“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight”
I’ve been wanting to write this blog for months but there was always a reason why I hadn’t started the sourdough starter: The Holiday season was too busy, I didn’t have time to feed the starter twice a day. Mostly it was because I was afraid. Yes, I’ll admit it, I was afraid it wouldn’t work out. Now that my starter is ready to bake with, I can actually say my fear was warranted lol!. I read countless methods on creating the perfect starter and every one was different leaving me utterly confused and hesitant to dip my toe in. But baking bread has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time; it’s part of my Homesteading in the City skills I’ve been teaching myself.
The ingredients are simple: flour and water. In Spring I decided one day that I’d just start and who cares if it didn’t work, the worse that would happen would be to start again.
The process of a creating a starter is easy; it does however take a week commitment to get it going. There are other variables as to whether your starter will work. Things like the type of flour you use, the water and the temperature in your home. But for now lets just start with the basics.
HOW TO MAKE A SOURDOUGH STARTER
You will need:
-1 Wide mouth jar ( I’m using a 16 oz pickle jar)
– Bread Flour (make sure it is unbleached, this is very important)
DAY 1: Either in the morning or at night, add 1 cup of Rye Flour to the jar and add 1/2 a cup of filtered water. Mix with a fork. You should get a very thick consistency (like almond butter). Place the jar on the kitchen counter and gently place the lid on top (no need to screw it on tight) . Let it sit all day or over night. If your house is very cold, you might want to leave the jar in the oven with the light turned on. Warmth is needed for the fermentation to start.
– The first couple of days you want to play by ear. Basically you want to start to see bubbles forming (see my photo). This can take 24-48 hours so wait until you do, then you can move to “Day 2”.
DAY 2: Pour out 1/2 a cup of the starter into a bowl or cup and discard the rest into the garbage. Now return the 1/2 cup of starter to the jar and we are going to start to feed it by adding 1 cup of Bread Flour and 1/2 a cup of filtered water. Mix well with a fork and leave the jar once more on the kitchen counter with the lid lightly placed on top for another 24 hours.
DAY 3: You should be seeing bubbles clearly now in the starter and the starter should begin to double in size. If you don’t notice it “growing”, let it sit a bit longer – it may need an extra day depending on how warm (or cold) your house is. When the starter begins to rise, it’s because it is now active. As it rises, it “eats” the flour and “digests” it. Once it’s done eating, you’ll notice it starts to fall again. This is where it gets fun! – You now have to start feeding the starter whenever it’s hungry or, when you see that it’s doubled in size and has started to fall again. This might be every 24 hours or in some cases every 12 hours, again, this depends on the temperature of your home – the warmer the home, the more action you’ll see and the more you’ll have to feed. -To feed: you again will empty 1/2 a cup of the starter into a bowl and throw out the rest. Then return the 1/2 cup of starter to the jar and feed it 1 cup of Bread Flour and 1/2 a cup of filtered water.
DAY 4: Continue feeding 1 – 2 times a day watching for signs of hunger (starter starts to fall after rising means it’s hungry). You want to be careful to not over feed at this point because if you feed it too often you will end up killing the yeast and the starter will become lethargic. Each time you feed it, you will remove 1/2 a cup of starter, discard the rest, then add the 1/2 cup back into the jar, feed 1 cup of Bread Flour and 1/2 a cup of filtered water and leave it with the lid on to rise and fall. It’s better to under-feed at this state then to feed too much. One sign of the starter being “hungry” is that it will become more liquid or even form a layer of liquid on top. If you notice this, then feed it.
DAY 5: By this day you should see the starter doubling in size then falling again – an easy way to see if it’s rising is to put an elastic band over the jar at the level it is when you feed it. Then you’ll be able to see if it’s rising over that line. If it’s still pretty slow, you can let it go an extra day, feeding it as you have been every day – discarding, then adding flour and water.
Day 6: Technically you can bake on this day. I say technically because my starter got lethargic (probably from over feeding) was not rising and falling more than a few cms and I ended up getting so busy with life that I didn’t have time to bake lol! So, if your starter is nicely active (rising and falling) by now, you can feed it in the morning by discarding all by 1/3 of a cup of the starter, then adding it back to the jar with 1 cup of Bread Flour and 1/2 a cup of filtered water. If you want to try to bake this day, then wait at least 6 hours to see if the starter rises. Once it’s doubled in size you can do the Float Test. – Take a Tblsp of the starter and add it to a bowl filled with water. If it floats, you’re ready to bake. Mine did not float by day 6 and I didn’t have time to wait so after feeing it, it went into the fridge. When placing the starter in the fridge, the cold slows down fermentation so it will not rise in the fridge. A starter in the fridge only needs to be fed once a week now.
NOTES: sometimes (as happened with me) your starter will be very slow. This doesn’t mean its not working. As longs as there are bubbles in it, it is alive. Sometimes however it might need a little push. Some things you can do to help it along are:1. using warm water when feeding.2. using sparkling water like Pellegrino instead of filtered water for feeding 3. using pineapple juice for a feeding instead of water. Also, if you ever leave your starter in the fridge for too long without feeding and you notice it’s very watery (like crepe batter), give it a feeding with Rye Flour to help it bulk up again.
