Sourdough: Everything You Need to Know

This is a simple, straight forward, anyone can-do-it, one-stop-shop for getting started with Sourdough bread. This is going to be a BEAST of a post, but I have separated everything into clear sections so it’s easy to find what you are looking for.

I will break down everything from

  • Creating and maintaining your own starter
  • What is discard and what to do with it
  • Making sourdough fit into a busy schedule (I work 80 hours a week and make it fit!)
  • Simple, and easy sourdough bread recipe
  • All the tools you will want or need, and how to get by withOUT them 😉

This blog post will eventually have a companion podcast episode and a how-to video to go with it, that I will link below once complete.

Video

Podcast

It took me about of month of research and another month of trial-and-error to get to the point where I was consistently making amazing loaves of bread, and other goodies. I want to help you avoid some of that headache so that you can have one resource to refer to rather than doing like I did and have multiple blogs, videos and IG posts to refer to for instructions and tips.

I am very grateful for all the people who shared their stories, tips and advice so that I could get started, but as with a lot of things sometimes we take certain facts and steps for granted because we have forgotten the minutia that was important when we where learning.

As a teacher I am a bit more aware of the little things that help the learning process, so I hope to share all of that here.

There are a lot of steps in making your own sourdough bread, but it’s really not complicated. It just seems that way, just like a shorter route to the store with more turns seems longer than a straight road.

Its such a good skill to have, and brings me such an amazing feeling of accomplishments and self-sufficiency. Which in these times, with the state the world is in has so much value.

Let’s get started!…

…literally

Creating and Maintaining a Sourdough Starter

A sourdough starter is a colony of good bacteria and yeast that live on the wheat it is created from (but they are dorment when the flour is dry) then when we hydrate it with water and wait a little while those little buggies become active and start to feet on the carbohydrates of the wheat, breaking it down slightly.

When we add active starter to our dough recipe, those little buggies go to work breaking down the wheat and making it more digestible for us. For me personally I have been off gluten for 3 years before finding I could have sourdough less than a month ago. Gluten gave me intense gastrointestinal issues and rashes on my arms and face, but I have been eating my bread for a month now and I have zero symptoms, I even find my digestion is better!

Take note that you should not use bleached white flour, as the process that is used to bleach it stripes the organisms from it. Any other kind of flour is fine, but the ratios may change slightly!

So all you are going to do is.

  1. Find a jar (should be glass and air tight) that will accommodate twice as much starter as you are looking for (because it will expand) – If all you are looking for is making the bread recipe below you will need a jar that can hold 400g with room for expansion (it will double or triple in size once mature)
  2. Mix 200g (1/2 cup) of water with 200g (1 cup_ of unbleached flour (I use 1/3 whole wheat and 2/3 unbleached all purpose)

Day 1: Your starter is prepared now, but we have to let it grow! It’s technically edible, but won’t do anything to make your bread or anything else rise.

Day 2: The next day (24 hours later) discard half, and add back in 100g of water and 100g of flour to the left over starter. There should be some bubbles and a slightly sour smell

I usually pour out the starter I am keeping into another bowl and rinse out the container I keep it in and put the starter back in after feeding.

Day 3-7: Every 12 hours repeat the steps on day 2, discarding half and adding back 100g of water and 100g of flour to the starter you are keeping.

Day 7: Take out a blob of your starter and place it in a glass of water, if it floats it’s ready, if not continue the above steps for a day or two longer. If it does float you are ready to bake. At this point you will only feed it once a day (if keeping on the counter), discard if not baking, or keep the discard for the bread.

Once the starter is mature there is also a few other things you can do with the discard (see recipes here). If you don’t plan on using it more than 2-3 times per week then you can keep it in the fridge after it is mature and only take it out the day before baking, feed it and let it sit on the counter until the next day.

What is Discard and What to Do With It?

We can’t just feed the starter each day without removing some, because the colony will continue to grow and they won’t have enough food to eat. If you feed it enough for all of the lactobacillus and yeast to eat, without discarding any starter, it will double each and every day! So you will soon find yourself with way more starter than you know what to do with!

The discard is basically just a runny pancake batter and has a multitude of uses. The most common things I do with it other than making bread are Savoury Fried Starter or feeding it to our laying hens.

