I found out what sourdough bread really means only after we moved to Germany.
Until then, I came across the term “sourdough starter” and I knew this is something you are adding into the bread to make it more natural, but the whole process was really abstract to me.
In fact there are only 2 main and simple ingredients that help the sourdough starter ferment, and these are: water and flour. And yes, these two can yield deliciously crusty loaves that you and your family will just love.
So what is sourdough starter?
This is nothing more, nothing less than a mixture of flour and water which acts as a natural leavening agent in the baking process. The sourdough starter is kept “alive” with constant refreshments (or feedings) – but we’ll talk more about this down below in the post. So follow me up! 🙂
You will also hear about “wild yeast”, which is how the sourdough starter ferments. Wild yeast is the predecessor of what we now know as instant or dry yeast. Actually we still have wild yeast in our environment, it lives in the air, flour or on the surface of fruits.
Unfortunately the bread we all know today is made with commercial yeast to speed up the baking process and to be easier for the bakers to store and use it.
Since wild yeast can naturally be found in all flour, the starter is a way of cultivating it so it can be used as a natural leavening agent in the baking process. Add water and flour in a jar and let it sit on the kitchen table for a few days and you’ll notice the mixture will start creating bubbles and eventually rise.
Why eating sourdough bread?
I like bread and to be honest I can’t really image my life without a nice homemade and crunchy crust bread.
And this is one of the first questions I had in mind when I started to read more about sourdough bread. What’s the difference between this and the normal commercial bread?
Well, one of them, which is strictly taste related, is that once you start making your own sourdough bread, is very hard to go back to any other bread. A flavourful and healthy bread that would make you want another bite.
One other major reason is that sourdough makes the bread easier for us to digest. Basically during the low fermentation process, the sourdough digests part of the bread for us. While proving, the wild yeast neutralizes the phytic acid contained by the grains, releasing nutrients we need, and reducing in the end the bloating and the digestive discomfort.
Sourdough bread also acts a prebiotic and is good for your gut health. The creation of an abundance of different kinds of fibre and nutrients, makes each sourdough bread act as a prebiotic. You can read more on the benefits in here.
Sourdough bread made with wild yeast, good bacteria and whole wheat flour is the oldest and healthiest way to prove bread. This is a very humble and ancient process of honouring what nature gave us, and I hope you’ll be convinced to try participate in it.
What utensils do you need for growing a sourdough starter?
You will need a few basic, but indispensable, tools to start growing your own sourdough starter.
A basic kitchen scale is a mandatory utensil you need in this process. This offers accuracy for the flour and water amounts needed for starting and continuing feeding the sourdough starter afterwards. Also, all the measurements will be made in grams not ml.
2. Glass jar
Have 2 glass jars at hand to transfer the freshly fed starter, and to keep another one clean for the next feeding. Using a glass jar makes it easier for you to assess and follow how the starter in growing and when it needs another feeding.
A kitchen thermometer is useful to monitor the water temperature that goes into the starter and also into the dough. Also, this will become very handy when wanting to control the dough temperature, for achieving always the best results.
4. Spoon or spatula
I use a stainless steel spoon to mix up the water and the flour. Also a silicon spatula will work just as fine.
What flour to use for my sourdough starter?
I began growing my sourdough starter with wheat flour and I kept feeding it with the same type of flour. Usually, other bakers will recommend starting the process with rye flour, as it helps the fermentation process in the beginning, and gradually replacing it with whole wheat flour or all purpose flour. It’s not a rule of thumb, or right or wrong with this process, simply use the flour that suits you and your starter better.
How To Grow Sourdough Starter from Scratch
The process I followed to grow my own sourdough starter (which now yields one of the most delicious breads I’ve eaten so far) took about 7-9 days to achieve a stable one to begin using it in my baking routine.
Always have at hand filtered water, as the tap water we use at home contains chloramine and this impedes fermentation. I only use bottled still water as I don’t own a filter at the moment. So this can be an option too.
I started the process of growing my own starter in the summer and my kitchen temperature was around 24C-26C. Therefore the ambient temperature influenced a lot the fermentation process, speeding things up quite a lot.
But if your kitchen temperature will now be below 24C, let’s say around 21C-22C, expect things to start fermenting in a slower pace. So don’t panic, give your starter some time to develop and you’ll have great results.
Combine in a glass jar 100g whole wheat flour with 100g filtered water. Mix well so there are no lumps formed and set aside on the kitchen counter for 24hrs.
Put a rubber band around the jar so you can follow the progress.
