Updated: Jan 6
I used to work for BBC. No, not the British Broadcasting Corporation. The Beaufort Bread Company. I started working there about two months after we moved to Beaufort. For someone who loves baking and experimenting in the kitchen, it was a true blessing. It was especially great for me because they followed French cooking protocol, which meant I got to use metric measurements! To top it all off, my shift started at 6 AM, which was wonderful for this early bird. After two years of working there, I went on maternity leave and decided to become a stay-at-home mom.
The BBC is where I first experienced the magic of wild yeast. I remember my grandma and aunt both did a lot of baking with sourdough, but for some reason my mom didn't, which meant I hadn't really learned about it growing up. By the time I left, my interest in wild yeast was alive and growing. To this day, sourdough is still my favorite kind of bread to make.
When Hurricane Matthew approached the east coast in 2016, Beaufort County was given a mandatory evacuation order. While my husband started packing things like clothes and documents, I rushed straight into the kitchen to grab my sourdough starter and other ferments (kombucha, kefir, etc.).
Earlier this year I was fortunate to receive sourdough starter from my friend Lesa Morrison in Alaska. This particular starter has been around for 200 years. I'm proud to own this starter. Speaking of 200 years ago, did you know that up until that point in history people made sourdough almost exclusively when they wanted bread? It lost some of its popularity with the rise of commercial yeast (pun intended), but it's re-gaining its popularity today.
Sourdough Starter: Buy It Or Make It?
While the fastest way to get sourdough starter is to get it from a local bakery or a friend, you make easily make it yourself at home. All you need is flour, water, and 7-14 days before your starter is ready.
Wherever your starter comes from, remember to take care of it. Feed it like a pet. I bake a lot, so I feed it everyday.
I keep a 100% hydration starter, which means I use equal weights of flour w
Really pay attention to the starter! Feed like a pet. I bake a lot so I I feed it every day, I keep a 100 percent hydration starter, which means equal weights of flour and water.
What Makes Sourdough "Sourdough"?
Sourdough starters are colonies with three distinct populations: lactic-acid-forming bacteria, lactic- and acetic-acid-forming bacteria, and sourdough yeasts. This microflora has a PH considerably lower than that of a yeast-raised batter or dough because of bacteria found there. Controlling the bread's acidity and acetic acid/lactic acid ratio is a large part of the art of sourdough-bread making.
Dr. Richard-Molard, a French microbiologist one of France's foremost experts on bread flavor, said this: To achieve a well-balanced sourdough flavor it is necessary to have both acetic and lactic acid present in the bread. If only acetic acid is present, the bread will be taste very sharp and vinegary, but if only lactic acid is present, the bread "will have no special taste," because lactic acid is much more milder and less discernible. The true and correct sourdough flavor is achieved only when the two acids are present and balanced in the bread.
What Makes Sourdough so Special?
Sourdough Is Naturally Preserved
Sourdough doesn't have any dough conditioner or artificial additives. The Lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast that are present in sourdough starter help preserve food naturally without potassium bromide. That lets sourdough bread stay fresh at room temperature for up to 5 days and even longer in the fridge.
Sourdough Helps Us Absorb More Minerals From Our Food
The Lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast pre-digest the sugars in the flour during the slow-rise process so the bread is easier for humans to digest. This also reduces the phytic acid that is naturally present in grains that usually stops the body from absorbing minerals. The pre-digestion process during fermentation can reduce the amount of phytic acid up to 50%.
Sourdough Is Low On The Glycemic Index
Being low on the glycemic index means you will feel full for longer without the sugar spike and crash.
Sourdough Can Be Eaten By Gluten-Intolerant Individuals (But NOT Celiac-Friendly)
Highly-processed, non-properly pre-digested grain flours lack good bacteria, and this can cause serious health problems such as gluten intolerance and diabetes. Sourdough breaks down gluten, which means people who are gluten intolerant (not people with Celiac disease) can enjoy sourdough bread.