I have grown my starter so I have more to make other things, so I now have a bit more discard but it never goes to waste, if I want to I can discard enough for some fried starter, to feed to the hens AND make a loaf of bread all in the same day 😉

Making Sourdough Fit Into a Busy Schedule

I work full time and have my own business also, so I am regularly working anywhere from 40-80 hours every week. Granted 40 hours of that is at home, so my schedule is more flexible, but regardless the majority of my cooking and baking is done outside of any work hours.

I truly believe the feeling of burn out is more linked to doing things that don’t bring us joy, as opposed to the sheer amount of time we spend working. Lets put it this way…

There are 168 hours in a week. If the typical person works 40 hours, commutes 14 hours, sleeps 56 hours a week that still leaves 50 hours a week for everything else. If you make 2 loaves per week it will take you about 1 hour and 20 minutes of total active work, the rest is all just waiting for the starter to do it’s work!

We always have more time than we think!

Figure out a schedule that works for you, if you always have an hour or so in the morning, but nothing in the evenings then you could do a 24 hour bulk ferment in the fridge (which slows the fermentation so that it doesn’t over ferment and lose elasticity) which would allow you to prep the dough on morning, then bake it the next.

If you have time right before leaving for work, or right after getting back then you could to a 10-14 hours bulk ferment on the counter and bake when you get home. It’s very simple and the dough can ferment for as little as 8 hours on the counter or as much as 24-48 hours in the fridge!

It’s a very flexible process that you can manipulate to accommodate your unique schedule.

You can even prep the dough ahead (say on the weekend), let it ferment most of the way, freeze it then thaw in the fridge for 12-24 hours and bake it later in the week.

Simple, and Easy Sourdough Bread Recipe

“Sourdough

  • Difficulty: “Easy”
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 200g (3/4 Cup) Sourdough Starter
  • 425g (~2 Cups) Water (room temp, or warm)
  • 650g (5 Cups) Flour
  • 10-20g salt (about 1.5 tbsp)

Directions

1) Mix all ingredients (omit salt) together to make shaggy ball, let sit for 30 minutes to hydrate. 2) Add salt by gently pinching into dough. 3) Turn dough onto oiled surface, and oil hands 4) Knead dough for 20 minutes either by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook. 5) Start bulk ferment, place in an oiled bowl (non-metal) and cover with an air tight seal on counter (short) or in fridge (long) (half way through ferment, or whenever the dough has doubled in size, press your fist down into the centre to partially deflate. Give it a quick knead in the bowl and let it continue fermenting. 6) After 8-24 hours remove from bowl and shape into loaf, folding pieced back onto itself to create tension on the surface of the dough. 7) Let sit either in a banneton (proofing basket) or in an oiled bowl that has the shape and desired size of the finished loaf. Placing the dough upside down in it for 2 hours 8) Preheat oven to 450F (230C) for 1 hour with dutch oven inside. 9) Flip dough onto parchment paper and score it 2 to 3 times about 1/4 of an inch (0.60 cm) deep and place in a preheated dutch oven with the lid on. 10) Bake for 30 minutes lid on, followed by 15 minutes with the lid off or until golden brown. *Let cool for at least 1 hour before cutting.

Alright lets get down to the actual bread making!

Here are the steps broken down a bit more…

Hydrating

After mixing the starter, flour and water why do we need to let it sit before adding the salt and knead it? Adding the salt right away prevents the flour from fully absorbing the water and thus won’t develop properly into dough.

Kneading

Why on earth does it need to kneaded so much!? There is another method called the “stretch and fold” but for this you have to be close to your dough for most of the fermentation process and have to manipulate it multiple times on a set schedule. By kneading instead you get it all done in 20 minutes, which seems like a lot, but not so much when you think about how you would have do some sort of manipulation every 30-60 minutes at least 4 times.

Personally I like kneading by hand, it feels really authentic and is a nice way to zone out and do something grounding. The dough has to be kneaded to develop the gluten (which don’t worry doesn’t mean it has more gluten) it means that the structure of the bread is more elastic and able to capture the bulbs of CO2 created by the fermentation process, those bubbles are what rise your bread!

I have tried no-knead, 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute kneads and by far the 20 minute makes the BEST bread!