My starter showed a lot of activity during the first 24hrs, and almost rose twice as much from the rubber band sign. This is a normal type of activity for a young starter, but this is not mandatory to happen for every starter. So if you don’t see any fermentation surge, but only some small bubbles on the surface, it’s totally ok, there’s no need to panic and think your starter died. Continue with the scheduled feedings and you’ll see that by the end of day 7-9 you’ll have a fully grown sourdough starter.
The texture of the mixture is very stretchy at this point.
In the second jar transfer 75g of the mixture and add another 75g flour and 75g filtered water. Make sure the water you are using is not directly from the fridge. Stir well and let the mixture rest for another 24hrs on the kitchen counter. The new fed mixture will have plain yogurt or thick batter consistency.
My starter’s fermentation activity definitely decreased after the 1st day. From day 3 onwards I began feeding my sourdough starter twice a day, every 12 hours. One feeding in the morning and the another one in the evening, trying to stick to the schedule as much as possible. I usually do it at 8 a.m and 8 p.m
Continue the same schedule as day 2. Transfer in the other clean glass jar 75g of the mixture and add another 75g flour and 75g filtered water. Repeat the same in the evening. Discard, add water and flour and mix. Set aside until the morning.
You may see or you may not see any type of activity over the past 24hrs. Again, don’t panic and continue with the feeding as scheduled.
There weren’t signs of growth yet, but more bubbles started to form on the surface and sides of the starter.
Refresh the starter with the same amount of previous mixture, water and flour as on day 3. Transfer in the other clean glass jar 75g of the mixture and add another 75g flour and 75g filtered water.
Continue with the feeding schedule twice a day.
My starter began to show more and more fermentation activity over the night and in the morning had nice bubbles on the side and on the surface. As you can see it started look like a sponge.
Refresh the starter. Transfer in the other clean glass jar 50g of the mixture and add another 50g flour and 50g filtered water. Continue with the feeding schedule twice a day.
Day 6 & 7
From this point onward my starter began to rise and fall predictably in the jar over the night and during the day. Between the refreshments, my starter doubled almost tripled in sized.
I continued with the refreshments of the starter as on the previous days. Transfer 50g of mixture in the clean jar, add 50g whole wheat flour and 50g water. Mix well and let it sit on the countertop for the next 12hrs. Refresh again in the evening with the same quantities mentioned above.
You should start see plenty of bubbles by now and the texture will be spongy and fluffy.
Following a predictable rise and fall, from day 7 onward, you can start using your starter for the first sourdough loaf.
Some notes I gathered along the process
*** This is my third sourdough starter I began growing. Why 3rd? Because I didn’t have the patience to wait for it to develop as it needs. So please, don’t give up on it so fast, give it time and will reward you with the most delicious and nutritious bread you’ll ever eaten.
*** Along the process you’ll notice that your sourdough starter will be and behave quite differently than what you read on the internet and in the books. So, again, don’t despair if yours is not looking exactly like mine, there are a lot of factors that can influence the whole process (temperature, flour, water, the jar’s bacterias, etc)
*** After your new refreshed mixture goes into the clean jar, don’t seal it with the lid. It’s better if you cover it with a cotton kitchen towel, a napkin or a loosely resting lid on top of the jar, so all the gases can escape.
*** During the growing process, especially at the beginning you’ll notice that your mixture will have an astringent smell similar to paint or nail polish. It’s normal to happen. After day 5 and onwards, you’ll notice that this smell is replaced by one more pleasant and sweeter, resembling flour.
*** The ideal time for feeding the starter is right after it starts to fall back into the jar. But this is a very resilient thing and it can take it a few more hours if you are not around. The idea is not to wait too long between the feedings as a more acidic and vinegary taste will develop and this will affect the final outcome: the bread.
*** If not using for baking or leavening for a longer time, refresh it and store it in the fridge. It will start grow (but more slowly) and eventually will go dormant, and you can leave it like that for a max of 2 weeks. Take it out of the fridge, give it a few more refreshments and your starter will be robust again and ready to bake with.
*** Use your starter for baking when it reached its peak and you notice it’s kept it for a while, up to 1hr before starting to fall.
*** Growing a sourdough starter and then baking are about patience. Don’t rush things up, as the results won’t be that satisfactory. Its schedule can be worked around after yours and you’ll make it work, even if you’re very busy with the job and family and time seems so scarce. You and your family deserve to eat the best bread that nourishes your body and all your senses. Why settle for the ordinary when YOU can create the extraordinary?
*** I began to fall in love with this humble process of creating bread from scratch, and let me tell you, this is a very fulfilling feeling.
Please let me know in the comments area if you have any questions on this top, or you can just stop and tell me how the process went for you 🙂
Love and happy baking!