BAKING BREAD WITH HOMEMADE SOURDOUGH STARTER
Baking bread is simple BUT it has a process and schedule. If you are on day 6 of your starter and it’s passed the float test you can skip through this and go straight to baking. If you starter has been in the fridge, you’ll want to pull it out the night before baking and give it a feeding then let it sit on the counter overnight to rise and fall. Starter can be a bit finnicky until it gets strong. I had to pull my starter out of the fridge and feed it for 2 days before baking – that’s when it finally passed the float test and rose and fell easily.
The following is a bakers schedule you can follow when using Starter that’s been kept in the fridge.
- MORNING: The morning before baking, I wake up, remove my starter from the fridge, and give it a feeding.
- EVENING: That same day, early in the evening I prep the dough. I like to do this earlier rather than later as you will need a few hours to stretch-and-fold the dough before bedtime.
- NIGHT: Leaving the dough covered with either a plate or a wet tea towel, I let it ferment overnight. By the time I wake up on the second morning, it is doubled in size and ready to go.
- MORNING: As soon as I wake up, I laminate the dough (like this) , shape it, and proof it. if I need more time before baking, I put it in the fridge for a few hours to bake later in the day.
NOTE: During the summer when the house is hot, this bakers schedule is more compact because the heat causes everything to rise faster, both the starter and the dough. So you can do all the above steps in one day.
Baking Bread with Active Starter
Begin by feeding your starter a few hours before making the bread. You want your starter to be active and bubbly for this recipe. Like I mentioned in the Baker’s Schedule, this will depend on the temperature of your home. In the winter the starter can take all day to double if you keep your heat low indoor. I will feed it in the morning to use in the evening. But in the summer because I don’t have air conditioning, my starter only takes a few hours to double. I will feed it in the afternoon to use in the evening. This is something you’ll only get the hang of through experience.
Once the starter has doubled, in a stand mixer with a dough hook or in a bowl by hand (a danish dough whisk is great for this step!), combine your active sourdough starter, water, and about 1 cup of the flour.
Begin mixing to combine, adding more flour a little at a time. You may need more or less than 3 1/2 cups depending on how hydrated your starter is, as well as the weather, so add slowly. Add in your salt at this time too. Continue mixing for about 5 minutes until it forms a rough shaggy dough. The dough may seem a little too wet, but it will come together in the next step.
Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl and cover with a wet tea towel. After 15 minutes, return to your dough to give it a stretch and fold, like this. To do this, simply take one corner, stretch upwards and fold over toward you. Repeat with all 4 corners until a new ball is formed. Continue stretching and folding every 15 minutes for the next hour. Stretching and folding strengthens the gluten strands in the dough and gives you those perfect little bubbles in the bread after it’s baked.
You will notice that after a few stretch-and-folds, your dough is now smooth and no longer a rough dough. Form it into a final ball and leave it seam side down in your oiled bowl. You will now leave the dough covered to bulk ferment. It is during this time that it will get light, airy, and active, doubling in size. In the winter time when it’s cold, I will bulk ferment the dough overnight, but in the summer when it’s hot I give it a shorter ferment time during the day. You are going to get the best taste between 7-12 hours ferment time.
After the bulk ferment, your dough should be doubled in size with strong gluten strands. Splash a little water and rub it over the counter then turn the dough from the bowl onto the wet counter and laminate the dough, like this. Then, shape into a ball and build tension by pushing it towards you and then away, like this.
Place the ball seam side up in a towel-lined bowl or banneton basket that has been generously sprinkled with flour.
Allow to proof for 30-60 minutes on the countertop or for a few hours in the fridge. If you press the dough with your finger and the dent fills in quickly, it needs more time to proof. Once it fills in slowly and leaves a small indent, it is ready to bake. Plave your dutch oven with the lid on into the oven and heat to 425°F.
Place the dough ball seam side down on a piece of parchment paper and score the dough using a sharp knife or bread lame (like this). Pull the dutch oven out of the oven using heat pretective gloves, lift the parchment and place the dough into the hot dutch oven, carefully so as not to burn yourself, and put the lid back on and place it in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on and then 30 minutes without the lid. Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for an hour before diving in. This is such an important step, as bread continues to bake once it is removed from the oven and will ensure the best crumb if cooled completely. Store in a breadbox for fresh keeping.
My first loaf could have risen more and I think I will play aournd with the moisture of the dough. It tasted great however and as you can see, formed nice bubbles and a nice crust.
Will you be venturing into the very ancient practice of baking bread? Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier and the stronger (older) the starter, the better. Once you have a strong starter you can gift the discard to friends and family to avoid waste.
You can also use the dicard in many recipes including biscuits, pierogi dough, noodles, pancakes and other types of bread like focaccia.
Thanks for joining me today.
Until next time!