Updated: Oct 4, 2020
One of the best decisions I made this year was creating my sourdough starter, Marty. Marty has already yielded three beautiful loaves of sourdough, countless crackers, sourdough pancakes, and even some chocolate cake. Pretty cool, huh?! Sourdough bread baking takes some advanced planning but is actually much easier than I anticipated. If you have been following me on Instagram, you have already seen my loaves of bread. As you can see from the photos, they turned out beautifully!
I wanted to take this post to share a little about my experience and tips for success. I hope you too will embark on your own sourdough journey. If you are in the area, let me know if you would like some starter. This sounds so weird to say, but there is plenty of Marty to go around! I will also share with my Iowa people the next time we are able to visit. Please message me if you would like to be added to my list!
Sourdough Starter Vs. Baker’s Yeast
First and foremost, you have to be far more patient when working with sourdough starter compared to baker’s yeast. I read this on a couple different blogs before I began and thought they were being a bit dramatic. Unlike baker’s yeast which takes a few hours to rise, sourdough is very slow and typically must rise overnight. Even after the overnight rise, the bread must be shaped and proofed for another 2-3 hours before baking. I can assure you that it is worth the wait!
Sourdough starter is a living blend of (good) microorganisms, mostly wild yeast and lactobacilli. It will leaven bread but it far less powerful than baker’s yeast, hence the reason it takes so long to proof. Baker’s yeast is a specific strain called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is commonly sold as active dry yeast to consumers to use for household baking. It is also living, but must be rehydrated and activated to leaven bread. It acts quite fast compared to sourdough starter, generally an hour or two.
Sourdough is acidic and is known for a distinct sour taste, ranging from mild to very pungent. There are many factors that influence the flavor of your starter, including the hydration of the starter and dough, the types of flour used, the time spent fermenting, and temperature. Just like people, every starter is unique and possesses its own unique characteristics. Sourdough breads tend to have a chewy and airy interior structure and a very crusty exterior.
One other key difference between sourdough starter and baker’s yeast is that sourdough starter must be fed a mixture of flour and water in order for it to remain active. If left at room temperature, it must be fed daily and sometimes even twice a day. If stored in the refrigerator, a starter typically only needs to be fed weekly. To maintain a manageable batch of starter, you must discard a portion of the starter during each feeding. It cannot be used for leavening bread but can still add wonderful flavor to many baked goods. Here are links to two of my favorite sourdough discard cracker recipes.
Spicy Cheddar Sourdough Crackers: link here
Parmesan Herb Sourdough Crackers: link here
I will continue to bake with traditional baker’s yeast, but I truly love sourdough already. There is a certain level of unpredictability and experimentation that intrigues me. I love the science and art aspects of baking, and sourdough is the perfect opportunity to explore both! The loaves I baked looked and tasted like they came out of a bakery.
As I mentioned above, I am happy to pass along some starter to anyone who is interested. It is certainly possible to make your own starter like I did, but this will save you a fair amount of effort, flour, and patience. I may be biased, but Marty is spectacular.
Tips for Success
To make sourdough bread, you need what’s called a sourdough starter. If you are entirely new to the sourdough concept, I will refer you to read more on The Prairie Homestead Blog. The article “How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter” outlines everything you need to know and can be accessed here:
If you have an active starter and want to make bread, you will also need the following:
You will need to prepare your dough the night before you bake it since the dough must rise overnight. Plan accordingly!
Dutch Oven with a Lid
I have not tried other methods, but you need a Dutch oven to achieve the desired texture and crunchy exterior for sourdough.
Not only do you need it for baking sourdough, you need it for literally any baking. It is an essential item at our house.
The cornmeal is not added to the bread or touch the bread itself but has an important role. You need to add it to the bottom of the Dutch over (beneath the parchment paper) to prevent the bottom of your loaf from become overbrowned or burned.
There are many other tricks to the trade that I am still learning. I look forward to sharing more recipes and maybe even a video as time goes on. Please let me know if you make my sourdough bread! Leave a comment, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or DM on Instagram (@mitch8blog)! I would love to hear from you!
Recipe barely adapted from The Prairie Homestead. A link to the original recipe is here.
I also highly recommend watching this video also from The Prairie Homestead before starting. It is really helpful! Link here.
½ cup active sourdough starter
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour*
Day 1 (I recommend starting around 6:00 pm)
Test if your starter is ready. It should double in size in about 4-6 hours after feeding. It must also pass the float test. You can test it by placing about a teaspoon of your starter in a glass of cool water. If it floats, your starter may be used. If it sinks, it is not at the correct stage and should not be used yet.
In a large mixing bowl, combine active sourdough starter, water, sugar and salt. Stir until the starter is mostly incorporated with the water.
Gradually mix in the flour and mix until combined. It will be a fairly sticky dough, but shape it into a ball the best you can. Cover it with a flour sack towel and let rest for about a half hour.
After the dough has rested, reshape the dough into a ball by folding the dough. It may be necessary to add a light dusting of flour if the dough is too sticky. Place the dough ball into a lightly greased or floured bowl. Cover and let rise overnight or at least 8 hours in a warm place.
Day 2 (early morning)
The dough should now be doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl and very gently reshape it into a ball. You do not want it to deflate the dough. Lightly dust a proofing basket or tall, narrow bowl lined with a generously floured tea towel. Place the dough on top of the floured towel. Cover and let rise an additional 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.
Once dough has doubled, preheat oven to 450° F. Sprinkle cornmeal into the bottom of your Dutch oven. Carefully turn the bread dough onto a sheet of parchment paper and lower it into the bottom of the Dutch oven, on top of the cornmeal layer. Carefully remove the tea towel. Be very careful not to deflate the dough. Dust the top of the loaf with more flour, if needed. Score the top of the loaf with a serrated knife or blade using desired pattern.
Place the lid on the Dutch oven and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until the loaf is cooked through and nicely browned.
Once baked, lift the bread out of the pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack before slicing.
*Recipe Note: Instead of 3 cups all-purpose flour, you may use 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups all-purpose flour.
Your starter should double in size within 4-6 hours after feeding and look similar to this:
Starter and water:
Next add salt, sugar, and finish with flour:
Mix and form into a dough ball. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise overnight.
The next morning, generously sprinkle a tea towel with flour and place in bowl for proofing:
Reshape the dough into a ball and place on top of the towel, folded side up:
Let rise for another 2-3 hours or until doubled in size:
Preheat oven and sprinkle bottom of the Dutch oven with corn meal:
Place parchment paper on top of the risen dough and gently place the parchment paper and dough ball into the Dutch oven. Gently remove the towel from the dough. Dust lightly with more flour, if needed:
Score the dough:
Bake to perfection:
Let cool and slice:
Here is a loaf made with part all-purpose and part whole wheat flour: