Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sourdough - Step By Step

I've been playing with sourdough for several years. My first attempts were total failures and I thought that sourdough was a mystery beyond my comprehension. When I could make a wonderful loaf of whole wheat bread, it was hard to experience the failure of inedible sourdough bricks.

I had so many botched loaves of bread that I started using the failures for bread cubes in stuffing. My dear husband, who loves turkey and stuffing, now says that sourdough bread makes the best stuffing - and I think he is serious!

But I'm known for being stubborn, and I was determined to learn from my mistakes and ultimately succeed in sourdough baking. For over a year, I've baked regularly with sourdough. I've probably tried dozens of recipes by now. Most were barely tolerable, whether from a poor recipe or my inexperience. But a few recipes have stood out as excellent. Over the months, I've continued to adjust and perfect our favorites.

I've hesitated to share my sourdough directions and recipes because I am still learning. But I continue to receive questions about sourdough baking. So in the next few weeks, I plan to share how to utilize sourdough in baking.

Let's face it. Sourdough can be intimidating. It isn't like baking cookies. You are purposely growing yeast and bacteria in your kitchen!

But if the Gold Rushers could keep alive a pot of sourdough in some rustic shack in the California gold fields, surely it can't be that complicated.

In my reading about sourdough, there is a variety of methods and recipes. While the basics were the same, the lack of standard direction drove me crazy. I'd read one thing somewhere but another place would insist on just the opposite. I just wanted someone to tell me the one right way to do it!

Sourdough has been described as more art then science. The sheer magnitude of cookbooks in print should let me know there will never be a "one final recipe" in cooking anything. I learned much from reading cookbooks and websites. By now I can't remember what I learned from where but I do want to give credit to Peter Reinhart, Northwest Sourdough, and Sourdough Home. Some of these writers have posted dozens of recipes, detailed tutorials, and even videos that are extremely helpful.

Eventually, I came up with my own way of using sourdough that was probably a cross of all the sourdough information I've ever read. I'm going to share what I do, what has worked for me in an (hopefully) easy to understand step-by-step format but you may take these directions and adjust them as you wish. I won't say that I have the final word, or even that I'll be doing this the same way next year.

Because my goal was 100% wild yeast 100% whole wheat bread, the recipes I share will reflect those goals.I will share some recipes that use white and wheat flour. And of course, you can always substitute white flour for the whole wheat flour.

I'm especially thankful to several Home Joys readers and some sister-in-laws who have tested these recipes for the last couple months. They have found mistakes and helped make these recipes better.

If you bake with sourdough, I hope you will share your own techniques and recipes so that we can learn together.


  1. All my bread is sourdough, too. I will be interested in learning from your experience as well:)

  2. I can't wait to try it. I have been interested in making it but haven't done it yet.

  3. Thank you! I'm looking forward to this!

  4. I'll be following your sourdough whole wheat recipes and techniques with interest. I have been keeping several starters going for awhile now, but consider myself a rank amateur when it comes to sourdough breads -- and of course, whole wheat and other whole grain is primarily my whole motivation in baking bread, for health reasons, and taste.

    If you could share some secrets regarding keeping your sourdough fed and viable without wasting it, I'd love to hear it. And of course, I'm always curious to hear how others fit baking bread into a busy lifestyle. By the way, thank you so much for taking the trouble to share all that you do. I'm sure I speak for others too, that it is much appreciated.

  5. oh goody, someone else's take on sourdough! I'm very curious. Our daily bread is sourdough, but I have a lot to learn, I'm sure.

  6. I've tried various sourdough starters and failed miserably. Some good loaves along the way but inevitably, despite my careful efforts, the starter would fail somehow or the bread was brick-like. Then somebody told me to make a normal yeast loaf, keep back a small apple sized piece of dough and put that in a jar/jug and cover it with water. Cover the jar with a cloth to keep the dust and insects out and leave it on the kitchen counter. After 3 to 4 days the ball of dough has collapsed into the water and is smelling very yeasty. Mix up the contents of the jar with a fork and use as part of the liquid for your bread. This makes a nice loaf. Keep a small apple sized piece of dough back from this baking and keep going as before.

    Obviously the very first piece of dough kept back will contain yeast that you have bought but eventually, it will only be sourdough as the traces of that bought yeast will be negligable.

    This is a very easy and straightforward method - and very economical too. I didn't like some of the methods of making a sourdough starter where the instructions kept telling me to throw away half the starter before feeding it.

    I was told that this method is maybe the kind of thing that was done by the pioneers as it is so straightforward. And indeed if something happens to spoil the starter, it is so easy and economical to start again.

  7. Yeah - I'm so glad you are doing this! This is actually my goal for this month, to get a sourdough starter started. Perfect timing!

  8. I am SO excited for this series! I still make my sourdough crackers- but haven't done much bread lately and am to get back to work on it!

  9. Can't wait to read more. My experiences with sourdough have left me 'soured' on the thought of making it.lol

  10. Watching your sourdough progress! Thanks for being so patient with us novices. My daughter has had more success making bread than I have & she's barely made more than cupcakes! she got a starter from one of my quilting buddies...

    If your husband is suffering with allergies, I know exactly how he feels. This is my 2nd round of them. I can't even breath thru my nose. (sounds more like "mah notz" when spoken....) My only consolation is that SPRING is finally here & seeing everything coming into bloom is worth it. I haven't found anything that doesn't give me medicine head or put me to sleep.


  11. I'm so exited to learn from you. I've been wanting to try sourdough, but like you said, so many different ways to do it and it just seemed overwhelming to me. I always seem to be in a time crunch and I know I can turn out good bread quickly so I always just use my tried and true recipe, but this will be great. Because everything you recommend always works!:)

    Blessings on your day!!! Isn't this sunshine wonderful!?!?!?!? The children and I are having such a fun week outside!

  12. Gina and all,

    I am an old sourdough baker from way back. There is MUCH misinformation floating around the net about starters so to get a superior starter that WORKS, go here http://carlsfriends.net/ and get the best for free. But send a couple bucks to help, too. Carl's sourdough is the best there is.

    In the evening I will freshly grind the flour I will use for the bread. I set up an overnight sponge with 2 C flour, 1/4 C powdered milk, and 1/2 C starter. I usually place my bowl in a plastic bag to avoid drying and contaminants.

    In the morning I will follow the potato bread recipe (and use all the additives suggested) you have provided, adding 1/2 C freshly ground flax seed and the most important ingredient for sourdough baking, 1-1 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to provide additional leavening by reacting with the lactic acid and neutralizing the "acid bite" often found in sourdough bread.

    Follow the potato bread recipe (NO added yeast required) and I end up with the best bread I have ever made.

    Winston Bearkiller

  13. Thanks so much for all your comments. I love hearing the success (or not) of fellow bread bakers!

    Thanks Winston for the tips on adapting the potato bread to sourdough. I will be trying it!

  14. I'm so looking forward to this, Gina! While I'm happy I've kept my starter alive for a year and found some things I like to make with it, a good sandwich bread still alludes me. Maybe with your techniques? :-)

    An Oregon Cottage

  15. I'm just getting interested in baking with sourdough, but was wondering if or how it works with gluten free?


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