Fermentation

Why does it have to ferment so long? So if you have every made quick rise bread with a yeast packet you might be freaked out that it takes a minimum of 8 hours to rise this kind of bread. That is because rather than adding all the yeast you need from a packet, you are growing your own, which takes longer. 8 hours will give you a bread with little to no “sour” taste but will be easier to digest, and 24-48 hours will be a lot more sour and be even easier to digest.

Personally with my gluten intolerance I am able to handle 10 hours without any issue.

Tip for fermentation, once your dough has risen and doubled in size (about half way through the process) Punch it down and give it a little mini knead in the bowl. This helps stop it from getting to blown out and losing its strength.

Punching

After the dough has doubled in size (about half way through a 10 hour counter ferment) punch it, by pressing your fist firmly into the centre of the dough all the way down. Partially deflating it, then give it a quick knead. This stops the dough from getting too blown out.

Shaping

How do I shape the loaf? This part can be done in a lot of ways, or really not at all. But if you want a pretty artisan loaf then shaping it is a good idea, plus it will help it rise more. The basics of shaping are just that you have to form it into a loaf or boul (round) shape and tuck the sides underneath to make the surface of the dough taught.

Note, if you over proofed and your dough is kind of “melting”, don’t fret or throw it out! It will make a bit more dense of a loaf, but it will still be good. Don’t waste it, just take note for the next time and let it ferment for less time.

Baking

Why bake in a dutch oven vs. a loaf pan? You can absolutely do both! But to get a really nice rise out of any bread baking covered first is a must, what this does is traps some steam coming off of the dough as it bakes and keeps the crust soft, so that it doesn’t prevent the rising. Then taking off the lid at the end allows the crust to get crispy, so you get a loaf that is soft on the inside and lightly crispy on the outside.

Cooling

Why can’t I cut it while it’s still warm? This has to be one of the most important, and hardest to do steps! you can cut it, but it’s not done when it first comes out of the oven, the steam trapped inside is going to make the bread even softer on the inside. Let it cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into it, as hard as that may be!

Storage

Store your loaf for up to 3-4 days wrapped in a towel or beeswax paper on the couter or a week in the fridge. It can also be frozen for 3-6 months.

All The Tools and How to get by WithOUT Them!

In an ideal world you would start off with all of the following, but if you don’t have them all (or none at all) there are still lots of ways to make sourdough bread. Below I list all of the ideal tools, along with my dups and how I got started having none of the tools!

Also keep in mind that as I write this, I still don’t have half of the tools I will be listing and I’ve been baking bread multiple times a week for a month!

Dutch Oven

I had this from the start, but it’s a plain Jane cast iron one without a coating, that I got awhile back for making stew on the campfire. It works great, but if you don’t have one you could try tenting some aluminum foil over a loaf pan, or placing the loaf pan inside a large roasting pan with a lid. as long as there is space for the loaf to double without getting stuck to the lid!

Here is a simple and cheap one

Kitchen Scale

This makes things so much easier, but you can of course make this recipe and maintain your starter without one. For the starter just eyeball it and aim to discard about half and fill it back up with flour and water until you have a thick pancake batter consistency.

For the bread you can use measuring cups instead, the result may very a little more because it’s not as precise but it’s still do-able.

Here is a good kitchen scale

Banneton (Proofing Basket)

This is very high on my wishlist, however I still don’t have one, and I proof my bread in a small Pyrex mixing bowl I borrowed from my mom. It works well enough, but the upside to a proofing basket is that it actually supports the dough and allows it to rise more.

Here is a good one

Dough Lame

This is basically a razor blade on a handle made for scoring the dough before baking, I have been getting away with a very sharp knife, but for more intricate designs I will need something more precise.

Here is one I’ve been looking at

Dough and Bench Scrappers

I just got this kit and I love it, but up until now I’ve been using regular mixing spoons or my Danish whisk which I have had for years. The scrappers definitely help a lot, and cleanup is easier!

Reusable Beeswax Paper

I am still using wax paper to cover my dough, but I really want to replace it with a more sustainable option, I am looking at this for cover the dough as well as storing the bread after.

*None of the above linked products are affiliates, I do not work with any of the companies.

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