Once upon a time, I made all our bread from scratch. Everything from sandwich bread to dinner rolls to cinnamon rolls and hamburger buns. As much as I enjoyed it, over time, I just kind of got out of the habit. Working with yeast dough is still one of my most favorite kitchen activities. Yes, it takes a little time, but it’s oh so worth the effort.
There’s just nothing quite like the feel of a yeast dough coming to life as you knead, watching it grow as it rises, and the smell as it bakes…nothing like it! Fresh, warm yeast bread straight from the oven slathered with butter. Name something better.
I recently got an urge to start making bread again. Sourdough bread specifically.
Of course, for sourdough you need a starter, right? There are lots of ways to acquire a starter. You can purchase a commercial starter from sources such as King Arthur Flour and Williams-Sonoma. You can get some starter from a friend who is willing to share. Or you can make your own. It’s easy. Honestly. It’s also cheap. As in pennies.
If you want to make your own sourdough starter, there are two general methods – with purchased yeast or wild yeast. What’s wild yeast? Why, it’s the yeast that’s all around us all the time. It’s in the air, on our skin, on fruit, in flour, and probably on your kitchen countertops. It’s just naturally occurring everywhere all the time. And it’s the way people made bread for thousands of years until yeast became commercially available. It’s not difficult, but it does take a little time and patience.
I want you to understand that this is my method for making sourdough starter. It’s a wild yeast method. Other people have different methods. Mine’s not better or more correct. It’s just my method. And I’m not certainly not claiming to be an expert. There are lots of folks that know a lot more than I do about sourdough and bread making in general. If you’re looking for more in-depth information as I often say “Google knows.”
Also, understand that your sourdough starter is going to taste different from everybody else’s. Some are a bit sweeter, some are more sour. That’s because there are different strains of yeast all over the world and the yeast in your environment may be totally different from yeast elsewhere. The famous San Francisco sourdough bread? It gets its taste from the yeast that naturally lives in that environment. If you got a sourdough starter from someone in San Francisco and took it to New York, it would very soon become a different starter because new strains of yeast would be introduced making it unique to the area where it lives. Make sense?
To create your very own sourdough starter, all you need are a clean glass jar, some flour, some water, and a pinch of sugar. In your glass jar, add a cup of warm water, a cup of flour, and a pinch of sugar. Stir it together really well. That’s it. That’s the recipe. However, you’re not quite finished. You now have to “grow” your starter. So here’s what you do. Cover the jar with either cheesecloth or waxed paper and secure it with a rubber band. Sit it in a warm place. It likes to be between 70 and 80 degrees. Just like me :-) Every 24 hours, stir the starter, take out about half of it and discard that. “Feed” the remaining starter in the jar with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water. After three or four days, maybe sooner, your starter should look frothy and have a pleasant yeasty smell. Yay! You have succeeded in making sourdough starter.
If your starter looks like it has separated and has a brownish-yellowish layer of liquid in it, that’s fine! That stuff is called “hooch” and it’s a natural by-product of the fermentation process. Just stir it back into the starter.
Use what you need to make your bread, feed the starter and place it back into the refrigerator. The next time you want to make a sourdough recipe, take the starter out the night before and allow it to come to room temperature. If you don’t use the starter for a week, you’ll still need to feed it. Discard half, feed it and put it back in the fridge.
People keep starter for years using this method. If you want to try a really old starter, you can get the 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter for just the cost of an envelope and postage. I have a jar of it in my fridge right now. It’s a nice, mellow starter. Not too sour, not too sweet.
Whatever method you use to get your starter going, I hope you’ll use some of it to make a couple of loaves of this Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread. It’s our favorite.
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Knead on slow speed (#2) until a smooth dough forms (about 4-6 minutes). (Alternately, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until a smooth dough forms (about 10 minutes).)
Remove the dough from the mixer and knead 4 or 5 times on a floured surface to create a nicely rounded ball.
Place the dough in a large bowl and let it rise for about 90 minutes, lightly covered, in a warm place until doubled in size.
Divide the dough in half. Shape into two oval loaves and place on a parchment lined or lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover and let rise again for about 1 hour. Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Make two deep, diagonal slashes in each loaf.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until deeply golden brown. Place on a baking rack to cool.
- 1 cup room temperature sourdough starter
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 pkg. dry active yeast
- 1 tblsp. granulated sugar or honey
- 2 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead on slow speed (#2) until a smooth dough forms (about 4-6 minutes). Alternately, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until a smooth dough forms (about 10 minutes).
- Place the dough in a large bowl and let it rise for about 90 minutes, lightly covered, in a warm place until doubled in size.
- Divide the dough in half. Shape into two oval loaves and place on a parchment lined or lightly oiled baking sheet.
- Cover and let rise again for about 1 hour.
- Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Make two deep, diagonal slashes in each loaf.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until deeply golden brown.
- Place on a rack to cool.
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Other recipes using sourdough starter you might enjoy from around the internet:
- Sourdough Waffles and Pancakes from Breadtopia
- Sourdough Bagels from Chocolate and Zucchini
- Pumpkin Maple Sourdough Cake from Pinch My Salt
- Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Sourdough from Wild Yeast
- Sourdough Pita from Weekend Bakery
- Award Winning Sourdough Baguettes from Bewitching Kitchen
What I was up to…
- One year ago: Raspberries and Cream
- Two years ago: Black Bean and Corn Salad
- Three years ago: Cilantro Lime Shrimp
- Four years ago: Fried Okra
- Five years ago: Pimiento Cheese