I love everything involved in the bread baking process. I love how the smell of fresh bread fills the house as it’s baking. I love the feeling of kneading dough and shaping it. I love how bread baking forces me to slow down and devote time to the process. It’s a calming activity for me, and I want to make it part of my weekly routine.
I’ve been baking yeast breads for years, but more recently I have become interested in baking sourdough bread. I have tried twice before to get a sourdough starter going with no success. A few weeks ago, I committed to trying for a third time, and I was determined to get a successful starter going.
This weekend I finally had a starter that was active enough to make bread with and I am so excited to share with you the results! Keep reading to learn some basics about sourdough, how I got my starter going, and how my first sourdough loaf turned out.
What is Sourdough?
You always need some sort of leavener when baking bread. Quick breads like banana bread or zucchini bread will use baking soda and/or baking powder as the leavener. They don’t typically take very long to make since the leaveners work quickly in the oven.
Yeast breads use yeast as the leavener. Shocker, I know. There are all kinds of different commercial yeasts out there, but essentially you mix the yeast with a warm liquid (usually milk or water) and the yeast starts to feed. In simple terms, the byproduct of the yeast “eating” is a release of carbon dioxide that causes the bread to rise. Yeast bread takes a bit more time because you have to give the yeast time to do it’s thing and make the bread rise. Normally there is an initially rise that can take 1-2 hours (sometimes more), then you shape the dough and let it rise again prior to baking. You can make a yeast bread recipe from start to finish in a few hours.
So what is sourdough? Sourdough still uses yeast to make the bread rise, but it’s using wild yeast and bacteria found in the flour that are formed during fermentation. You have to have to have some sort of sourdough starter to make sourdough bread. Sourdough bread also takes longer from start to finish compared to yeast breads because you’re trying to develop that sour flavor and the wild yeast takes longer to do its thing than commercial yeasts do.
Something interesting that I learned while researching starters is that some people with gluten sensitivities have had success eating sourdough bread. This is because of the fermentation process. The wild yeast and bacteria begin to break down the proteins and carbs in the flour making it easier for our bodies to digest. I would encourage you to read this article to learn more about the health benefits of sourdough.
Make a Starter
If you want to have a sourdough starter at home, you have to commit to it. You will need to feed your starter regularly or it will die. Starting one requires at least 2 daily feedings for the first 7 ish days to get going. You can also purchase active starters online.
I followed the plan from Food 52 found here. This is what I learned:
- What is feeding? Feeding is when you mix equal parts starter, flour, and water. The addition of new flour gives the existing starter more nutrients to feed on to keep it alive.
- The recipe calls for stone-ground flour. I didn’t have that and I couldn’t find it in my grocery store so I just used regular all purpose flour. I wasn’t seeing a lot of activity in my starter and I think that’s because of how highly processed my flour was. I then switched to using whole wheat flour, and I had a much better result.
- You will know when your starter is ready because a small dollop dropped in water will float. After about a week, I was seeing a lot of activity in my starter- it smelled boozy, had the small bubbles etc., but it was not floating. I was getting so frustrated! So I continue to feed it 2x a day for another week. Still no float. Eventually I did some more reading and realized that I was testing my starter using the float test once it was past its prime. I was testing it right before I would feed it, which was probably about 12 hours since it’s last feeding. A starter is not very active that far after a feeding, so I realized I was testing it at the wrong time. So I fed it again and waited about 4 hours and tried the float test. FINALLY, it floated. Most likely my starter had been active for at least 2 weeks prior to that, I had just been testing it at the wrong time.
- I would recommend using a clear container to keep your starter in initially so you can see activity.
Making Sourdough Bread
I followed Food 52’s recipe for “Table Loaf” as my first attempt at sourdough bread. The entire process does take close to 2 days, but there is not a lot of active time. If you have a few hours on a Saturday then you can make this bread happen.
I really enjoyed creating this bread over the weekend. My hope is that I can find time to incorporate bread baking into my weekly routine. Activities like this help me to slow down, and I need more of that in my life!
Want to adventure into sourdough with me? You can do it! Share with me the pictures of what you create 🙂