Sourdough Is Delicious
There are endless other reasons I could share about why sourdough is special, but the biggest reason is that it's delicious. It's real food. It's whole food. There are no unnecessary ingredients. You just need water, flour, salt, and starter culture, and the result is a tangy, chewy bread with great taste.
Can I Use Tap Water?
I've used tap water to start and maintain sourdough starter. Some people use starchy water (like potato water or whey) to start their starter, but they use normal water to maintain it. If you live in an area with heavily-chlorinated water, you'll want to use spring water or something without so much chlorine because the chlorine can kill the bacteria.
What Kind of Flour Should I Use?
I (and most modern-day bakers) prefer to use unbleached, all-purpose flour for sourdough starter. I use this flour from hard wheat. Using hard wheat will make your starter firm so your bread will hold its shape better by catching and holding the gas. High-quality flour without any additives is the key. People also use rye flour or whole wheat flour.
What's The Ideal Temperature For My Starter?
The best temperature to grow or maintain your sourdough starts is 74-78F. Anything above that can kill the life yeast, and anything under will put extra strain on the starter.
Let's get started...
Non-chlorinated water (tap water works in most locations)
1. Mix 6 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons of water in a clean jar.
2. Cover the jar with a clean towel or plastic wrap. You can also put the lid on the jar loosely (don't seal it completely).
3. Store the jar in a warm, dark place for 1-3 days.
4. When the mixture is slightly bubbly with a pleasant smell (not a funky smell), add 6 more tablespoons of flour and 3 more tablespoons of water and mix it all together.
5. Put the jar back in its warm, dark place for 1 day. During this time, it should increase in volume by about 50% and get a lot more bubbles.
6. Add ¾ cup flour and 6 tablespoons of water and mix together. Not too long after (should be less than 24 hours), it will rise and become even more bubbly.
7. Put the lid on the jar and store it in the fridge.
8. For the next week, discard about half the starter each morning and add ½ cup of flour and ¼ cup of water. By the end of the week your starter should be stable.
9. To maintain your starter, remove about ¼ cup of it every 2 - 7 days. You can use it or discard it; whatever works for you that day. Then add ¼ cup flour and 2 tablespoons of water back to the jar.
10. When you're ready to use your starter, take ¼ cup from the jar and activate it by adding ½ cup of flour and ¼ cup of water, then letting it sit for 6-11 hours.
I Made Sourdough Starter - Now What?
Is My Starter Ready To Work?
If you're not sure your starter is ready to work, simply do a float test. Take a piece of starter and add it to a bowl with room-temperature water. If the dough floats, it's ready. If it sinks, it means it needs more time to ripen up.
I Didn't Touch My Starter For A Week, And Now It Looks Funny...
The good news it that sourdough starter is more robust than you might think. Unless it turns pink and smells rancid (which would take at least a few good months of total abandonment), it can be rescued.
If your storage starter has been in storage for more than a week, you need to revive it to make sure it's healthy whether you intend to bake with it right away or not. But sometimes we get too busy, and if too much time passes, you may notice a liquid collecting on the top of your starter. This liquid is called "Hooch," and it's a low-grade alcohol. If you see only hooch and there's no accompanying mold, you should be fine to revive your starter. I've done it a few times in the past, and it's worked just fine.
How To Save Sourdough Starter
1. Add ½ cup (50 grams) unbleached, unbromated white flour and ½ cup (50 grams) or water to your starter. You don't want to use rye or whole wheat flour when reviving your starter. Whole grains contain many organisms that would compete with the organisms you're trying to revive in the starter.
2. After 12 hours, feed your starter with another ½ cup flour and ½ cup water. This should get the volume of your starter to where you want it to be.
3. Repeat step 2 about 2-3 times, but this time you'll discard about ⅓ of the starter each time. At this point your starter should be stable and healthy-looking again, which is what we want.
What Can I Do With Sourdough Discard?
Don't you hate throwing away excess sourdough starter during the feeding process?
Don't ditch it; use that discard starter in these delicious treats instead.
"How can a nation be great if its bread taste like Kleenex?"
"The warmth of Mother's wood stove and the aroma of her fresh baked bread will always be vivid in our minds."