  It should also start smelling a little sour and musty.

Measure out the flour and water for today, and add them to the starter, stirring them in vigorously again.  Scrape down the sides and loosely cover the container again.  Place the container back where it was and let sit for 24 hours.

Day 4: Feed the Starter

  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 scant cup, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl)
  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)

Check your starter.  By now, the starter should be looking quite bubbly with large and small bubbles, and it will have doubled in volume.  If you stir the starter, it will feel looser than yesterday and honeycombed with bubbles.  It should also be smelling quite sour and pungent.  If you taste a little, it should taste sour, sort of vinegary.

Measure out the flour and water for today, and add them to the starter, stirring them in vigorously again.  Scrape down the sides and loosely cover the container again.  Place the container back where it was and let sit for 24 hours.

Day 5: Starter is Ready to Use

Check your starter.  It should have doubled in bulk since yesterday and look practically frothy.  When you stir the starter, it will feel looser than yesterday and be completely webbed with bubbles. It should still be smelling quite sour and pungent. 

If everything is looking, smelling, and tasting good, you can consider your starter ripe and ready to use.  If your starter is lagging behind a bit, continue on with the following instructions.

Day 5 and Beyond: Maintaining Your Starter

  • 4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 scant cup, or 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl)
  • 4 ounces water (1/2 cup)

Once your starter is ripe (or even if it’s not quite ripe yet), you no longer need to bulk it up.  To maintain the starter, discard (or use) about half of the starter and then “feed” it with new flour and water as described above.

If you’re using the starter within the next few days, leave it out on the counter and continue discarding half and “feeding” it daily.  Whenever it is actually frothy and smells a little sour, you have what sourdough bakers call a sponge (see below), which is what goes into your bread dough.

If your sourdough starter will not be used for a while, cover it tightly and place it in the fridge.  Remember to take it out and feed it at least once a week!

How to Reduce the Amount of Starter

If you don’t need all the starter we’ve made here on an ongoing basis, you can feed it with half the amount of flour and water.  Continue until you have whatever amount of starter works for your baking needs.

Sourdough Bread

Now, in order to bake with your sourdough, you need to make what they call a ‘sponge’, and it needs proofing before you can bake with it.  If your starter is just five days old and looks and smells as described, you can use it as your sponge.

If you take your starter from the fridge, it needs proofing first:

  • Take your starter out of the fridge, pour it into a large glass bowl and add a cup of warm water and a cup of flour.  Stir well and let sit on the counter.  In the meantime, wash the jar the starter was in and rinse it well, even with boiling water.  You want only your sourdough growing in that jar!
  • Watch for froth and sniff: When your sponge is bubbly and has white froth, and smells a little sour, it is ready.  The longer it sits, the more sour the flavor will be.
  • Proofing time varies: Some starters can proof to frothiness in an hour or two, some take 5-8 hours.  Just go ahead and experiment to see how long your starter takes.  If you want to bake in the morning and your starter is slow, letting it proof over night just might work for you.

The Actual Recipe (for 1 two-pound loaf)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sponge (proofed starter)
  • 2 Tbl olive oil (can be substituted for soft butter, or omitted)
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour, preferably unbleached

First, take care of your leftover sponge: You should have some as it is your starter for next time.  Put it into its nicely rinsed jar, give it a fresh feed of half a cup of flour and half a cup of water, stir it well, close it tightly and keep it in the fridge until next time.  Or, if you will bake again quite soon, leave it on the counter/ top of the fridge and continue feeding it as described above in the section ‘Day 5 and Beyond’.

Directions

In the same glass bowl in which you proofed or grew your starter, add sugar, salt and oil to the sponge.  Mix well, then knead in the flour half a cup at a time until you have a good, flexible bread dough.

First rise

Let dough rise until it doubled, approximately an hour.  This might take longer than yeast dough, depending on your starter.  Your dough is risen when you poke a finger into it and create a pit that doesn’t spring back.  If it still springs back, you can let is rise a little longer.

Second rise

Punch down your dough and knead it a little more.  Make a loaf and place it on your (lightly greased or sprinkled with corn meal) baking sheet.  Slit the top if you like.  Cover and place in a warm place to rise again until doubled in size.

Bake

DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN.  Place pan with (now uncovered) loaf into the oven and turn to 350ºF.  Baking will take 30 – 45 minutes.  The loaf is done when the crust is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon.

Let cool on a cooling rack and enjoy.

 

2 comments on “Sourdough Starter and Sourdough Bread Recipe”

    1. Very interesting. I have made sourdough biscuits – delicious. The old-timers did so much on an every-day basis that are special for us today! Lots to re-learn there.

      Liked by 1 person

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