Sourdough is the traditional fermentation method used for bread making, and before commercial yeast became available for purchase, was the sole means by which flour was able to rise into delicious fluffy bread.
The method explained below is the traditional way of preparing sourdough. The reason this method is called “wild” is because it doesn’t use store bought yeast packets, instead relying on naturally found “wild” yeast.
This fermentation method takes advantage of lactic acid bacteria and yeast to convert sugars and starches in the flour into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide creates bubbles in the dough that allows breads to rise and become fluffy when baked.
The lactic acid breaks down the flour helping to make the nutrients in the grain more bio-available and easily digestible -even reducing gluten, the lactic acid also contributes a distinct “sour” taste to the dough.
There is a common misconception that you need wheat flour or rye flour to create sourdough, however, any flour of any grain will work.
Note: if you want to create a loaf of bread that rises you need to use a flour that contains gluten -rye, barley, and wheat.
It also should be noted that although I like to maintain my sourdough starter with whole wheat flour, as well as make all my quick breads with it, if you want super fluffy breads it helps to use a combination of whole and white flour.
Crafting sourdough bread is similar to modern day home bread baking, except that it requires more time to “rest” and uses a scoop of previously made sourdough instead of a packet of yeast. This scoop of previously fermented sourdough, referred to as a“starter”, is added into the dough introducing a thriving colony of living bacteria and yeast that quickly go to work fermenting the fresh flour.
Creating your own “Starter”
To begin making sourdough at home you must first make one a jar of this “starter.” Once you have created a starter, you are able to use a portion of it to transform any mixture of water/flour into sourdough-from pancakes to traditional loaves.
Best of all, if you continuously maintain your starter, it can last indefinitely.
1. Mix one cup of flour (rye is the traditional option) with water in a bowl
You want the consistency thick enough to cling to the spoon, but watery enough to stir
2. Cover bowl with cloth
In order to keep out bugs but allow the dough to “breath”
3. Let sit & stir
Leave at room temperature and give it a good 30 second long stir everyday- add water if it starts to dry out
4. Feed him!
Once bubbles start forming on the surface fermentation is underway. At this point you need to “feed” him by discarding 80% of the dough and adding back in an equal amount of fresh flour and water mix
5. Repeat step 4 for several days
Discarding and re-feeding to get him robust and vigorous
6. He’s ready!
After a few days of feeding your sourdough should be bubbling and frothing, at this point he is a thriving living sourdough “starter” and can be used to start making bread or stored in a jar and kept in the fridge
Using Your Sourdough Starter
If you are looking to make a loaf of sourdough bread, I admit it is not something I have mastered yet. Luckily there are some great resources online!
You can also use your sourdough starter to turn in any recipe that calls for flour into a sourdough recipe! Things like pizza dough, pancakes, crackers, waffles, and other “quick breads” all work well.
Simple as this: The night before you want to make something with sourdough simply take a spoonful of the sourdough starter out of the jar…
1. Mix the scoop of starter with as much flour and water as you wish to cook with the next day and stir
In order to maintain your starter ensure that you leave a couple spoonfuls of the starter in the jar and feed him some fresh flour and water
3. Let the mixture sit covered at room temperature overnight
Careful! It will expand/overflow/blow off lids
The next day the active lactic acid and yeast in the scoop of starter will have “soured” the flour, creating a bowl of sourdough that is ready to make into delicious bread, pancakes, muffins, crackers, pizza crusts, and more.
Maintaining Your Starter
It is important to keep your jar of sourdough starter happy and healthy. To do this…
1. Take him out of the fridge once a week or so
2. Discard (or use) all but a couple spoonfuls of the starter
3. Mix in water and flour to create a thick but stir-able consistency
4. Let sit out at room temp for a couple hours
5. Pop him back in the fridge