Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Beginning of a Sourdough Journey & a How-to. Join Me?

"But how do you make the sourdough?" Mrs. Boast asked.
"You start it," said Ma, "by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand until it sours."
"Then when you use it, always leave a little," said Laura, "and put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more water," Laura put in the warm water, "and cover it," she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, "and just set it in a warm place on the shelf by the stove.  "And it's always ready to use, whenever you want it."
~Laura Ingalls Wilder By the Shores of Silver Lake

It was time to place the order.  I was about to embark on a journey of ups and downs, failures and triumphs, reservation and assuredness.  I ordered a descendant of food that began over 250 years ago.  It came.  King Arthur Flour Sourdough Starter.  Initially, my feet turned cold and I let the contents of the package sit in there for most of the day.  What was I getting myself into?  Was I ready for this kind of commitment?  What if I kill this ancient descendant on my first try?   ...That was enough yellow-belly jabber.  I cut open the package to find... Something what resembled a container you're given when pregnant and must provide a urine sample.
PLEASE FEED ME.  Ohmygoodness.  It must begin now, the poor starter is famished and if I wait I might kill it!  I fumbled with the directions to navigate my way through this mysterious, unknown bread-making method.  The lid was opened with care and I was met with a swift slap in the nose from the starter's oder.  Well then, nice to meet you, too.  I read that the smell was normal and it needed food and water.  Okay then.  I can relate.

In went the chlorine-free 1/4 cup of lukewarm water.  Stir, stir, stir.  And just as anyone would do with a good, stiff drink, it loosened up from it's holdings.  It was time to party.  In it went to a glass bowl (metal must be avoided, it reacts with the bacteria.  Yummy...).  It was time to get the starter really happy.  I gave it 1 1/4 cups more lukewarm water and 2 cups all-purpose flour.  Now... normally, I avoid refined flour (for the most part).  But it was my first time making this, so I went by the book.  Or paper.
As what most of us can relate to, once the starter was fed and given good drink, it needed to rest.  It was covered by a cozy kitchen cloth and let alone for 8-12 hours.  Ni-night, little bacteria.
What can happen when we're in bed with our spouses for a long time?  The same thing that happens to bacteria.  We multiply.  And get bubbly.  Wait.  That part only happens to the starter.  It was time to stir it and throw half of it out.  Excuse me? There will me no throwing out in this house.  I used the other half for my first trial of making sourdough bread with spelt flour.  Each half was fed 1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour and sat, covered for 2-4 hours more.
  At this point, the mass of dough is considered fed starter.
Now there are two states of starter: fed and ripe.  What I have above is fed.  It's ready to do it's thang, to be used to make sourdough bread.  This starter would be ripe if I stuck it in the fridge for up to a week.  Ripe starter needs to be stirred.  Then you must discard (or give to a friend) 1 cup of it to get the acidity to the proper lever, then feed with 1/2 cup warm water and 1 cup flour, cover, and set aside for 4-12 hours so it can turn back into fed, ready-to-go starter.

Enough on starter; on to the bread!

There is a recipe for extra-tangy sourdough bread that doesn't involve yeast, but this is a Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe that came with the instructions.

Combine and kneed well:
1 cup fed starter
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar (I use rapadura)
2 teaspoons yeast
5 cups flour
Place in a deep  bowl and cover for 1 1/2 hours.
After sitting for 90 minutes, mine looked like this:
Then it was time to divide the dough in to two loves!  I had come so far!  And yet... it needed to sit some more.  Like one hour more. But after it was done rising I got to slit the tops.  That was fun.  It looked pretty.  I don't slit them this long anymore though; probably about half this length:
At last!  In they went to a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.  I give you, after 23 hours, the finished product:
Oh, and the spelt bread?  Here's how they turned out:
That was a lot of work, man.  I didn't know if it was worth it.  My life felt governed by this bread.  After I tasted it, though... it was all over.  And once you have ripe starter, it's only a matter of remembering to get it out the night before, quickly feed it so it's ready in the morning, and begin the bread process which is only 3 hours long.  I might use only lightly.  In terms of assembly time, though, it only takes about 20 minutes.  And I love home; being in it for three hours is not a stretch for me.  It's also cheaper to make, ingredients-wise.  There's way less that goes into it than sandwich bread.  We eat sandwiches German-style now: on sourdough, opened-faced.  I'm a believer.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story! I'm wanting to get into sourdough bread making, but am a little nervous about it like you were. Question: have you ever tried the no-yeast kind? That's the kind I really want to make, but am nervous that it will taste too strong and we won't like it (I'd be willing to get over the taste, but I need to please hubby as well... He's harder to convince sometimes!)

  2. Hi! Now, I only use an all-spelt, no yeast recipe. It took a couple batches to figure it out, but we love it! My husband will even eat it (and he can be harder to please, to). :)

  3. When you have time, and are inspired, would you be willing to share your all-spelt, no yeast recipe? Do you grind your own spelt?

  4. Is there anywhere that you share that recipe? I would love to have that.

  5. I use this recipe: http://gnowfglins.com/2009/09/10/spelt-sourdough-bread/

  6. I use this recipe: http://gnowfglins.com/2009/09/10/spelt-sourdough-bread/

  7. Interesting. I just started sourdough two days ago, but didn't have a fancy sourdough starter to go from. It's currently alive and well on my counter like a good little yeasty bowl of odd smells and bubbles. Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. What do you feed your starter? My starter recipe says to feed it bread flour... But I use all purpose. I am just wondering how you keep it healthy. Also have you ever had your starter look watery? It was looking great yesterday but today it looks soupy. (I discarded over 1/2 of it then fed it again, hoping for a new start!)


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