Getting started with sourdough, including a sourdough starter recipe with or without yeast. Beginner tips in plain English and as little math as possible.
Normally on Seasons and Suppers I share my experience. I've decided to try my hand at sourdough very recently, so this is the first time I'm sharing my inexperience :) I'm doing so because a lot of the resources I've seen for starting with sourdough are quite intimidating, especially for math-challenged people like myself, that tend to glaze over when reading things that look like math formulas (percentages and hydration levels). I'm hoping my beginner perspective, plain-English, "I suck at math" version might help out other sourdough beginners.
Sourdough Starter Recipe
- 1 cup all purpose flour (unbleached all purpose flour is recommended. (You can use whole wheat or rye flour))
- 1/2 cup room temperature water (un-chlorinated water is best)
- 1 tsp yeast
- Stir well so there are no lumps or dry flour is visible. Cover the top of the jar loosely with a piece of plastic wrap or paper towel.
- Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Feeding procedure to be done every day:
- Stir your starter well. Discard (throw out) 1/2 cup of the starter mixture. Add to the jar, 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup room temperature water. Stir well. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Repeat this daily feeding until mixture is nice and bubbly and develops a pleasant "sour" smell. That should take 3-5 days starting with yeast or 7-10 days with just flour and water.
- Once you reach that point, cover and refrigerate your starter, using and/or feeding it in the same manner every 7 days or so, except let it stand at room temperature after feeding for several hours, before returning to the refrigerator.
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- Use a large enough glass, ceramic or food-grade plastic container, at least 1 quart, as your starter will rise considerably after feeding!
- Don't use metal containers or metal utensils with your sourdough starter, as they can react with the sourdough and lend an off-taste to your starter (thanks Gillian for that tip!)
- If you're using a large mason jar for your starter, I am finding using a jar funnel really handy, especially for adding the flour. I have a vintage one (shown in the photo below), but you can find jar funnels easily online.
- Since sourdough is based a lot on weights, there is no better time to invest in an inexpensive kitchen scale if you don't already have one, ditch the cups and switch over to weight measurements. For the starter recipe here, that would mean simply weighing out 4 oz flour and 4 oz water on a scale. To feed, discard 4 oz, replace with 4 oz flour and 4 oz water. And so on. I feel like it's a little easier to understand that way, too.
Isn't it cheating to start a sourdough starter with commercial yeast? I'm not a sourdough expert (and I stand to be corrected), but I have been baking with commercial yeast for many years, so I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of how it works. So here's how I see it ...
Starting a sourdough starter with commercial yeast is like starting a fire with a match. We all know you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. That's a lot of work though and in the end, we may not actually start a fire! Or you can start a fire with a match. It's just faster and more reliable. And yes, we might have a sense of accomplishment and pride if we actually started a fire with two sticks, but again, in the end, that fire isn't going to be a "better" fire than the one started with a match. A fire is a fire is a fire, no matter how it started :)
So applying this to yeast and sourdough, the commercial yeast is the "match". It's the quicker, more reliable way to start a sourdough starter, in my opinion. After the first 24 hours and discarding half and feeding anew, that commercial yeast we started with is going to be fairly depleted and diminished, but will still stick around a bit to provide a nice environment for the wild yeast to cultivate. By the 3rd day, that original yeast we added is surely completely depleted and essentially discarded, as we feed again with more fresh water and flour. All that's working at this point is the wild yeast in the mixture. And by the time our sourdough starter is ripe, it will be a wild yeast starter in exactly the same way it would have been had we started without yeast.
Why is unbleached all purpose flour best? In the long run, a sourdough starter and the resulting products made from it will have better flavour and texture with unbleached all purpose flour. I've used unbleached all purpose flour for a long time for my regular yeast bread, so much so that it's the flour I reach for all the time. Now I bake just about everything with unbleached all purpose flour. That said, if you only have regular, bleached all purpose on hand to start your starter, it should work fairly well, as well. It's thought that some of the wild yeast is removed by the bleaching process, but not all. It may take a little longer to get going.
Why do you suggest whole wheat or rye flour for the non-yeast starter recipe? Simply because it has more wild yeast on it and it will increase the likelihood of success if you start with more wild yeast.
This page is a work in progress, updated as I learn and start to bake with my new sourdough starter. If you're a beginner as well, I'd love to hear how you are making out! Likewise, if you are someone more experienced with sourdough, we welcome your advice :) Comments are open below.
Update #1: Sourdough Starter is well underway!
So my starter has been sitting on my counter now for 5 days. Each day since I started it, I've discarded 4 oz of the starter, then fed it with 4oz unbleached all purpose flour and 4 oz water. (I started with the yeast-added recipe. The non-yeast recipe will take longer). The starter is very bubbly and easily doubles after every feeding the last couple of days. It has a mild sour smell. I'll maybe feed it with a bit of whole wheat flour next time to see if I can get it more sour. After my Day 54 feeding, I'm going to leave it out on the counter for about 2 hours, then I'm going to put a lid on it and put it in the refrigerator for a few days (until it turns 1 week old), without feeding. I've named my starter "Jane Dough".
Update #2: My First Loaf of Sourdough Bread!
My first loaf of sourdough bread. Or what's left of it :) My husband went all ninja on it, and kept cutting slices off it. This was all that was left to photograph.
For my first attempt at a loaf of sourdough bread, I relied on this tried and trusted recipe from King Arthur Flour.
I took my starter out of the fridge about 1:30 pm and fed it. Just before supper (about 5:30) I removed the 1 cup of fed started and prepared the dough. It rose at room temperature until about 10:00 pm, when it went into the fridge overnight.
The next morning (9 am), I prepared the final dough. I left it for about 6 hours, to about 3pm (a little longer than suggested in the recipe, but I thought it needed the bit extra to be sure it was nice an bubbly). I formed into two round loaves. The final rising was about 2 1/2 hours until it was nice and puffy. So about 5:30 pm, I baked them off with a roasting pan of water on the rack beneath my baking bread. I could hardly wait to cut into them (the smell was amazing :).
Conclusions: Delicious! And I was quite pleased with my first effort. This loaf had a lovely flavour and just the perfect amount of tang. And I think my sourdough starter performed pretty well for a young one. I expect the fermentation and rising times will shorten up a bit as I go along and my starter gets more mature. Start to finished bread was about 28 1/2 hours (or 1 day, 4 1/2 hours). It worked out nicely to have fresh, warm bread at suppertime!
Going forward: My scoring needs some serious work (too timid with the knife :). I'm planning to make this recipe again, but I thought I might try the Dutch oven cooking method for a crispier crust. Just for fun. I'll post an update when I try that.
If you try this recipe (or have tried another one that you loved), let me know about it in the comments below!