We decided to finally tackle this project because the affectionately used term to describe a local here in Alaska is a “sourdough” or maybe the timing was just right and we wanted to take advantage of the cold, dark winter days here in Fairbanks. Whatever the reason, we are now required to work at least two weekends a month perfecting our homemade sourdough bread skills simply because we have a beast that needs to be fed and nurtured once a week. We have a sourdough starter.
Sourdough starters are amazingly easy to start as long as you follow a few rules.
Keep in mind, sourdough is as much art as it is science. Each and every person who is skilled at sourdough has their own recipes, their own tricks, their own secrets. I’m about to let you in on mine.
- 1 cup non chlorinated water.
- 1 cup flour. I have read you can use just about any sort of flour but for me, I used King Arthur Unbleached bread flour.
- 1 quart sized mason jar
- Paper coffee filter or cheese cloth. Whatever you have available that will allow your starter to breathe. You need something that allows air to filter through. The goal here is to create a good, healthy environment for the lactobacilli and the wild yeast that are attracted to it. You need to make sure it is covered though because you don’t want bugs or flies getting into it.
Day 1: Mix the flour and water thoroughly, cover and let sit. You will want to put this somewhere warm. I used the cabinet above my fridge which kept it out of the way and the heat from the fridge helped keep things warm enough for some activity to start up. Whatever you do, do NOT keep it in your oven with it turned off. I lost about five different starters simply because one of us had forgotten we had the sourdough starter in the oven and then we went to go turn on the oven to bake something. The next thing you know the smell of baking bread was thick in the air. OOPS!
Day 2: Discard half of your starter; add ½ cup water (non-chlorinated) and about a cup of flour again. Mix well. You most likely won’t see much occurring yet other than a bit of bubbling going on.
Day 3-Day 6: Keep following instructions for Day 2 but by this time you should start seeing some bubbling, you’ll be able to smell it working as it will begin taking on a sour, fermented smell that to me just smells like fresh baked bread. If at any time what so ever you notice odd coloring, whether it is pink or green or black; throw it out. Unfortunately that’s mold and that does you no good. Cut your losses, wash out the jar very well and restart.
Keep in mind as your remove half of your starter you can use this for all sorts of recipes, from pancakes to biscuits to pizza dough. It just won’t be as sour as the finished product later. This is a good way of not wasting all that flour.
Day 7: At this point your starter should be bubbly, sour smelling and should noticeably grow a bit when you feed it. You can now put your starter in the fridge. You will find this helpful if you are like me and don’t have the time to do much during the weekdays. If you keep it out at room temperature, it will need to be fed at least twice a day. Once we hit the 7 day mark we feed our starter once a week. There is a positive to time spent in the fridge, by the way. The time spent in the fridge will increase the acetic acid in your starter, thereby giving it a more sour flavor. My first loaf of sourdough was very mild, in fact had I not known that it was sourdough that I was eating I wouldn’t have guessed it was sourdough. Now each of our loaves are more sour with that pleasant bite of a more mature sourdough starter.
Here is a traditional sourdough recipe that we have used. Just a warning, this requires patience and time. It’s best to do this on a weekend when you will be around the house for at least 24 to 48 hours. It will need attention every so often.
Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe
- 1/3 cups fresh sourdough starter
- 3-1/3 cup flour
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups water (approximate)
- One tablespoon salt
(Note: This recipe can be used to make a basic loaf of sandwich bread or artisan-style bread. If you use a bread pan you will get something more like sandwich bread. If you shape it yourself then you’ll get an artisan style loaf.)
- Mix sourdough starter, flour, and salt together. Use enough water to make bread dough. You’ll want it rather moist.
- Knead the dough, either by hand or by using a KitchenMaid mixer with the bread hook attachment. Let this dough sit for approximately 12 to 14 hours in a warm place. This should double in size.
- Punch down the dough. Split the dough in half. Shape each half into a loaf.
- Place in a pan or a pizza peel. Cover lightly with a towel and allow the dough to rise for 4 to 6 hours.
- Slice an X shape in the top of the loaf with a very sharp knife or razor blade. This allows the loaf to expand during baking without splitting in unexpected places.
- Bake at 400°F until the internal temperature reaches 190° to 210°F. Use a meat thermometer inserted into the bottom or side of the loaf. Bake 30 to 60 minutes, depending on loaf size.
- Allow the bread to cool before slicing. Makes two standard size loaves
From here, you should start taking from your starter either once a week or sometimes every two weeks. We usually plan on making several different types of breads during one weekend because of the higher energy costs here in Fairbanks, Alaska. Then we can use the oven for several projects at once. We have found that as we take from our sourdough starter and then feed it again, we have gotten a more vigorous starter which then makes a really great loaf of bread that rises easily and is amazingly tasty.
Now the question many might bring up. Why should you learn how to make sourdough bread from scratch? After all, you can just buy a package of bread machine mix that tastes just like sourdough and bake that right? True enough right now, but what if the stores don’t have that? Or better yet, what if the stores are closed and all you have is flour and water? Would you know how to make bread without store bought yeast? Before learning how to make sourdough, I would have answered no.
There is always value to learning how to make things from scratch, whether it is baked, cooked, grown or knitted. This is just another tool to add to your own personal arsenal.
Guest Article Written by: Tamara Bell -I live in Fairbanks, Alaska with my family. I am a Government Travel Counselor with a contractor as well as a freelance homesteading and DIY blogger and a travel journalist for IgoUgo.com. For years now I have been growing vegetables, fruits and herbs, whether on a balcony or in my yard but over the years I have became more aware of how unsustainable our lifestyles are. Since then, I have been educating myself and my family so that we may life a more sustainable lifestyle and be more self reliant. Everything that I write about is something that I have thoroughly tested and have found to be successful and wish to share with others.f