Modern bread is made with highly efficient industrial yeasts. While this yeast is very predictable and faster than Usain Bolt on an airport conveyor walkway, it may actually be bad for you.
That’s why slow sourdough breads are making such a huge come back. When I make traditional sourdough, the entire baking process can take 8 hours or longer from flour to loaf. Superspeed yeast can produce bread in under 2 hours.
Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
Making a sourdough starter is as easy at catching a cold at a preschool during flu season. The technique is sort of similar too.
Combine equal parts water and wheat flour in a bowl. Then just leave the starter uncovered – or covered with a porous cloth to keep the bugs out – and let it sit around until wild yeasts fly in and start reproducing. It takes a day or two, the warmer the weather the faster the magic happens.
Once you know your starter is alive with yeast, you can store it in the largest mason jar you have. Just make sure to leave plenty of head space in the jar because a yeast starter will froth up quite a lot after being fed.
Once it starts to smell “yeasty”, you know you’re there. If you don’t know what “yeasty” smells like, just walk into a bakery. If it just smells like flour, you’ve got to wait a little longer. If it smells sour, dump it out and try again.
It’s hard to show the texture of a sour dough starter being born in pictures, so watch this quick video on starting your own sour dough starter. It’s not the most popular video on making a sourdough starter, but it’s the best by far I’ve ever found. The narrator doesn’t confound the process by dumping half out, putting half back in, shaking around and mumbling magic words like people do in other tutorials.
Using Sourdough Starter
Bread recipes that use real sourdough will usually list “1 cup of sourdough starter” as an ingredient. Once you use 1 cup of your sour dough starter you can top off with fresh flour and water again, half a cup of each.
Here is a sample recipe that uses sourdough starter.
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
1 teaspoon salt
Combine everything together, then cover in a greased bowl for a couple hours, long enough for the dough to double in size.
Punch it down, knead some more, then portion into baking pans. This recipe makes 2 loaves so use 2.
Let it rise again, for an hour in summer or a lot longer in winter, then bake the puppies. 60 minutes at 400 degrees is good, but check before the time is up by knocking on your breads to see if they are hollow. Hollow means done.
See how these loaves are fairly dark? It doesn’t mean they’re burned – a darker loaf is perfectly normal for sourdough.
Caring for a Sourdough Starter
A sourdough is like a child. It’s alive, and will die if you don’t feed it periodically. Unlike a child, you can keep it in the fridge to slow down its metabolism. A refrigerated sourdough can go for up to a month without being fed.
To feed a sourdough, just add a tablespoon or so of fresh flour.
Shortcut to Sourdough Starter
You can -miracusoulsy- get freeze dried wild sourdough yeast that will start working much quicker than if you try to catch your own.