Making bread is a great hobby. It’s can be as simple as you want. It’s delicious. There is infinite room for experimenting and improving your recipes and technique. Until a few weeks ago I had never tried to make bread beyond things like bananna or zuchinni bread. Then someone at work started talking to me about sourdough starter and I decided to try it. Turns out it’s not that hard.
I started by making a starter. Since I got my starter working I have made a few loaves from different recipes and they have all turned out great.
Making the starter
I followed a recipe from King Arthur Flour to make my starter. I used this one because it was one of the simpler ones that I had found.
Side note: Something I notice with a lot of sourdough related content on the internet is that a lot of it is very intimidating. It can be hard to find recipes that don’t make it overly complicated. I think the one for starter from KA Flour above is good in that respect. I have found that the process is more forgiving than it might at first appear.
Basically to create a starter you mix equal parts flour and water together, adding more daily, until the wild yeast and other critters that live naturally in the flour start to thrive. I started my starter with bleached all purpose flour and filtered water from my reverse osmosis filter. I didn’t have as much activity as the KA recipe said I should after the first few days and I’m not sure if that was because of the bleached flour or not, but regardless after a while I switched to unbleached AP and now my starter (a few weeks old) is very active.
I followed the KA starter recipe for about two weeks. For about the first week I was only adding flour and water and then once I had built up a good amount of starter I began discarding about half before feeding. At first I was feeding it every 24 hours. I noticed at the end of 24 hours that a brown liquid began to form on the surface of the starter. That is an alcohol waste product that is created by the critters in the starter. I have read that when you see hooch it means your starter is hungry. At that point I started feeding my starter every 12 hours and I don’t get the hooch anymore.
Now I keep my starter in the fridge. Doing that slows its metabolism and allows me feed it only once a week. I have been baking every week so it has worked out well. My process goes something like this: A day or two before I would like to start baking I take the starter out of the fridge. At this point it has been in there about 5 or 6 days and is hungry. I usually have about 200 g of starter at this point. I’ll take half (100 g) and add equal parts water (filtered) and flour (unbleached AP). I do that two or three times (every 12 hours). So if I want to bake on Saturday I’ll take the starter out of the fridge Friday morning and feed it. Then I’ll feed it Friday night and Saturday morning. Then by mid-day Saturday the starter has been fed three times and is ready to use. Ideally I will use about half of the starter for my bake and feed the other half and put it back in the fridge ready for next week.
Once I have my active fed starter (mid-day Saturday) it’s time to bake. If you have looked at some sourdough bread recipes you might be a little overwhelmed. In my opinion a lot of them are overly complicated like the starter recipes. What I can gather is the essence of sourdough bread is flour, water, salt, and active starter. There are a lot of people out there measuring out ingredients to the tenth of a gram and other … In my, admittedly limited, experience, it’s not that critical.
A simple recipe that has worked well for me came from a video by Patrick Ryan on Youtube called How To Make Sourdough Bread Masterclass. I have reproduced the recipe in text form below for people like me who hate following video instructions. You should check out the video anyway because there is a lot of good info.
Even that video, though, talks about doing things like baking the bread in a dutch oven or using pans of water to get just the right amount of steam. Now I’m sure that there are reasons for doing those things that the artisan baker would notice, but in my experience just plopping the dough on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven for 30 minutes makes a damn good loaf of bread. No dutch oven or fancy steaming required.
When I learn something new I like to break it down to it’s simplest form so that I can really learn how it works. Something that has troubled me about a lot of the sourdough recipes I have found online is that they make it hard to understand the essence of sourdough (flour, water, salt, starter). I like Patrick Ryan’s video and recipe because he keeps it simple and unpretentious. It’s just bread and it’s really not that hard.
Sourdough recipe from Patrick Ryan’s video
- 320 g starter
- 800 g strong flour
- 460 ml water
- 10 g salt
- mix flour, water, salt, and starter roughly in a bowl
- dump it on the counter
- knead (should be sticky) until dough can be streched to translucent
- place in a bowl to rise for 3 hours
- re-form dough into a round ball (knock all the air from it)
- divide dough ball into two halves
- shape halves into round balls (fold to form round shape, then drag on counter to tighten skin)
- place halves in a flour dusted proving basket or bowl for 3 hours or overnight in the fridge (dough should not collapse when touched, should be “on the rise”)
- score the loaves
- bake covered at 450 F for 25 minutes or until looking yummy