Why should you make your own sourdough bread?
There is something highly rewarding about making your own sourdough bread. All you start with is flour and water, and with some patience and the right technique, you end up with this incredibly delicious loaf of bread, crunchy from the outside, soft and fluffy from the inside.
Making bread with sourdough has been the traditional way of preparing bread and dates back thousands of years.
Sourdough bread has a slightly sour flavor and can be kept for longer compared to a bread baked with yeast. Instead of the yeast, you’re using a sourdough starter which creates the rise and the leavening of the bread.
And even though making sourdough bread might seem complex at first, the whole process is actually quite simple.
It all starts with having a healthy sourdough starter.
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter, also called “leaven”, “chief”, or ”mother”, is a fermented mixture of flour and water. The fermentation process enables the growth of lactobacilli bacteria and wild yeast that help with the leavening of the bread and develop its unique flavor.
Flour naturally contains different yeast and bacteria cultures. After the flour comes in contact with water, the starches are broken down into glucose and maltose which can be metabolized by the yeast. The bacteria contained in the flour ferment other starches that the yeast cannot break down, again creating maltose which the yeast can metabolize. This creates carbon dioxide allowing the leavening and rise of the bread.
In order to develop correctly, the starter needs to be refeed within 24 hours with an equal amount of flour and water and kept in a warm environment of 25° to 30°C (77° to 86°F).
It is important to refeed the starter with water and flour on a regular basis in order to keep the yeast and bacteria alive and in balance.
Once your starter has matured and you won’t need it for baking for a few days, you can keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week.
You can think of your starter as a little pet, sitting happily in your kitchen or fridge. When it gets hungry, make sure to feed it, and it’ll be happy again.
How to make your own sourdough starter
To start, all you need is a glass jar, a fork, whole wheat flour, and filtered water. For the correct measurement, you should preferably use a kitchen scale. A set of measuring cups works as well, but it won’t be as exact as the scale.
Before starting to prepare your starter, make sure to sterilize the jar and the fork with boiling hot water (the cup set as well in case you use cups). This makes sure you won’t have any bad bacteria spoiling the starter after a few days.
Especially in the first days, the starter cannot fight off other bacteria as well and tends to spoil more easily. We later talk about how you can spot spoilage in your starter.
Simply boil water in a kettle, then have the inside of the jar and the fork rinsed with the hot water. Let it cool down before you continue with the feeding process.
Place the jar on your scale and turn it on. All you have to do now is adding in the same amount of water and flour. Start with 70 g of water and 70 g of whole wheat flour. Use the fork to stir and combine everything well.
If you’re using cups, use ¼ cup of water and ½ cup of flour (roughly 60 g each).
Now, place the lid loosely on top. You don’t want it to be completely airtight, but it should cover the glass to keep the inside safe from any form of contamination.
Simply place it in your kitchen shelf and make sure it is kept warm. The room temperature should be around 25°C (77°F). Leave it there for 24 hours and start to repeat the feeding process.
Refeeding your sourdough starter
The next day, it is time to refeed your starter.
Your starter should have a light brown color. It might be possible that some clear liquid has formed at the top.
That’s called hooch, a form of natural alcohol. It’s nothing bad, it just shows your starter is hungry and wants to be feed more flour.
Make sure to remove any hooch before you continue to refeed your starter.
Just to be on the safe side, sterilize a fork and a spoon first with boiling hot water to remove any potential of contamination. After the spoon has cooled down, remove the upper half of the starter and throw it out.
As your starter grows each time you feed it, you need to remove up to one half of the starter to make sure it continues to fit in his glass.
Place the jar again on the scale and add in 70 g of filtered water and 70 g of whole wheat flour. If you use cups, use ¼ cup of water and ½ cup of whole wheat flour.
Stir with the fork, place the lid loosely on top, and set aside to rest for another 24 hours.
Again, make sure your starter stays in a warm spot of around 25°C (77°F). It needs the right temperature to develop properly. Otherwise, your starter will not be fully active when you start baking.
You repeat this refeeding process for at least 4-6 days. The starter needs this time to develop the right amount of yeast and lactobacilli before you can bake your first loaf of bread.
The starter also gets stronger over time, meaning it creates better leavening and rise in the bread.
What’s so fascinating about your starter is that you can keep it almost forever. You just need to make sure to feed it on a regular basis.
At days when you actively bake bread, you should keep your starter in your room and feed it once a day.
When you have no time for baking, simply place it into the fridge. This will slow down the fermentation and the starter needs to be refeed once a week.
How can you tell when your starter is ready?
After a couple of days, your starter has grown in size. You will notice the bubbles of air inside of your starter. That’s the carbon dioxide being released by the yeast and bacteria which will later help your bread rise.
Your starter should have a pleasant smell of baked bread. The smell should not be too sour or off-putting.
The color of your starter is a light brown. It should not be too dark.
As your starter gets hungry, hooch will start to form, which is a clear sign it wants to be refeed. Whenever you notice hooch, make sure to give your starter new flour and water.
How can you tell when your sourdough starter turned bad?
There are two clear signs that tell you your starter has turned bad: color and smell.
The first sign is a clear change of color. If you happen to notice spots of a different color on the top of your starter, it’s a sign that mold has started to grow. The color of the mold can vary, from red to green to black. Have a good look at your starter and watch out for any spots of different color.
Naturally, there will be slight variations of the normal light brown color on the top once the starter gets hungry. This is normal and should not worry you. However, clear changes of color that vary from the natural light brown color should be detected and observed carefully.
The second sign is smell. If your starter starts to smell off-putting, tangy, sharp and does not keep its smell of bread, it’s also a sign that something went wrong. It you notice a change of smell, look out for any discoloration of your starter.
In either case, when your starter has turned bad, you have to get rid of it. It’s neither healthy nor delicious to use a starter that has been taken over by the wrong type of fungi or bacteria.
It might be a sign that you didn’t work with sterilized tools. Next time you create your sourdough starter, make sure to really focus on having clean jars, forks, and spoons. Rinsing them with boiling-hot water really helps.
How to use your sourdough starter
Once your starter is active, it is time to make something delicious with it. In the next weeks, we’ll look at different recipes for baking bread, pizzas and more with your sourdough starter.