Sourdough baking is a lot like parenting; it requires patience, you must nurse and feed it, and you are bound to make mistakes. However, I promise you will figure it out along the way! It is a new and challenging hobby. You are destined to fail before you succeed on baking that perfect, delicious bread.
It amazed me how something with five ingredients could be so simple and delicious yet challenging!
Baking requires precision in terms of ingredients; however, the environment can cause variables in the process. While I do not consider myself a granola mom by any means, as bread returned on the shelves after stockouts, I couldn’t help but stare in disbelief at how many ingredients were in a standard loaf of bread. This inspired me to continue my bread journey, leading to sourdough.
Here, I’ll share my Sourdough Journey and some recipes to make some of my favorite breads!
Before starting, I read countless articles and recipes (including a fabulous Masterclass from Apollonia Poilane!) on whether to start your sourdough starter from scratch or buy it. I also researched everything that could go wrong to prepare myself and learn from others’ mistakes (shout out to Facebook’s Sourdough Geeks).
I dove headfirst into this new hobby of sourdough baking. Everyone does things slightly differently, and it can be challenging to figure out the best method, but through trial and error, I found what worked best for me (professional bakers, please be kind!).
Here are a few things you’ll need before getting started.
- Bread flour (I use unbleached flour, but many opt for whole wheat or rye)
- Filtered water (spring water if you’re fancy)
- A digital scale
- A jar of some sort (I use a large mason jar) with a lid
Finding a Starter
Sourdough starter is a pasty, tangy concoction defined by The Clever Carrot as “A live fermented culture of fresh flour and water. Once combined, the culture will begin to ferment and cultivate the natural yeasts found in our environment.” Starter replaces commercial yeast and just 1 of the five ingredients to make a simple bread dough. Where does one get a starter? Well, you have two options.
- Make one from scratch.
- Get it from someone else, either via a generous neighbor or online.
Making from scratch seemed a bit ambitious, so I contacted my local Norwalk community group and asked if anyone had a starter they’d be willing to share. Another home baker was happy to put aside a small mason jar of starter with a few tips for a newbie like me. You can buy a starter easily online through kits or dried starters that need to be activated from sites like Etsy. There are starters listed that are hundreds of years old, which I find very cool!
Feeding Your Starter
It sounds crazy, but you must ‘feed’ your starter to keep it alive and bubbling. It must be fed several hours before you start your baking. Feeding is a 1:1:1 ratio of starter, flour, and water. Most recipes (and preferably for accuracy reasons) are in grams. If you have a 50-gram starter, add 50 grams each of water and flour.
- Add 50 grams of starter to your jar.
- Add 50 grams of bread flour.
- Add 50 grams of warm filtered water.
- Mix ingredients thoroughly and scrape down (a rubber spatula seems to work best) the sides of the jar (it is VERY sticky), cover with a clean cloth, and place somewhere warm, either on the oven or microwave (beware not to bake it accidentally, I’ve done that more times than I care to admit) or on a sunny window.
To start, you may need to feed your starter 1-3 times a day before you start to see those beautiful bubbles form, which tells you the starter is activated. Once it is activated, you will feed it once a day (for now). You may wonder how much this will make if you keep adding to it. Well, this is where discard comes in.
Every time you feed your starter, you will want to discard half of the ‘old’ starter. As explained by Pantry Mama, “To allow your starter to grow and flourish, you need to “refresh” it with fresh flour and water. Discarding some first allows you to add this fresh food while maintaining your starter at a manageable size. Not discarding your starter will also affect the flavor of your starter.” Many recipes can be used with discard, so you aren’t wasteful — a few can be found on Pantry Mama’s website, which is one of my favorite resources for all things sourdough!
Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while for your starter to flourish. It took me about three days from a starter already a few months old, and I have heard that it can take up to a week or longer for some. When you are not planning to bake or use your starter, you can store it in the fridge with a lid tightly sealing your jar.
It is recommended that you feed it once a week. Don’t worry if it goes beyond that. Most sourdough can be revived, and it may take a bit longer to feed it to re-activate it.
Once you have your starter active, you are ready to bake! Here are my favorite recipes, perfect for a beginner.
Sourdough baking is so versatile. I’ve tried pancakes to pizza dough, sweet breads to savory ones. There’s so much you can make! Plus, I love teaching my daughter how to help me in the kitchen. It teaches her life skills, and she is always excited to taste test the result. Plus, a new favorite holiday gift for any occasion will be a beautiful baked good made with love.
I hope this helps alleviate some of the stigma around tricky bread baking. It’s a lot of trial and error, and if it doesn’t work out — chances are it will still taste good, and you’ll learn from your mistakes. Remember, there’s no crying over sourdough starter.